family memory book. The packets put together by Rachel and her fellow teachers had a 100% pick up rate by parents who took them home to their children.
Until the pandemic shut down school, the teachers had little training to teach digitally. Teachers were rushed through online webinars and sent exhaustive pages of links to come up to speed. Rachel noted that the instructors teaching webinars speak fluently about technology but know little or nothing about education and how to teach small children. A teacher might be great in the classroom, but shifting to the screen takes a different set of skills and often innate talent.
Even before the pandemic, some of Rachel’s students were latchkey kids, who spend a huge chunk of time at home alone, watching video games. Hard-pressed to be as engaging and as entertaining as video games, she donned an assortment of attention-getting colored wigs: Read-aloud in Spanish was blue, in English-green, and when teaching science, her wig resembled the wild scraggly hair of Einstein. She utilized amazing videos from YouTube channels made by educational publishers and people who turned a secret skill into a full-fledged career. With every digital resource she relied upon, she also knew that too much screen time is bad for kids, shrinking the part of their brains that allows them to feel empathy. The American Pediatric Association has long warned of the dangers of too much screen time. Rachel needed to get her first-graders off the screen too.
To stay connected to her kids, Rachel made curbside visits. She wrote them letters and sent along the little things six-year-olds love to feel in their hands like marigold seeds, sunflower seeds and rubber band butterflies. All along she has been playing catchup to make sure her kids are doing okay, constantly asking herself, “How do I make this less bad for the children?”
By mid-July, while Rachel grappled with culling forth the best tools and resources for her kids, politicians in every level of government, from the top down, duked it out publicly with such nastiness that first-graders began to look like the real adults in the room. President Trump and Education Secretary Betsey DeVos downplayed the risks of reopening the schools, claiming children do not cause transmission of the virus. DeVos falsely claimed children are “stoppers” of COVID-19, a statement which was later sharply refuted.