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Teacher sees greater appreciation for teachers, school

Mary Kate Gartner

Mary Kate Gartner, First Grade Teacher, St. Agnes Catholic School

Q. As an educator, how has COVID-19 impacted you and the way you perform your job?
A. COVID-19 has completely changed education in the last five months. As a teacher, we had to create a new way of teaching and rely a lot on parents to help us facilitate learning. It has been a challenge for us to do. We are lucky to have the technology to allow us to be able to do virtual learning. Can you imagine if this would have happened 20 years ago? 

Many parents are working full-time and are completely overwhelmed being at home, trying to work and teach their children. As teachers, we had to totally shift the way we teach in a matter of days. We were used to moving around all day, doing activities as a whole group, with small groups, reading stories, and teaching new content. We had to plan the most important content and condense our days down to an hour or two (in the primary grades). As teachers, we had to hope and pray that the families had devices, good internet connection, family members who could help the kids log on, teach them and submit their assignments. Many parents were used to helping with homework and had to become their teacher overnight. Students had to adjust to being home all the time, not getting to see their friends and learn from their parents. 

Q. What has been the hardest challenge you have faced or obstacle you have overcome?
A. One of the hardest things about COVID was not getting to be with the students in person. When we are in school, the students are learning, exploring, creating and thinking the entire day. In the younger grades, learning how to socialize, express their feelings, taking turns and sharing with one another is almost as important as academic learning. When we were talking with them through Zoom, those personalities didn’t shine through like they would in the classroom. Many students felt uncomfortable in the meetings and would not want to join or would barely participate in the meeting. It was heartbreaking for them to hear them talk about the virus, and how they couldn’t wait to come back to school. 

Some of my favorite moments as a teacher are watching the students learn how to work out their problems on their own, being a good friend to one another on the playground and when the math concept finally clicks with them. These are all moments the students did not get to experience during the last 5 months.  When we were switched to virtual learning, our day went from being seven hours at school, to about an hour a day (in Kindergarten). Picking out the most important things for the students to learn was difficult because everything in the younger grades is beneficial for these students.

Q. From your perspective, what is something positive that has resulted from this pandemic so far?
A. I believe everyone has a greater appreciation for school, for teachers and our community. We realize how important school is and how many life lessons are taught throughout the day. This has made me appreciate my coworkers and all the school staff. Everyone has a special job that keeps the school running. I am looking forward to the day when I can greet all my students in person, give them a hug when they leave every day and just be together in person. 

Q. What are you anticipating as you look ahead?
A. As we move forward, I am worried about the new school year just like everyone else. I am worried about building relationships with the students and their families virtually. I want to be able to get to know all the students in person, get to learn what they like, how their personalities are, and what makes them shine. It is hard to get to communicate with students over Zoom, because it is really uncomfortable for many of them. I am anxious that if we start school in person, we will go back to being virtual. There are so many “what if” situations that are also overwhelming … what if a student in my class gets COVID, what if my family member does, what if I DO and then give it to my students? The list goes on and on. We need to all do our part and wear our mask so we can stop the spread.

Q. From the work you have done over the past few months, of what are you the proudest?
A. I am really proud of how the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, navigated through COVID- 19. The teachers in the archdiocese are amazing. They are dedicated and are willing to go above and beyond to help the students, parents and families however we can. I am so proud to work in the archdiocese because we have the students’ best interest at heart, and we will keep going the extra mile to help support the students. At my school (St. Agnes), we have been doing driveway visits to meet each of our students. We have driven to each students’ house to meet them, and it has been so rewarding. We are so excited to see our students in real life (not just virtually). We became teachers because we love the children and we will do whatever we can to show them they are loved and how important they are to us! 

Q. What didn’t we ask you that you would like to share?
A. This year is going to be one that no one knows how to navigate through. As teachers, it is important we stay positive, wear our masks and continue to sanitize our hands, surfaces and the classrooms. We hope and pray that this virus will be coming under control, and we cannot wait for our learning to go back to “normal”. It is comforting knowing this isn’t forever, and we hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is near. Please do your part, so we can allow the children to be children, run and play with no worries and go back to school the way it used to be. Wear your masks and stay safe!