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'It Felt Nice To Interact With Students' As Kansas City Public Schools Reopened Buildings

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Khalil Jones had been teaching English Language Arts at East High School from his bedroom in Kansas City. He recently returned to in-class learning.

As Kansas City Public Schools students returned to classrooms, teachers like Khalil Jones tried to address their concerns head-on.

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.

I was nervous. Some would say extremely, but there’s certainly no need for the dramatics. But yes, I was nervous. It was the first week of The Kansas City Public Schools going hybrid. Some students would stay at home, while others filled yellow buses for the first time in nearly a year.

What was this going to be like? Would the students remember classroom procedures? Would I remember how to be a teacher? Am I even a teacher?

A million and one thoughts swam through my mind and threatened to swallow me whole. I stopped, took a drink of water, and breathed. It was our first day, but it was just another day.

These were my thoughts as East High School, and KCPS as a whole, began our first week of students returning to the building. Leading up to this moment, there were weeks and weeks of preparation. T

Teachers went through training to ensure we were both physically and mentally ready for this change. This training included safety precautions that would take place in the classroom. Teachers studied their homeroom and noted all the changes: protective gear at every desk, chairs six feet apart and generous amounts of cleaning supplies for students and staff alike.

Students, too, had to prepare for this change. They were worried as well. I asked my students, “What kind of concerns do you have?” All at once, their hands raised.

They were scared. Some students had personal lives that needed tending, and going back to school was not the most ideal.

Some students were freshmen and unfortunately knew nothing of their high school. Where were all the classrooms? How would the hallways situation work out? Would the bathrooms even work?

The week prior to returning, I answered all the questions I could, though I was honest with my students. There were some that I knew, but even more that I didn’t. We would tackle this challenge together, and day by day, we would figure it out.

The first day came and went, and I might even exaggerate to say it was a success! KCPS has gone to lengths to ensure that students can feel safe within the new school environment that has forced us all to adjust. This means smaller classroom sizes and not all students occupying the building at once.

This also led to some awkward moments as classrooms that used to house 20-30 students, now contained only 3 or 4. Students and teachers started at each other as if to say, “Well, what do we do now?” We did the only thing we really knew how to do — learn.

For the first lesson, students and I talked about conflict and resolution. We went through what conflict looks like both inside and outside the classroom and how to best resolve these situations.

For the students, this was their first lesson that didn’t take place from the comfort of a bedroom. Their eyes were wide, and everyone was attentive. It felt nice to interact with students and to hear the shyness of their voices or the sassiness of their tones. At the end of the day, I learned from the students as much as they learned from me.

I’m still nervous about this whole thing. I’m nervous that students will struggle on the days they must work from home. I’m nervous that maybe all our efforts are in vain and maybe we’re making things worse. I’m nervous that short-term success could be wiped away in an instant.

Yet, through this all, I’m still excited. I’m excited to see my students, whether that be in-person or over a computer screen. I’m excited to see how we adjust with more students in the building and how we awkwardly toe our way through new experiences. I’m excited to watch students beam as they see their friends and interact in a way that has been virtually impossible for some time.

I’m nervous. Some would say extremely, but there’s no need to be dramatic here. I’m nervous, but more importantly, I’m excited as well.

Khalil Jones is in his final semester at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and student teaching at East High School. After graduation, Khalil will teach at a high school within the inner Kansas City area. Khalil’s goal is to teach students abroad and learn about new cultures as he teaches them new words.
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