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What A KCK Student Educator Has Learned While Teaching Kindergarteners The Alphabet Over Zoom

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Walton Fellow Maria Martinez has set up a virtual workspace in a corner of her bedroom at her Lawrence home.

Maria Martinez is a senior at Emporia State University in Kansas. She is currently a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools.

Para leer este artículo en Español, haga clic aquí.

With support from the Walton Family Foundation, KCUR has asked student teachers in the Kansas City area to write about their experiences learning how to teach during a pandemic. We'll be running their stories as a series of teacher diaries in the coming weeks.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Emporia State University extended our spring break by one week, and I thought we'd be back to school by April. At the time, I was awaiting placement as a student teaching intern for the next school year, and I did not think that elementary school could be done any other way.

A two-week spring break turned into online classes, which turned out to be the rest of the spring semester. I was entering my first semester of student teaching with no guarantees as to how we would experience the classroom come August. We could be wearing masks in the classroom — or we could be totally online.

Once it was official that the fall semester would start virtually, there were even more questions: How would we learn to teach without being in the classroom? We were throwing out the textbook on traditional classroom education and entering into a new way of teaching for public schools. The biggest challenge would be flexibility and going with the flow, a scary prospect for any student teacher. Despite the apprehension of not knowing how the semester would go, I was excited to get started.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Walton Fellow Maria Martinez has decorated her virtual workspace at her home in Lawrence with the trappings of a real classroom.

It was clear to me from the first day that teachers were working day and night to make learning as effective as possible for their students. But even with every preparation teachers put in place, it was a rocky start.

Students who had only ever experienced face-to-face learning did not simply log in on the first day of virtual school with their materials ready to go in a quiet place with no distractions. They had no idea how to navigate their learning modules or even that they needed to to charge their iPads. As teachers, we weren’t sure how we were going to keep a class of young students engaged in schoolwork, practicing self-accountability, for a minimum of six hours a day Monday through Friday.

To combat these challenges of students attendance and attentiveness, we created Zoom games and unique classroom schedules. We decided to go back and forth between synchronous Zoom sessions, where students are on the call with their teacher, and asynchronous learning, where students would do pre-planned lessons offline. I was the student teacher, but we were all learning how to troubleshoot students’ iPads from miles away.

I began researching new ways to get students participating, sharing ideas with the other interns in my program, and collaborating with my mentor to create worthwhile learning experiences for our students. I loved having the opportunity to see my students on Zoom and be able to build relationships with them.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Walton Fellow Maria Martinez’ workspace at home is filled with natural light.

Another incredible opportunity that came about with virtual learning was how much parents could be a part of their children’s learning. I was able to witness firsthand many families come together and rise up to the challenge of helping their students succeed in school. While reaching out to parents is not always easy, I found that I was uniquely able to provide more support as a Spanish interpreter during family outreach, as 51% of KCK students identify as Hispanic or Latinx.

Though the English learner population in the school district (44% of students) comprises at least 63 different languages, the majority of the students in my kindergarten class speak Spanish as their first language. The language barrier was a little easier to deal with, and it helped me feel as a teacher that I was impacting my students if not during Zoom classes, then during family meetings.

I definitely want to go back to a classroom someday soon (April 5!). I want to see my students all together and have them experience tactile learning for a change. Instead of explaining how a certain object might feel or look or smell, they’ll be able to use their own senses in the classroom. This is a big part of learning for younger students. I think about this while planning many of my lessons right now, and I sometimes regret I can’t do more because we aren’t in the classroom.

Despite this, my student teaching experience continues to provide a learning opportunity every day as I figure out how to be creative, flexible and persistent in keeping students engaged. The methods of teaching used online, the hours of work put in and the skills that myself and many teachers have acquired throughout this experience of becoming online teachers goes above and beyond what traditional education demands of teachers.

Maria Martinez is a senior at Emporia State University in Kansas. She is currently a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. She is one of two Walton education fellows sharing her experiences in the classroom this semester.
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