Molly Wyatt earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark in 2017, majoring in psychology with a minor in education. She also took advantage of the accelerated degree program to earn a master of arts in teaching in 2018; her graduate studies took her to the Jacob Hiatt Magnet School in Worcester, where she co-taught first grade.
We caught up with Wyatt to find out how the pandemic is affecting her current work as a teacher at Worcester’s Grafton Street School.
Where are you now? What have you been up to?
Right now, I am teaching at Grafton Street School in Worcester. Grafton Street School is different from Jacob Hiatt because it’s a neighborhood school. Since Jacob Hiatt School is a magnet school, there’s an admissions lottery. But anyone from the neighborhood can attend Grafton Street. It’s a different dynamic for the school community.
It’s an urban area, so it has its challenges, but I am a part of an amazing community. When I was hired, right out of my MAT year, I was hired along with about 10 other new teachers because the school has been in turnaround. My group became really close. All the teachers are young and excited to be there. We created a really nice cohort because of the challenges we went through together our first year. It makes it really meaningful to me.
How has the pandemic affected your work as a teacher?
It’s very drastic. I have a lot of students who do not have technology at home, so it’s been hard to reach them. I try to do a Zoom call three times a week; the most students I have gotten on a call is about six or seven kids, and I have 16 in my class. I have probably four and five kids submitting work regularly.
It can feel discouraging because we are working hard to make these remote learning lesson plans for the kids, but not a lot of kids are doing the work. So sometimes you feel upset, but you also have to remember about the struggles they have at home. Maybe their parents are working at home or they are just struggling to get food on the table. You can’t be mad at them for not handing in their assignments.
Also, I think the district has struggled with how to do this remote learning. I know some districts have given students technology, but we haven’t done this yet. I am hoping we will see this happen because if every student had a Chromebook, I would see more work and could see more of them online. Right now, it’s a challenge for urban schools because it’s not equal with more affluent areas. Suburban schools have the privilege to do online learning, but a lot of our students do not have that privilege.
What are some ways you are teaching differently?
The district has asked us to create online remote learning templates. My grade-level team meets once a week to come up with our own curriculum of activities students can access at home without technology. We are creating activities for them to do at home that don’t require a computer so all students can access them — although it’s controversial because we’re posting the lesson plans online. I found that to also be unequal.
We work on those templates and we’re also posting assignments on Google Classrooms. I have found a lot of parents have trouble navigating these sites, so I started sending out screenshots of the learning templates and sending pictures to the parents. Then, I ask them to send a picture of the student’s writing back and that’s been working for some families too.
The other thing I do as well is to take the learning template and translate it to Portuguese, Chinese, and Spanish to send those to parents. That way, they can help their child by getting their work in their native language. It’s a lot of preparation!
I also am holding Zoom sessions three times a week with my students. I do have some kids that always show up, and we talk about any questions they may have that week, but a lot of it is more emotional and social connection for them, to see their other classmates and to check in.
Do you have any advice for other teachers (best practices, tips, etc.)?
My advice for other teachers is to support each other through these times. My teacher friends call each other to vent or to listen to each other’s successes and even struggles. Being on a team that is so supportive has helped me get through this right now. Hearing that other teachers are also struggling with the same things you are helps; it’s important to take a step back and realize you’re not the only one going through it.
Do you have any advice to parents for helping their kids to learn virtually?
I’ve had parents ask me if their child is going to be held back. Parents need to know that we’re going to catch their children up. Everyone’s in the same boat; everyone in the whole world is going through this and we’re going to find a way, like we always do, to change the curriculum for next year to figure out a way to catch the kids up. I don’t want parents to feel discouraged.
I also remind parents to support their children and be sure that they are reading every day — that’s really the most important thing. I would be happy if they were reading every day and practicing their facts at the end of the day.
Are you doing anything that takes your mind off things (hobbies, movies, books, etc.)?
I have been staying with my parents for the first time since college. It’s nice to be with family and have that support. I also have been trying to get out every day and exercise. I’ve realized that the weather affects my mood, so when it’s a sunny day, I go outside for a jog or a walk. That helps a lot.
How can people give back to the teaching community?
That’s a hard question. I wish people were more aware of the inequality of this for urban schools and how it’s going to make the gap even greater.
I’ve personally been giving students my own tablets so that they can access learning online; I had Kindles that were donated to my classroom and I have been dropping them at kids’ houses. My dad also bought a Chromebook to give to one of our students so they could participate. Lots of teachers are finding ways to get technology to their kids. And I found out recently that the district is working on getting Chromebooks out to students who need them over the next couple of weeks. That’s pretty awesome!
I would also say that parents now understand how hard teachers work. I know not everyone takes teaching as a profession as seriously as they should. Even though this is a challenging situation, people now might see how necessary it is in our society to have strong teachers.