Teaching When Schools Reopen: Thoughts from an Interventionist

After 14 years in the teaching profession working with kids from pre-k to college, I have learned plenty about developmentally appropriate pedagogy. Would you believe preschoolers’ needs do not differ that much from college students? The last six years of my full-time career have been spent working with students who were behind academically. From my interventionist point of view, the following are three ideas that educators should consider when returning to the classroom after COVID-19 forced closures.

Be Patient

We know it is a virtue, but patience may be the number one tool in a teacher’s metaphorical toolbox once schools reopen. Educators are known for their abundance of this trait; however, I’m talking about pouring out gobs of patience and using it generously from day one. Think of the teacher in Billy Madison who rubs paste on her face- but envision painting on patience instead!

It can be stressful to experience many unexpected things in a short time. Life right now seems like one big adjustment after another. Rapid changes can take a toll on you, your co-workers, and the students. Realize that certain things in the classroom may not flow the same as they once did. The best advice someone gave me before teaching intervention classes was that I would be teaching the same thing repeatedly and would not move quickly through the curriculum- and that was ok. Know your lessons may not move as swiftly as in the past. There are gaps to fill and reviewing missed standards is needed. Give yourself and your students grace!

Listen to Students

From a global pandemic to the ongoing fight against inequality – numerous historic events have recently occurred. Even adults are having a hard time processing it all. Some students are seated at my intervention table not because they have a specific learning disability, but rather because of the constant turmoil in their lives distracts them from learning. We frequently take time out to just talk and listen to one another.

For some students, school is their safe haven and routine. This security was taken away from them last school year very abruptly. Now they may live in fear of schools shutting down again, in fear of getting themselves or others ill, or in fear of facing discrimination. Students may act out or be overly anxious. I predict many will be off routine and challenged by new procedures implemented in schools. Plan time to really listen to students. Address their concerns. Speak about changes. Take time to breathe. Support one another. The above is not listed in any state’s standards but will be critical to keeping your classroom thriving once schools reopen.

Build Upon Strengths

One thing my interventionist eye has taught me is how to spot the strengths in students and build them up. Students come to my classroom because they are behind. They may have low self-esteem or simply feel frustrated and hopeless because of their past struggles. If we focus on failure, little progress is made. Not all that has happened during the coronavirus closures has been terrible for everyone. Some students may have gotten much-needed family fun or downtime. Others may have been allowed to explore educational topics that were of interest to them. Students will have stories to tell that can help inspire the classroom. There will be at least one thing that allows each student in your classroom to shine as an individual. Your job is to find it, nurture it, and help them grow emotionally and academically!

When everything is forced to change suddenly, creativity can rise. Innovative teaching ideas are springing up everywhere and we can look forward to them breathing new life into our classrooms. Time to look for the positive. Remember that you have a job you love. You can use it to help support and influence the next generation of lifelong learners. Whether you are teaching pre-k to college, or anywhere in between, remember these three things: be patient, take time to listen, and build up strengths. Please do take time to just breathe, even if it is behind a mask! Stay well!

Dr. Rachel Cornett is an Academic Interventionist at Brown’s Chapel Elementary where she teaches rising readers and future mathematicians in grades K-5. Dr. Cornett also teaches intervention pedagogy to preservice educators at a local university. Prior to these roles, Rachel taught 1st grade for 14 years. She currently serves on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Early Literacy Council and has helped create statewide professional development about higher academic standards for students. Rachel recently earned her educational leadership endorsement, is president of her local recycling board, and likes to giggle with her toddler in her free time.