Teaching in the Trenches of COVID – Guest Post by Tiffany Markavich

Mar 18, 2021

If you’ve watched any of the 1st grade Math Mights shows, then you’ve seen Tiffany at work! She is an amazing teacher! I’ve had such fun working with her on the show, but I also know she is a rockstar in her classroom as well. 

I met Tiffany several years back while working on our Molding Math Mindsets project in Romulus Public Schools. She was a first grade teacher, and still is in the first grade classroom today! We worked a lot together in the area of math. In fact, Tiffany was one of the math leaders as she has great leadership skills in her school district, and she has spearheaded a lot of the curricular work that we’ve done in math in first grade. 

I’m so excited to have her tell us about her experience with teaching in the trenches.

What has been the biggest challenge of teaching virtually?

Obviously, it’s new for all of us, which was a humongous challenge. I would say, on the teaching level, teachers went into this with zero training. No one really had any idea of how to do it, how to be successful, where to start, who to go to – there was just no training. 

Additionally, what I’ve found to be really challenging is, when I have students in the classroom, I can control that environment. If they’re not prepared and they don’t have a pencil, I can get them a pencil. If they don’t have their homework, I can get a new sheet of homework. If they don’t have something they need or need help, it’s within my control to help them. When they are at home, I can’t control what’s going on. If they don’t have a pencil that day, I can’t just hand them one. I can’t control that their parent is sitting in the room next to them and the TV is on at volume 1000 so they can’t hear the lesson. I can’t control that they have three or four brothers and sisters and, while their parents have done their best at putting them all at the table to learn, my student can hear what’s going on in their sister’s classroom and their brother’s classroom.  They can hear the other teachers. I can hear the other teachers. I think it’s just really hard, and it made it really hard for kids to focus. 

And then thirdly, I would say, you kind of have two different kinds of parents, both of which are challenging. There’s the “too much support” parent who is just a helicopter. They’re not leaving their child to do anything independently – they’re doing all the cutting, they’re doing all the gluing, they’re doing all the clicking on the computer. They’re hovering over their student’s work so you don’t really know if the student is learning anything, you don’t know if the student needs additional support. Even though you’ve gently told the parents “Let them go, I’ve got this,” they don’t want to. And then you have that other extreme, the parent who you’ve never seen one time all year, and it’s obvious that they haven’t been involved at all.

What are the challenges that you're facing right now, as your students start to come back in person just this week?

The teachers in my district are teaching in-person and virtual simultaneously. So, in my classroom, I have 12 students in-person, and I have five students that are virtual. It’s really hard on your heart. That first day back, those virtual students were crying. They were super sad because they weren’t at school with their friends, and they want to be there, but for whatever reasons, their parents have chosen to keep them home. It’s particularly hard on the virtual students because they may be feeling like they’re being left out or not able to participate as much because now that I’m managing everything that’s going on. Before, when we were all virtual, I just managed what was going on in front of the screen, but now, I have kids that are needing to keep their masks on, needing to stay in their chairs, needing help with assignments. There’s a lot that goes on in class that the virtual students aren’t a part of.

However, I think the most glaring challenge is that, while I knew that kids were going to be low when they came back and I knew that they weren’t getting everything that they needed, I never realized the severity of it until they came back into the classroom. I have a student who cannot write any letters in her name. She doesn’t know how to form any letters. The severity of what has happened over this last year leaves me not really sure where we go from here or how to adjust to get these children to the next point so that they can be successful and this doesn’t damage them forever.

What have you learned from teaching virtually that you might not have learned as a classroom teacher?

I have always known that six-year-olds could achieve whatever task you set forth for them. But what I learned going 100% virtual is just how true that is. I was thinking, how can I teach kids how to manipulate Google Classroom virtually on day one at six years old? But it can be done! I think that that made me just grow exponentially. The kids did an amazing job with just repeated instructions every day. Everything in my Google Classroom is by date, so every single day there is the topic is by date, Monday, March, 15, and then their assignments for the day are posted under that topic. There’s an icon next to each one, so they know that their red dot is what they do the first thing in the morning, the green heart is for reading, the plus sign is their math assignment, etc. They learned, almost immediately, how to manipulate those assignments, turn those assignments in, get feedback on the assignment and be in a Google document with me at the same time. They learned, when they needed help on something, if they clicked in the box to let me know,, I knew exactly where they needed help instead of them having to present their screen, I can be right in there with them working. I just think that this group of kids, for this whole past year, are going to be amazing at technology because the little ones have just nailed it.

What has been your most humorous moment during your virtual teaching experience?

With kids being virtual, you sometimes just can’t get to your mute button fast enough. I have a student who is extremely quiet. She basically didn’t say two words in Kindergarten, and she doesn’t talk a whole lot in first grade. She was very nervous, so anytime that she wants to talk, of course I encourage it. One day, we came back from lunch and she said, “Mrs Markavich, can I tell you something really funny?” Of course, I said yes because I was so excited that she wanted to talk! She said, “During lunch, I was going through my mom’s camera roll on her phone, and I saw a picture of her boobs!” The rest of the class started laughing. I muted her as quickly as I could and then I just said, “Oh, we don’t share that kind of personal information with the rest of the class.” But that was probably the funniest thing that happened to me, all school year while the kids were virtual.

What is your best “hack” for virtual teaching at home or school?

I did 95% of my teaching in my classroom, even though it was an empty classroom. I started the year not having a clue what I was doing, like everyone else. So I have a smartboard, a computer, and I had a Chromebook. I propped my Chromebook in front of my smartboard and I logged in every day to my Google Meet, where I could see my students all day long. They were basically looking through the Chromebook onto my smartboard, and anything that I needed them to see they could see on my smartboard. I could use my document camera that way, I could present videos that way, or anything else that I needed them to see. They saw through my smartboard but then I could see them the entire day as well, and not have to wonder what they were doing.

Another thing that I did, like probably 1 million other virtual teachers, was occasionally create different Bitmoji classrooms or dashboards, where the students could click on different links to get to the materials that they needed for the day. This might be something that some people think first graders, or six-year-olds can’t work with the Bitmoji classrooms, but my kids were pretty successful at it. 

If you could choose your teaching situation, would you want to be back in the classroom? Hybrid? Or stay virtual?

I would 100% go back to the classroom.

Of course I would want to teach all day, every day, anywhere that I could, but kids need to be in the classroom. I think that’s where they learn the most, I think that’s where they can show their independence, and I think they can be successful. I think that they need the social aspects of it and how to be in society. While I think I’ve done a pretty good job virtually, being physically in the classroom is where I would pick to spend all day, any day.

What wisdom, tips, or tricks would share with teachers who are also in the trenches?

Have grace and be kind to your colleagues. That has been emotionally draining. It has beaten us down. I’ve had to scrape myself up off the floor and say, I can go to school today and I can do this when I thought I couldn’t. And so I think if you have grace with your colleagues, and know that they could be going through exactly the same thing that you’re going through or feeling the exact same way you feel. I know that I had never done this before. 

I love change and I embrace change, but not in this manner. I knew that I was going to fail. I knew that there would be days where something would fail. And that’s okay. The kids will grow from my mistakes and learn, “Oh, even our teacher isn’t perfect! She makes mistakes, or this didn’t go the way she planned.” Don’t dwell on it, and just move on. If it doesn’t work, if you failed, let the kids know that you failed, and just say, “Okay, we’re going to try again tomorrow and hopefully tomorrow is going to be a better day for me as a teacher, and for you as students, based on my mistakes!”


About the Author

Tiffany Markavich has a B.S. in Education from Eastern Michigan University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan Dearborn in the area of Education.  Throughout her 22 years in Romulus Community Schools, Tiffany has taught 1st and 2nd grade and served as the Reading First Literacy Coach.  Currently, Tiffany is the Co- School Improvement Facilitator for Halecreek Elementary and the District Wide 1st Grade – Grade Level Leader. 

Tiffany is passionate about making every day in her classroom an amazing educational experience, doing numeracy talks, and having her kiddos “kiss their brain”!!

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