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Pandemic Schooling Was Tough, But This Kansas City Student Teacher Wouldn’t Change A Thing

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. His teaching setup was a simple rolling chair and a stack of textbooks to elevate his laptop.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Khalil Jones spent most of the year teaching English Language Arts to his East High School students from his bedroom. He recently graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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. This is the last installment in a series of teacher diaries we've run this spring.

Grey clouds with a polka dot of blue is the best way to describe the weeks of rainy spring weather we endured. As we end the 2020-21 school year, it might also be the best way to describe the educational experience that both students and teachers faced at the peak of our pandemic.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I began the school year in August 2020. I had just gotten the news that schools would not open until September, and then we would be online for a “couple of months.” Those months turned into almost a calendar year. Every step was new. This level of virtual learning was unprecedented in its size, yet everyone adjusted to the task and tried their absolute best.

What I’ve learned is just because you don’t know doesn’t mean you can’t try. Going into this school year, I didn’t expect to learn how to navigate a virtual classroom. I didn’t expect to learn how to create a positive classroom environment when I couldn’t see the students and desks are replaced by bed frames. I expected none of this, but so said the butterfly who first flew south.

I learned that education isn’t as traditional as we thought. It's customary to think of a classroom as a space in a building where students sit quietly and listen to their teacher. But learning is more than that. Learning is the point where students can take skills and apply them to their academic and personal life alike.

In history, learning would take place in a community where a trusted individual would deliver knowledge to those expected to lead one day. As we grow in this day and age, we see that these campfires can burn anywhere. Distance hasn’t stopped learning but rather helped us to appreciate that even in separation, we can still tell stories to teach the young.

I’m apprehensive about the next couple of years of education. For the students who struggled during virtual learning, there will be effects that will last them most of their high school career. Freshmen and sophomores, who struggled with the increased responsibility, will be expected to resume learning at a place they never reached. These next couple of years will be trying, but we’ll grow from it. We’ll look back at this time and say, “Dang, we really did that, huh?” Teachers and students will reminisce on the days of their online Zoom meeting crashing and trying to hear over a speaker that is muddied with blenders, Netflix and various species of felines.

Khalil Jones, center, graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City last month after a year student teaching at East High School.
Courtesy of Khalil Jones
Khalil Jones, center, graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City last month after a year student teaching at East High School.

Recently, I became an alumnus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. We graduated at Kauffman Stadium. It was a surreal experience as the stands were filled with cheering parents. This meeting of a community felt like something out of a textbook. It’s hard to say that things are returning to normal. High school graduations are this week, but it doesn’t feel like it did before. Everything we do now just feels new. Every experience we make from this point is done in a new world. A world that remembers what it was like but also looks forward to what it can be.

As I move forward in my educational career, I’ll always remember this experience of COVID-19. I’ll remember not to worry so much about getting the perfect assignment to my students. I’ll remember that they need me for one reason and one reason only-- to learn how to be better humans. When I get caught up in the mundane task of the day, I simply lean back and remember how difficult some of those times were. I’ll remember the grey clouds that thundered and rain a thousand floods yet remain painted with a polka dot of blue.

I’m thankful for everything, and for much more. I’m thankful for the Kansas City Public Schools for having me as a student teacher and the mentors who lifted me up. I’m thankful for the students who made me laugh and taught me something new. I’m thankful for the random moments where we all sighed because there was nothing we could do about technical difficulties on Microsoft Teams. I’m thankful for this experience, and if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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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