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AACTE Teacher Stories: Teachers as Forward-Thinking Frontline Workers

AACTE Teacher Stories is a new series highlighting the experiences of K-12 educators who are attending or alumni of AACTE member institutions.

As an AACTE National Holmes Scholar who graduated from the University of Central Florida, I learned that to persevere I must overcome some fears regardless of how grand they might seem.  After graduation, I opted to take the path of returning to the K-12 classroom as a teacher and reading specialist rather than transitioning to higher education. In the midst of COVID-19, I was uncertain and fearful, like many of my fellow teachers. The new school year highlighted my and others’ fears, forcing us to consider our roles as frontline workers in education. My English class read the text, What Fear Can Teach Us, a speech by Karen Thompson Walker. In her speech, Walker posits “We all know what it’s like to be afraid. We know how fear feels, but I’m not sure if we spend enough time thinking about what fear means.”

For the 2020-21 school year, K-12 teachers may have experienced failures and frustrations, yet we also took advantage of opportunities to “pivot” in order to allow for student success.  Collectively, as teachers we were fearful but found insightful ways to overcome those fears during the pandemic. COVID-19 unmasked disparities yet, regardless of the struggles, teachers continue to persevere and remain committed to diversity. Many are utilizing culturally responsive sustaining pedagogy and are attempting to implement equitable strategies to scaffold and differentiate instruction, engage with students, and cater to those with diverse needs. We are co-conspirators as we work to dispel myths about teaching. Below, I share the experiences of a fellow teacher who is doing her best to be an agent of change.

G.K. is a science teacher in Texas who has been fearful about her students losing their academic gains due to the myriad of issues they experienced this school year during virtual/distance learning. She realized that even though the students were experiencing burnout, they were always interested in what her life was like outside of the classroom. She took that as an opportunity to teach her students more about science. Whenever she could go on a trip, she would videotape her adventures and include elements about science to share with the classes. She quickly found a way to gain their trust and attention through her gift of telling stories, which in turn, helped the student retain academic knowledge.

Similarly, I had to face and overcome my own fears. My English language learning students struggled along with me this entire school year. When it was not due to the barriers of linguistic diversity, there was concern about accommodating those with diverse abilities. I remained fearful this school year of being ill-equipped to help support my students in their academic journey as they would be assessed in the same manner as their native English -peaking peers. My fear of not wanting them to fail and feel “less than” forced me to connect with other teacher scholars, those in K-12 and other active agents of change in higher education. Instead of reveling in the isolation of the four walls of my classroom—confined by masks, shields, Lysol, disinfectant and, gloves—I referred to the theoretical frameworks that I learned, such as the funds of knowledge, culturally responsive teaching, and socio cultural theories to help hone in on my focus and be intentional regarding my students’ success. With all my fears, I was able to embrace the new normal as I taught face-to-face classes and virtual simultaneously. When one technology failed, I learned another one, if Microsoft Teams did not work, I used BIGBLUEBUTTON while constantly modifying curriculum for rigor and equity. When the students were not participating at home (playing video games, sleeping, engaging on social media), I built relationships via text messages with their parents to help support them. This year forced me out of my comfort zone and left me with new skills I now feel proud of acquiring and applying. 

In her speech, Walker asks the question: “What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination, something that can be as profound and insightful?” I believe K-12 teachers around the United States are doing just that, overcoming barriers and using our fears to be innovative.

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