Teaching Preschoolers on Zoom!

My alarm goes off at 8 AM, I pick up my phone and slide the alarm off. I look at any notifications I may have, and scroll through social media. I might even Google something random that I think of. Had this been 3 months ago, I would not have the luxury to chill in bed and look through my phone at 8 AM. Around 8:20, I finally get out of bed and get ready to start my Zoom classes.

Yes, you read that right. My Zoom classes with my 2 year old students. I lazily make my bed, and walk up the stairs to brush my teeth. I’m usually greeted by my mom, who is also working from home. In fact, everyone in my family is home. I quickly eat something right before my class. I’m usually not a breakfast person, but once my Zoom classes are over, I try to go back to sleep until it’s time for lunch. Why? Because I can.

My janky laptop, that I’ve had since 2013, only works when it’s plugged into the outlet. And even then, my poor shot dead battery reads, “Plugged in, not charging 0%.” This Shelter in Place made me realize how I need to stop lagging on getting a new laptop. My camera quality on this laptop is so pathetic, but I make do.I used to do my Zoom classes in the living room, but our WiFi is so bad there, that I had no choice but to do them from my room. I would literally freeze, or I’d have robot voice. The look of confusion on my students’ faces tell me that im probably frozen. The first week of Zoom classes, I did them upstairs in the livingroom. And without fail, after every class, my mom would come out of the room, pausing her work flow, just to mimic the songs I just sang with the kids. Haha! These are crazy times!

It’s been almost 3 months of Sheltering in Place in the Bay Area. In the beginning of this lockdown mid-March, I was relieved because this was the break I so desperately needed. Sleeping in was so nice, we didn’t start live Zoom classes until April. I had so much free time on my hands I didn’t know what to do. But as the Shelter in Place kept getting extended, I started to follow a routine. Zoom classes, go back to sleep, eat lunch, watch paranormal shows on TV, do 1 on 1 Zoom chats if I have someone signed up, go for a walk, shower, dinner, watch more TV, fall asleep on the couch, and make my way down to my room around 2 AM.

The Shelter in Place got extended twice, and here we are more than half of May done, not knowing if it will be extended once again. Its crazy to think that by the time everything opens up again, 2020 will be atleast halfway over. Its been so long, I can’t picture myself going back into my pre-COVID-19 routine. I’ve adjusted to this Shelter in Place gracefully. I’m already a homebody as it is. So when the Governor says “Stay at home unless you absolutely have to…” I’m like… say no more, sir.

Since this Shelter in Place, a lot of the parents from the school have expressed their gratitude to me and all the other teachers. Everyone knows that being a teacher is not an easy task. There are good days and bad days. Especially dealing with 12 kids 5 and younger, a lot of the times you find yourself with your hands full. Being Sheltered in Place with their child/children, has given some parents more insight on being an early childhood educator.When we decided on doing live Zoom classes, I will admit that I was a little skeptical. How was I going to capture the attention of 8 two year olds in each Circle Time class? Getting all of them to sit still and participate in person is challenging as it is, how much more through the computer?

“If anything,” I thought, “These daily Zoom classes will keep the structure that they know from school, while letting them see their friends and teachers faces.”

I had to switch up my teaching style to convert to the online world. Muting everyone is a must, raising hands and thumbs up and thumbs down are our new norms, me speaking in Dora the Explorer fashion (asking questions and pausing, reading their muted lips through the video screen) was kind’ve awkward at first. But we all had to adjust.Nobody expected the Shelter in Place to last this long. We are almost 3 months deep into social distancing.

Yes, that’s a long time for us adults, but for young children, this must be a lifetime to them. I imagine what it will be like once we go back to school. Almost 3 months of not being at the school will be like their first day of school all over again. So it’s nice that we get to see each other over Zoom.

We have also been writing letters back and forth with our pen pals. We divided up the school roster among the teachers, and have been keeping in touch with our penpals since April. Its so sweet to read what they want to share with their teacher, and what they look forward to.At the end of April, when we were hit with another Shelter in Place extension, we decided to switch it up. Our Zoom classes were going well, but we felt like we should add another component. That is when I suggested doing one on ones – having students sign up to talk to any teacher on Zoom to have a video call. By taking away the learning component, and just having a casual conversation between teacher and student (most of the time with a parent), we hoped that this would help our school community feel more connected. This proved to be a hit.

In one of my Zoom calls, my 4 year old student told me all the things she’s been doing since Shelter in Place. I was telling her how I’ve been spending my time, and how I miss her and all her friends. Since this was the first week of the Zoom 1 on 1 calls, I brought up how nice it was to talk to her 1 on 1.

“I like how I can talk to you and have a conversation with just me and you!” I told her.

“Yeah! And I like how both of our mics are turned on!” She replied eager and happy.

When she said that my heart melted. This is the new norm for my students. And since she is one of the older students, she is aware of the pandemic, why school isn’t in session, and why we have to learn through the computers. It made me sad when she said that, just because we are living in such a different time. Kids this age shouldn’t be refrained from talking and sharing their thoughts. But essentially that’s what we have to do when we mute the kids. We don’t do it for malicious reasons, but for the simple fact that sometimes there would be more than 15 kids attending a class, and the background noise just gets to be too much and too distracting. These memories and way of life will truly go down in our history books. She’ll grow up to tell her peers, “hey, remember in 2020 when we had to sign up for Zoom Circle Time classes when we were 4?”

Another student I had a 1 on 1 conversation with, is 5 years old. We can carry out a real conversation for maybe hours. But since these are scheduled chats, she knows she has a time limit. In the middle of showing me her toys, she cuts herself off…

“Marinelle, how many more minutes do I have left?” She said gently knowing that I would possibly have another meeting right after.

All these questions and responses pulling at my heart strings! I felt pretty sad that she even had to ask that question, that this is the current situation we’re in. Little did she know, I didn’t have anyone else scheduled, and was letting her take up as much time as she wanted.

Since I’m teaching the youngest of our preschoolers (2 and younger), they don’t understand what’s going on. Most of their side comments when they raise their hand for me to mute their mics are just little random sweet nothings. But I’m okay with that and its honestly the cutest thing. I will literally be in the middle of a lecture of whatever it is that I’m teaching, and someone will raise their hand. I unmute their mic and ask them what they would like to share with the class.

“Dinosaur! T-Rex! Roarrrrr!”

“Look at my lovey elephant!”

“I love pancakes!”

Everything totally irrelevant to the topic at hand, but oh soooo sweet! Kids really do say the darnest things. And if anything, I’m always left with a smile on my face or laughing out of cuteness or randomness.

Its been a challenge to keep my 2 year olds engaged. I have to think of new ways to spark their interest. I’ve found the reward system is really helpful. My kids love them some felt stories! I always tell them in the begining of the class what we have planned, and if we do very well during our learning component, we will get a very special felt story. Kids love the simple things. And it could seriously be the same felt story everyday, and they’ll still be interested. Its something to look at, something to sing along to, something familiar from school.When I see that they’re restless, I like to call on each of them at any given moment for them to answer a question. It keeps them on their toes, and they like the opportunity to be unmuted and share with all their friends. These are definitely some trying times – where my creativity as a teacher is being tested.

Two weeks ago I logged onto my first live Circle Time class. One student joined the class, and set up “Teachers plant the seed of knowledge that lasts a lifetime!” “PHK Teachers rock!” A second student joined in, excitedly telling me she drew me something- a green heart with “Thank you Teachers!” I was so confused and surprised. I thanked them and told them how much I loved their kind gestures. When I signed onto my second Circle Time, I was greeted with more love.

“Teaching is HEART work, thank you! We miss you!”

“Thank you Teachers!”

“Thank you!” With a beautiful flower

“Thank you! I miss you.”

” ‘Why do you love your teachers?’ ‘Because they give me lunch.’ ”

My heart! Seeing all these signs (literally all to the screen at the same time) gave me an overwhelming feeling of love and appreciation. I took pictures of my screen, but won’t share because it has my students’ faces in it. But I was so surprised that I wanted to cry. I didn’t even know that it was teacher appreciation day/week, but I definitely felt the love and gratitude through the screen. I told them (even though they’re 2) that I felt like it was a surprise party for me and I was so happy I wanted to cry. I – who by the way, am horrible at receiving surprises – said “wait…… I’m so confused, did y’all plan this or something 😭🤣.”

Teaching is not an easy job. There are some days where I feel defeated and wish I had more patience, or handled a situation differently. But at the end of the day, its moments like these that make me feel so fufilled as a teacher. Especially with Sheltering in Place, the parents have expressed their gratitude and appreciation more often. Its funny, before each vacation break we have, parents will always say goodbye with “you deserve this break. I don’t know how you guys do it.”

Being a teacher is hard work, but so rewarding. Especially at the age that I’m working with. They’re so funny, energetic, and hyped for everything. I made them a tooth project by hand and drew all the food, and they were so hyped for the different snacks I drew. I miss hearing “byeeee, love ya!” “I love you, Marinelle.” “You’re so funnyyy!” And all the random things I between.

During this Shelter in Place, several of my students have asked me to come over their house to play 🤣. “Maybe one day when Coronavirus is over, you can come to my house.” “Maybe my mom can set up a playdate so you can come to my house.” “Maybe you can come over one day so we can play this game!” I must be doing something right if I have multiple playdate offers. Hahahaahha.

“Infinity Is Forever”

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A year ago, my cousin, Nina, would never have imagined that she would be raising her son and daughter alone. But it’s the sad reality that she faces now. On September 28, 2016, she unexpectedly lost Will, the man she loved and been with for 9 years. Before this, everything seemed to be going in their favor; they got back together and were expecting their second child, they moved into the top level of the house Nina grew up in, and they were finally a family again after some time apart. Their lives drastically changed when Will passed away, leaving her with a son that was almost 5 years old, and a 2 month old baby girl.

The day after Will’s 1 year death anniversary, Nina decided to get a tattoo in honor of him. Before he passed away, Will wanted his next tattoo to be an infinity sign. When he brought it up she told him that she also wanted it too, and that they should get the tattoo together instead of him buying her an engagement ring.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want a real ring, I’d rather [we] have a house, and then we can just get tats on our ring fingers.’ That’s more permanent than a diamond ring,” she said matter of factly.

So I went with her to get her infinity tattoo, and she wanted to incorporate what seemed like 10 other ideas into it. With great thought, Nina decided to keep the tattoo simple, and stuck to the infinity sign with a music note that Will had tattooed on his hand. Music was Will’s passion, and she wanted to capture that in her tattoo for him.

It’s crazy to think that it has really been a year since Will passed away. And in this past year, I’ve witnessed my cousin change. She admits that she finds herself more antisocial, not wanting people to see her or be around others. She explains how even when she is out with friends, she’s not engaged in any of the conversations that they’re having, and her mind is in a thousand different places. After 2 hours of hanging out, she just wants to go home to her babies and call it a day.

Nina tries to keep herself busy to keep her mind off of the fact that Will isn’t here anymore. When she has too much free time, she’ll replay memories from the past and just overwhelm herself with too many emotions.

“What makes me cry the most is the fact that he’s not here to help me with the kids,” she says frustrated. “It makes me mad that he couldn’t stay here to help me and help raise them.”

And when she starts to overthink, she is met with the same feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. Before Will passed away, and while she was pregnant with Nalia, they were running into financial issues, causing them to fight. The fighting didn’t stop when Nalia was born, and Nina never got to make up with Will again because he passed away shortly after. The overwhelming feeling of guilt takes over her when she remembers how they didn’t talk before he passed. It’s one thing to know that the person you love is no longer here, but it’s another thing to replay in your head what you wish you could’ve said. Nina feels guilty knowing that she’s living a “comfortable” life because he did pass away. When Will was alive, they worried about financial costs, but now that he passed, she’s not in that position anymore. She feels guilty that it took him dying to be in a place where she’s financially stable.

“I wish I could go travel with the kids because [now] I can,” she says looking straight ahead, as we’re parked in the parking lot of Nalia’s daycare. “….But it’s like… who am I going to travel with… and to share these memories with?”

She reassures herself that things could have been worse, and as bad as it sounds, this probably had to happen. This situation has forced Nina to rely on her mom more than she wants to. And though they disagree, she knows that if Will was still to be alive, it would be another situation with him. It’s one of those moments where you look at all the alternate realities that could’ve happened and realize, either way you look at it, you would’ve been put in a shitty situation regardless.

“I always think, ‘well, maybe this is God’s way of telling me I should appreciate my mom, and accept her for who she is and the type of person she is,” she says. “It’s  hella funny because Will would always say that I act exactly like my mom. And I hella see it.”

She wishes that Will could’ve realized what they had. Nina believes that he knew what they had, and knew they had practically everything they wanted, from a house, a family, jobs, and pretty much everything was set in stone. But he didn’t know how to handle it. She knows that he grew up having nothing, and for him to have everything, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Nina knows that deep down Will didn’t think that he deserved all the good things happening in their lives. He had a lot of responsibility on his plate. They were expecting their 2nd child, his 3rd. He had to provide for my cousin and his 3 children. And she knows how much of a hard worker he was and how he would stress over providing for his family.

“I just wish that I could’ve just told him, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ ” she says. “But instead I was always mad. I would always be like, ‘what is wrong with him?!’ ”

She worries for my nephew, Tre, because he is a carbon copy of his father. She prays that Tre finds his way, because she genuinely doesn’t know what to do when he acts up in school. Nina says that he acts exactly like Will, and that’s why she’s even more scared for him. She wishes that Will was still around to help raise Tre, because since they’re so alike, he would know what to do to get through to him.

Since Nalia was only 2 months old when Will passed away, Nina always wonders what he would think of her if he was still alive. A couple months ago, Nalia turned 1. It’s one of those bittersweet moments that you realize she’s only getting older, and will only know of her father by stories and the few pictures they have together.

“Every time I stare at Nalia I’m just like, ‘what would Will say about her?’ ” she said. “Would he think she’s funny? … I always just look at her like, ‘what would he think about you?’ ”

Of course she knows that dating again is somewhere in her future, but she doesn’t like the thought of starting all over with someone else. She worries that a future partner can  be detrimental to the children, and overall just thinking the worst. She realized that she’s probably going to worry for her children and their well being for the rest of her life. And that’s something she despises about herself.

“If anything, this past year has made me realize what type of person I don’t want to be, but still am. ”

When I asked how she’ll tell the kids about how Will passed, she said she’d be honest with them and tell them the truth. Tre already knows that his dad was “sick,” but that he loved him a lot. Will always believed in not sugar coating the truth to his children, so that’s how she’ll continue to raise them. Tre and Nalia will know the truth, but will also know that their dad loved them and did what he could for them.

Though she hasn’t had many dreams of Will, the dream she holds dearest to her is the dream she had of him holding her hand. She loved his hands. She loved how they were that of a hard working man, but his palms were smooth and soft. In a way she believes that that’s Will’s way of saying that he’s still holding her hand through life.

“Infinity is forever,” she said. “He’s forever going to be in my heart.”

 

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