Delia Parks misses her kids — all 94 of them.
She’s a second-year teacher who teaches sixth grade math at Southeast Guilford Middle School, and says that not getting to see her students every day is one of the hardest parts about her new COVID-19 life.
“I just really worry about them,” she says.
Parks, like all other teachers, has had to adapt her curriculum to teach all of her material online for the rest of the school year. That means making online videos, conducting virtual office hours and posting updates regularly for parents and students.
“It’s been hard,” she says. “Some people are like, ‘Oh you’re a teacher so you’re off now.’ And I’m like, ‘No….’ In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m working even harder than I was before. I’m having to find creative solutions to things and I’m learning new technology and learning all these new platforms.”
And as a second-year teacher, Parks says having to do it on her own feels daunting.
“I realize that I have to be much more deliberate and proactive about reaching out when I need help and support,” she says. “Aside from our scheduled meeting during planning, teachers share a lot of ideas and general support just passing each other in the halls…. The job is harder to do without those little interactions.”
Still, without kids of her own, Parks understands that she has more time and flexibility than some teachers who have the obligation to teach their students but also their own kids at home.
“I’m struggling to find a balance between engaging kids and not overwhelming them and their parents,” she says. “I’m still trying to find that balance. I don’t want my class to be something that adds additional stress to an already difficult situation, but hopefully is something that is comforting because of its routines and structure.”
Parks lives at home with her two dogs, Rosie and Edie, and says the pandemic forced her to finally clean out the spare room she had saved to use as a home office. And even though she’s not leaving the house, she’ll usually get dressed and put on makeup every day so she feels like she’s going to work — at least from the waist up.
“I try to keep as much structure to my day as possible,” she says. “I need to have that sense of normalcy.”
As she’s had to move her classroom online, Parks says she worries about the kids that don’t have access to a laptop or the internet to complete their assignments. She says about 75 percent of the kids have signed on to the virtual classroom but others she hasn’t heard from in weeks.
“We are still trying to track them down and try to figure out what the issue is,” she says. “I worry about the access for sure.”
Other kids she’s talked to seem to be less engaged than if they were in the physical classroom, which also worries Parks.
“I hold office hours every day,” she says. “Some of them don’t really see the point right now, so I’m trying to put incentives in place and work to get them engaged.”
She’s currently holding a competition between her different classes to see which class can score the most points on their assignments and has reserved a gift certificate for the student who gets the most points. But rather than grading students on accuracy in their work, Parks is rewarding engagement.
“I’ll give them points if they take a picture of their workbook or on whether or not they watched the video,” she says. “They also get points for attending office hours. I found that it helps with accountability.”
During her daily office hours, which she holds twice a day, some students will log on and ask questions, but Parks says other times, students just show up so they can see their friends.
“At first I was like, That’s not what we’re here to do,” she says. “But after a while I was like, Wait, that’s fine because that’s part of this too. That’s part of school too.”
On one occasion, Parks held office hours with just a single student who walked her through the popular Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.”
“Now I don’t feel like I have to watch it because I know about it through the eyes of an 11-year-old,” she says.
She says the change has also brought positives to her approach to teaching like more one-on-one feedback and the quality time through the office hours.
“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of my kids better,” she says.
When she’s not working, she says she tries to decompress with Netflix and crafting. She’s also working on a 500-piece puzzle that depicts dried tea lives.
“It’s really, really hard,” she says.
Still, sometimes she finds herself wanting to check her messages after hours and answer questions from parents and students.
“I always work a lot of nights and weekends, so now working from home, it’s hard to create those boundaries and not feel like I’m working all day,” she says. “I’m still figuring that out like when to shut it off.”
- Favorite thing eaten in quarantine: I made a pot roast one day. I actually went out looking for ground beef and they didn’t have it, but I found the pot roast instead. I added carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and some seasoning that you get in the little packet. It’s been good that I’m cooking a lot more.
- Quarantine silver lining: My family lives all over the world: New Zealand, Washington state, Massachusetts. So the six of us have been doing a weekly Zoom chat, and it’s been really nice. Like we could have been doing it for years, but it took this to say, “Hey, we can do that.”
- What you are watching/reading/listening to: I’m really into horror movies, especially creature features. If I need something to balance it out, I’ll watch something like “Arrested Development.”
- Words of encouragement: Just to give each other a lot of grace and be patient with each other because everyone is learning. Not just students, teachers and parents, but everyone is. Just not to jump to conclusions about people’s intentions and to give people the benefit of the doubt.