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A Kansas City Teacher Finds Teens Being Teens Strangely Reassuring

Khalil Jones had been teaching English Language Arts to his East High School students from his bedroom in Kansas City. He has since returned to in-class teaching.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Khalil Jones had been teaching English Language Arts to his East High School students from his bedroom in Kansas City. He has since returned to in-class teaching. It's been a big adjustment for students, he writes.

Students don’t mind following new rules to help protect themselves from the coronavirus. The changes bring a different atmosphere, but teens are still the same.

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.

After more than a year of remote learning, Kansas City Public Schools are working hard to maintain the safety of both students and staff for in-person learning, and that’s resulted in some big changes during the school day.

One would presume that students wouldn’t take kindly to following all the new rules for their once jam-packed hallways. However, there have been little to no complaints about the new direction.

A couple of times a day, students require reminders that some stairs are used for ascending, while others are used for descending. But that’s truly a minor interaction in the grand scheme of our learning.

Lunches are a bit weird, too. In the Stone Age, everyone sat at a table with their friends, crammed in the seats, and they bickered and teased about the sweetest nothings. Today, that lunch table looks a bit different. Students now sit by themselves at a two-seater table and are encouraged to bring cell phones or something else to entertain them.

So far, the kids still enjoy lunch. One student told me, “I don’t mind it. It’s kind of quieter now. I just drink water and draw.”

Public Displays Of Affection

In some aspects, students are already returning to form. I saw two students walking side-by-side as they accompanied each other to class. After the bell rang, they lingered a little longer, hugging before they retreated to their respective classrooms.

I couldn’t help but smile.

But as a teacher, I’m unsure whether or not I am expected to break up these kinds of interactions. Maybe I am? I probably am. I know PDA is frowned upon in a high-school setting.

But, who cares? It’s little moments like this that reassure me. Because amongst all this uncertainty, high school students will always be high school students.

Return To Community

Students won’t admit it, but they missed school. They missed interacting with their peers and learning amongst a community.

If anything, the relationships in our classroom community have only grown stronger. For example, there are tons of students who I never saw during virtual learning, whether that was due to computer troubles or students not logging in. Now, my classroom is filled with fresh faces, eager to learn. Classes that felt like pulling teeth are now filled with sleepy voices as we discuss the nuances of argumentative writing.

One of my first lessons after students returned to in-person learning included the new policies and procedures of the classroom. Wipe down your area before leaving. Limit your walking space. But the students were rusty at being in a classroom, and honestly, so was I, so with the rules out of the way, the real work started.

I asked a simple question, “What’s a problem in your community that you would want to solve?” I was worried that students would be unable to come up with problems and shrug off such an abstract idea. To my surprise, the problems started pouring in, and we spent the rest of the hour talking about this single subject.

“I wanna know why every group says the n-word?”

“Why don’t parents take care of their kids?”

“Why are people disrespectful to their elders and others?”

Together At Last

We dived into possible solutions, but we’d already solved one problem — even with masks and new rules, we were together. On the dimmer side of things, students are still struggling with their grades. Those who didn’t always tune in to virtual learning are learning how much this hurt their grades. I have some students who are finally coming to class but haven’t turned in assignments since the Trump administration.

The students are struggling, and so is everybody else. But you know what? I think we’re getting the hang of it. Day by day, we continue with this thing of ours and simply enjoy what we have. The students got tired of being at home, and I got tired of not being at school.

We haven’t reached normalcy, and I am unsure of what that even is. But hey, we keep trying, right?

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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