“Teaching is a huge part of my identity.” 

An Inspired Teacher Talk
Inspired Teacher Talks are glimpses into the work educators are undertaking during this extraordinary year. Their voices give us a picture of what life is like on the front lines right now. As reminders of the resilience teachers bring to the work, they offer us hope for the future. Interested in sharing your story with us? Fill out this form and we’ll be in touch. 

Cheyenne Gartin is a teacher at Paul Public Charter school and she joined us for our October 1 Speak Truth session with the theme, “The Impact of Trauma on Mental Health.” At one point during the conversation, when students realized a teacher was present, they paused to ask her about how she was doing during the pandemic. The quotes below are from the insights she shared.

This is image is from the avatar Ms. Gartin uses online.

The Challenges of Teaching Virtually 

When the pandemic began, I worked at an elementary school and I just knew that I wanted to work with high school students. So I took the leap of faith and transitioned to working at a high school. It’s been a bit of a Catch-22 because my classroom has always been a second home for my students. You walk in, everyone always has the same comment. ‘It smells so good in here!’ It’s because I invest in Glade plugins, snacks for my students. I have a tea kettle there. Everyone knows that my classroom is a second home. But now school is virtual, and I can’t really provide that for my students.

Teaching is a huge part of my identity. If I wasn’t a teacher what would I be? But as a teacher, I’m burnt out. And I know students are too. We don’t want to break your spirits. I’m trying to be understanding as well as maintaining my expectations and pedagogy for students. But it’s hard. I am trying my best. I try to come with 100% energy every day. I try to come with understanding each time I meet with my students.

Now is the time and the opportunity for us to create a better school experience for students. But instead we do what we always do and we just do what we know. We’re missing the opportunity that this unfortunate pandemic has created. This was the time for actual change.

Noticing what Students are Facing

It breaks my heart to know that several of my students have jobs that prevent them from participating fully in school. This pandemic caused their parents to lose their positions and they’ve had to step up. They’re 16, 17, 18 years of age and they’re  going to work at Safeway, or clean homes, or do hair, whatever it is, in order to make some sort of income. But here I am,  working from home. I’m working from the safety of my home. I’m able to follow necessary guidelines as opposed to my students who put themselves at risk by taking public transportation in order to get to their jobs to provide for themselves.

I am teaching students who are experiencing homelessness. And that affects what they can do in a virtual learning environment. While others’ home life may not be ideal. Another student expressed, “School was a safe haven and that’s been taken from me. When are we going back into the building?” She wasn’t concerned about her health. She was just like, “My priority is my grades and I’m slipping because I’m not connecting.”  

Establishing Trust from a Distance

It’s so much easier for a student to just log off and say it was their computer. It’s so much easier for a child to just disengage completely and keep their cameras off and keep their mics muted and not participate. But they still need that safe space and the challenge is creating that virtual safe space for them.

I tell my students, I teach because I want to be able to have conversations with you and I want you to be able to take these conversations and be able to have the tools you need so you can go to the college of your choice. I want to help prepare you so you can enter into any room and feel as though you fit in. Or if you feel uncomfortable, I want you to be able to advocate for yourself. 

Lag time is real. It’s one thing for me to give time as a SPED teacher for my students to process what I’m saying. It’s another for me to realize that their computers are moving slow. It’s not that they’re not engaged. Their computers are moving slow. Knowing that, I put that in the chat to a student recently. I wrote, “lag time is real, I totally understand.” I said, “turn off your camera and you’ll reduce the lag time.” That established trust within our classroom. They knew that I trusted that when their camera was off they could still be present. I knew how enthusiastic this student was about the lessons because he kept turning his camera on during a lively discussion to say, “No! I disagree! I disagree!” 

Connecting with Your Own Humanity

In a recent conversation with a colleague she cautioned me to think about what would happen if I get sick. I said, “No that’s not for me. I don’t get sick. I go to work. I’m a teacher. Teachers don’t get sick.” But this conversation made me realize, no, you’re human. You need to be careful also.

A teacher at my school recently made the suggestion that we get together in person. She said, “I’m really big on social distancing, but would you want to meet up and go for a walk?” I said, “Sure! I haven’t done that in awhile. Let’s see what outside is like!” And it was truly an experience. I was like, “Oh, this is what it’s like to people again. Huh. This is amazing. This is what an in-person conversation is. You look so different from the neck up without a box around your face! This is, wow. So people still wear shoes? you’re not wearing pajamas!”

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