Nishat Chowdery July 2020

Going the Extra Mile For Her Students

By Nishat Chowdhury

In March, elementary and secondary school students waved goodbye to their teachers and peers as they headed home to begin their March Break. In a span of two weeks, cities across the globe began to shut down to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and little did the students know that they would end the school year in quarantine.

Being in quarantine did not mean school was over. The resilience of teachers shined during the pandemic as educators began to teach online. Sure, there were a lot of technical difficulties with little support but it was amazing to see how teachers organized online classrooms for their students. Doctors, nurses, health care workers, and other front-line essential workers have been celebrated for their hard work and accomplishments during this global pandemic. Teachers need to be celebrated for fighting for education during this pandemic.

One educator who went above and beyond for her students is Amanda Strachan, a designated early childhood educator at J.G Workman Public School. Known as Ms. Strachan to her students, she drives 20 plus minutes from her home in the Morningside area to visit her kindergarten students at their homes every week to say hello and catch up while maintaining a safe distance.

“I just miss them. I want to see if they’re ok and I want to show them that I’m still around and if they want to talk to me, they can call me. It’s sad for me not to see them all the time,” says Strachan.
Parents of Ms. Strachan’s students say they are grateful for her visits because it gives their kids a sense of normalcy. Whether she reads them a story or draws on the driveway with chalk, it makes her students happy and hopeful that everything is going to go back to normal soon.

Beginning of quarantine, Maria Del Castillo says her daughter Sara Osorio, a junior kindergarten student of Ms. Strachan, would walk all over the house with her backpack on. Sara couldn’t understand why she cannot return to school.

“The visits give Sara a sense that everyone’s still there and that everyone is safe. They don’t know much about what’s going on, but it shows that her teachers still care and love what they do. As a parent, it gives you a sense of peace and tranquility and calmness, just to know that everything will be okay and soon this will be over and we will get back to where we were,” says Del Castillo.

Like many other educators, Ms. Strachan says she felt scared and worried when things started to go online. Strachan claims that it is a disadvantage for the students who may not have access to a computer or the internet and noticed that there are some students who barely go online. To make it worse, it is harder for kindergartners to navigate through e-learning without adult supervision which is difficult for students whose parents are still working.

“The kids are so little, most of them can’t read. It’s hard doing things online with kids so small because they need assistance every step of the way versus a kid who is a couple of grades older. We can tell them all the things in the world but if the parents aren’t doing it for them then they can’t do it themselves. There’s no way,” says Strachan.

According to a study done by Kendra Moyses from Michigan State University, children learn things easier when they are having fun and when the skills they are learning have meaning to them. Even though the internet has loads of information that you can teach your children, it can be difficult to keep lessons interactive and fun.

“Kindergarten children learn best through engaging directly with materials, educators and peers. Many kindergarten classrooms have several learning centres with materials (e.g. books, manipulatives, natural materials) that children can directly explore, experiment and invent with. It is possible that e-learning can create some of these conditions for children at home,” says Rachel Langford, a professor in the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University.

On the other hand, some parents have been able to be more involved with their child’s schoolwork than ever before, keeping in touch with their children’s teachers more often.

“I think Sara has progressed a lot despite being home because I like and tried to be more involved and kept in touch with her teachers. I got calls from her teachers all the time just to tell me how she’s doing or give me advice on what to do at home with her,” says Del Castillo.

For Ms. Strachan, visiting her students gives her a sense of normalcy too. She says the transition from seeing her students all day five days a week, to hardly seeing them was difficult.

“I’m home all by myself too. I’m used to being with these kids all day long and now it’s like nope they’re gone and I’m like what?? No no I need to know what they’re doing,” says Strachan.

Teachers may have struggled to navigate online instruction in difficult circumstances and many students may have become disadvantaged and will need to make up work when things are back to normal. However, without the perseverance of teachers, students would not have been able to continue learning during this textbook moment of history.

Ms. Strachan is one example of how teachers are our biggest superheroes.

“We can all remember the good relationships we had with teachers and how these relationships inspired and motivated us to learn. This is true for everyone even more so in the difficult times in which we live,” says Langford.

 ~ Nishat Chowdery is study journalism at Ryerson University