“I want to stay in love with teaching”: 5 educators on teaching during a school year like no other

Since school was disrupted by COVID-19 last spring, teachers like you have stepped up in so many ways. Now, some weeks into a school year like no other, you continue to do inspiring things for your school communities every single day.

You’re building connections and making sure students feel seen and known – even from behind screens or masks. You’re adapting favorite lessons, learning new technologies and responding to last-minute changes. You’re holding onto a love of teaching – and a determination to give your students a school year filled with meaningful growth and moments of joy. 

You’re teaching through an important moment in history – and no one sees what is happening in school communities the way you do. That’s why Teacher2Teacher is partnering with five educators on a digital journal project, “My Corner of the World.” Each of these teachers will offer glimpses into their practice as this historic school year progresses – starting right now.

Here’s what launching the 2020-2021 school year has felt like for five of your fellow teachers:


I want to make my students smile every time I see them.

Natasha Akery is a high school language arts teacher and diversity coach in Charleston, South Carolina.

My classroom community is a blend of virtual and in-person students who meet with me simultaneously. In the spring, I learned that simplicity and routine are essential for students, and I’m trying to carry that learning into this school year, too. 

I am using a platform with which my students are already familiar, and I give students similar assignments each week. We have a rhythm to how the class flows: the first 60 minutes is direct instruction and whole group discussion, and the last 30 minutes is for independent work.

The circumstances we’re living through are shining a spotlight on aspects of education that need a lot of work. A challenge I faced during disrupted learning in the spring was being unable to connect with students who were falling behind or not engaging. I am trying to intervene early this year.

I might not be able to fix all the challenges my students are facing, but I can offer that routine and those simple supports and those moments of humor that can make all the difference in their experience. We are goofy together, and we’re comfortable ditching or adjusting a lesson plan if it’s just not working for our needs. 

I hope my students will feel safe and able to learn in my classes. My goal is to make my students smile and laugh every time I see them. For the most part, I think I succeed. And they make me smile and laugh, too.

My goal is to not let the stressors burn me out.

Keith Piccard is a middle school science teacher in Allendale, Michigan.

Last spring, I considered it a success just to make it through. Most of the time, things felt nebulous, and my only objective for myself and the students was to tread water. 

I wanted to get beyond treading water heading into fall, so this past summer – in addition to some much-needed recharge time with my family – I spent a lot of time rethinking my lesson plans. I reorganized each of them, so that they could be converted from in-person, to hybrid, to virtual. I wanted all of my bases covered, and I wanted to make sure I had a decent handle on technology. So since this spring, I have become much more tech-savvy. 

The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been learning to let go of that really cool lab, or that really cool lesson. I streamlined each lesson, so students can handle doing something at home while getting the same content standard students in person in the classroom get.

This year so far, most of my students seem happy to be back at school, but also somewhat uneasy and worried about life being “shut-down” again. They are just wanting the old normal back. I do, too.  

I have been teaching for nearly 20 years, and have loved every year, and I do not want to lose my love for it. I don’t want to feel like I’m just a vessel for content delivery. My goal is to not let COVID-19 and the other stressors of this year burn me out from teaching.

It has been harder to get to know the students when I can only see their eyes. It’s harder to connect with their personalities. It will take time. But I want them to see me trying, every day, to learn about them, connect with them and give them a meaningful learning experience.

We’re redefining how students learn in any environment.

I want to work towards diminishing the opportunity gap.

Martin Odima Jr. is a teacher coach in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Last spring, teachers had no choice but to “build the plane while flying.” Now that teachers have had an opportunity to create systems to adapt to the current conditions, I am seeing a lot of success in my district. I’m impressed with educators’ ability to push the envelope with tools that redefine how students learn in any environment. 

As a special education teacher, I saw that meeting the needs of students with disabilities was a great challenge in the spring. Now that I am a district-wide special education coach, my job is to help teachers transform services into a remote format so students with disabilities can still make progress based on their IEP goals and access quality instruction. 

I hope to support teachers during this challenging time with creativity, collaboration, and effective and impactful leadership. My goal is to teach my fellow teachers how to create the most equitable, responsive and accessible instructional environment that works towards diminishing the opportunity gap. 

I’m hopeful about what we can do this year. Teachers are resilient. We work in an environment that is constantly changing. Educators have to continually innovate and experiment in real time to solve problems. Every teacher I’ve worked with has adapted to the best of their ability and are using their skill set to make sure students are safe, maintain social connections and are learning. Teachers are trying to balance a lot – but teachers are strong. 

Instead of the to-do list, I want to focus on my "to-be" list.

Dylan Huisken is a middle school social studies teacher in Missoula, Montana, and the 2019 MT Teacher of the Year.

It was hard to find success during distance learning this spring.  Everything felt so new, and there was constant doubt as to whether I was doing enough or doing it right – and constant hand-wringing over whether packets or online classes were meaningful. Even though I was in my cozy basement office during distance learning and could hear my own kids playing in the next room, I kept feeling waves of sadness and grief for what was lost, while still trying to remain hopeful of what could be gained. I tried to use the time to become  a better innovator and a better communicator – with kids and their families. 

This school year, with the hybrid model, it has been great to see the kids and have a conversation about what they expect out of me as their teacher, and what I expect of them as my students. My classroom community feels like a true family.  All my cohort groups are small, which means we have the time to bond, check in, grow and be absolutely real with our worries, goals, hopes and accomplishments. I am proud of my students for checking in online on their days “off” and adjusting so quickly. I am watching kids make friends with kids they never spoke to before, and we go on daily walks on campus to take a break and have time to connect and stretch our legs.  I regret the circumstances that led to these small, self-contained cohorts existing, but I look to the kids for hope in these unusual times. They are so resilient.  

Still, I feel like I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am waiting for the dreaded email that says there has been a COVID case, and then watching the fallout begin. I also worry that we could go back to full face-to-face, without a personal plan. I need time to figure out how I could do that in a way that builds on what we have established with hybrid learning. I just got off the ropes and am afraid I will be punched right back into them, reeling and losing my sense of balance along the way.  

I will say again that the kids give me hope. I will also say that my colleagues have been absolutely wonderful, and even though I can no longer eat lunch with them or socialize like I did before, they all make me feel seen and heard, and have stepped up to make sure our school remains a strong heartbeat within the body of our community.  

I have the goal of taking every day one day at a time. I don’t want to obsess over to-do lists or I will burn out. I do not want to fall out of love with this profession. I want to stay in love with teaching.

Instead of the to-do list, I want to focus on my “to-be” list.  Who do I want to be every day for my students? I want to be someone who is patient, compassionate and consistently excited to see them and teach them. I want to be someone who holds students to a high standard while offering support. I want to be someone who believes they can succeed  – no matter what the world throws at us. 

I want to make sure students have the tools to be successful in this situation.

Victoria Lowe is a middle school language arts teacher in New York, New York.

We planned to start this school year in a hybrid model, but two days before the start date, it was pushed back. We pivoted into a full remote model and will pivot back to hybrid which is expected to start on October 1st. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster already, but we’re making it work.

My classroom community already feels welcoming and warm. A goal I have this year is to maintain this trusting community, so the students can become creators, critical thinkers, communicators and collaborators. We started with a growth-mindset curriculum and I see the difference in their willingness to take risks in learning and to support others. 

During the disrupted learning period last spring, it was challenging to engage students – and I quickly learned that they had some gaps in their comfort level with basic technology. To overcome that this year, I am starting with a focus on basic digital literacy skills before diving into the curriculum, to ensure they know how to navigate the tools needed to be successful.

I am very excited for this school year. A highlight so far was doing a classroom agreement collaboration board. As a goal, one student added “make my teacher happy” and I added “make my students happy.” If both groups in the community can keep this agreement, it will truly be an awesome year for all of us.

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