An Unexpected Gift

While remote learning certainly presents many challenges, it has offered me an unexpected gift.   It is a gift of great worth that came as a complete surprise.    Having done remote learning in the spring semester, I thought I knew what was coming.   I could not have been more wrong.

When remote learning started in the spring, I had long standing relationships with my students and my families.   I knew them and they knew me.   Remote learning was just adapting our classroom to a slightly different platform.   Our relationships didn’t change all that much.

This fall, everything is fresh and new.   Not the fresh and new that it would normally be, but still fresh and new.   We are getting to know each other and beginning to build relationships.   With remote learning, that is a whole new experience.    Because of that, I am doing things differently.   That bit of different has been the unexpected gift.

This year, in these early days, I am spending more time getting to know kids and trying to help them get to know each other.   I am spending more time meeting families.   Doing that while kids are at home has given me a glimpse of them in a whole new way.   It has been a wondrous experience.

As I have sent kids off on a scavenger hunt to find something that they have created, I have been gifted with the opportunity to see lovely art work they have drawn, ball retrieval systems they have built out of cardboard and cups, built in bunk beds they are making with their dad, incredible lego structures, and so much more.   As I have sent them off to find something that they love, I have gotten to see the foot-tall stack of books that someone is reading, the laps full of pets, and other treasures.     As I have sent them off to find something with which they build, I have gotten to see which kids think outside the box and bring back something unusual like cardboard or blankets.   As I have asked kids to tell me one thing that they have cooked, I have discovered which kids are budding chefs and that all of them can at least make ramen.

As I have chatted with them before class, I have been able to see new sides of them that I would not see in a normal classroom.   I have watched one student as he meets us from inside a blanket fort that he has built to give himself a quiet space free from distractions – he is super focused.   I have had conversations with another student about the lovely quilt that her great grandmother made her that hangs on the wall behind her.   I have teased another student about using those few minutes before class starts to squeeze in a few minutes with her nose in a book (just like she would if we were in our actual class).

As I have done virtual home visits to make sure that each student has what he or she needs to start school, I have been able to meet parents and to talk with them a little bit about their student.   Elementary school teachers regularly get the opportunity to see students with their parents, but it is not as common in middle school.   Seeing kids with their families has been a really nice way to start the year.

In many ways, I feel like I know my students better then I normally would after such a short time.      I would never wish for these circumstances.   However, for me, the experience of remote learning has been a little bit of a gift.

Cheryl Leung

Golden Apple Fellow, 2019

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