A Teacher’s Struggle: ‘Am I Even Teaching Them the Right Stuff?’

A Teacher’s Struggle: ‘Am I Even Teaching Them the Right Stuff?’

03.16.21
Photo courtesy of Katy Cornell
03.16.21

As told to Meghan Coyle

As COVID cases in California climbed and I found out our school was switching to remote learning, there was a lot of anxiety, obviously. I think most of the country was feeling that, no matter what profession you had. Specifically, for teachers, I think there is a lot of worry about ‘Are we going to be able to teach over the computer?’ and more importantly, ‘Are we going to be able to support the social and emotional skills that students are still developing?’

It’s my first year teaching kindergarten, and I’m learning how short their attention spans are and how engaging the lessons need to be for them to kind of get hooked in it. Some of my roommates teach middle school, and I’m finding it way easier to engage the kindergartners just because I can be silly. I sing songs in the morning, do greetings and just make it as engaging as possible. And all of them have their cameras on. No one is shy about showing up every day.

We’re working on those everyday tech issues, which are frustrating, but the kids are pretty resilient, and they’re figuring out a way to participate, even if nobody can hear what they’re saying. Some of the kids got Chromebooks that are super old. So when you unmute that student who has that, it’s like this crazy audio sound that’s kind of hard to decipher.

I definitely feel bad that we’re not able to be in the classroom because I think they’re definitely missing out on a lot of those skills like learning how to take turns well, sharing and just being near a bunch of kids. That piece is definitely harder to convey over Zoom, especially for kids who don’t have siblings. I can tell a lot of them are like missing out on that.

I mostly miss seeing the older kids that I taught in the past or the kids that are always around the building. I’ve visited one of their Zooms before, but it’s very different from popping into their classroom. So that bigger community I miss, but we’re doing a talent show with the whole community. We do like weekly school assemblies, so there are brief moments to see each other, but it’s definitely not the same.

In some ways, though, there’s a little silver lining. I have a little more planning time because I’m not monitoring children as long as I usually am, like at recess times. I have more time to kind of sit down and plan.

I actually feel like I’m a little bit less stressed in some ways now than I was in previous years. The whole classroom management piece is interesting because I can just mute the whole class at the same time. Now when I’m done teaching the math lesson, I feel very calm, whereas I would usually feel amped up at the end of the day.

I feel like there are many self-doubts and I’ll be like, ‘That’ll be a fun lesson.’ But then I’m like, ‘Am I even teaching them the right stuff?’ I don’t know.

Katy Cornell, 26, is a kindergarten teacher at North Oakland Community Charter School. She told her story to Meghan Coyle.

This story was produced by YR Media and is part of a collaborative project “Behind Our Masks” that includes content from young journalists from Boyle Heights BeatThe kNOw and Coachella Unincorporated.

From education, to family, to employment, the pandemic has deeply impacted the younger generation, particularly young people of color. Click here for more stories on how they’re trying to cope.

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