Making Lemonade with No Lemons: A Teacher’s Perspective on the Return to School
By Tamar Volosov
Today ended my 10th year of teaching. There is no need to discuss the strangeness, the unchartered territory of teaching I, every teacher, and frankly, every human visited this past year. It would be beating a dead horse.
Every teacher I have spoken to has a Carona related tale to share. A funny story of a Zoom “mishap,” a moment of sadness when a student’s family member was ill, or that breakthrough moment when you finally reached a struggling student – made even sweeter because it was through a computer screen.
As usual, our last 2 days of meetings were a jump start to next year’s planning. But this planning was anything but usual. It consisted of talks of virtual versus in-person teaching, isolated small group pods, and protocols of social distancing and PPE.
Teaching is a second career for me. I have spent much of the past ten years honing my craft, trying to make up for the lost time. I worked for my master’s in education. earned various certifications, and spent numerous hours doing professional development. All done in pursuit of excellence and to ensure I am on the cusp of best practice. Learning and staying current on educational trends has been a priority, making sure my lessons are multi-sensory, engaging, and child-centered.
It is well known that young children learn through action, play, and their senses. And I am not just referring to preschool-aged children, this goes well into the primary and elementary ages as well.
It is the reason our swift shift to virtual learning was frightening. Learning a new platform, engaging students, implementing movement and sensory experiences was a challenge. Yet, overall we did it. And we did it pretty well. We made lemonade out of lemons.
But how do you make lemonade when you don’t even have any lemons?
As I sat in front of my computer these past 2 days, in meeting after meeting, I could not help but feel as if I, and my fellow colleagues, are being asked to complete an impossible task. Make lemonade … without lemons, sugar, or water.
A return to our school building and face-to-face teaching is what I and every teacher wants. But the protocols, rules, and guidelines being discussed seem to contradict everything I know to be true about young children, their needs, and how they learn.
It is well known that in order for a child to be successful or even available to learn, their basic needs must be met. It’s one of the many reasons schools offer free meals for students. Children with empty bellies or tired eyes simply are not available and thus not able to learn.
But even more basic than a good night’s sleep, or even a full stomach, is a child’s need to feel safe. They need to feel secure, protected, and comfortable in their classroom.
So while limiting a student’s social network to their own small pod will be difficult, implementing sensory experiences through layers of PPE challenging, and loss of engaging special programming is a bit sad, I can jump on board and adjust to this new normal. I can make lemonade out of lemons.
But the protocols discussed in my meetings; students maintaining constant social distance within pods, the inability to openly share classroom materials, and ensuring students remain within a small personal radius, is not only forgoing best practice, it is not even meeting a child’s most basic needs. It is asking me to do the impossible. I simply cannot make lemonade without any lemons.
All I need is a lemon or two; a classroom model that will provide a safe and comfortable environment for my young learners – even if it lacks the bells and whistles of best practice; With just a lemon, I know I could improvise. It won’t be my typical recipe for lemonade, but I bet with the effort and love it just might taste sweeter.
Tamar Volosov is an Elementry school teacher at the Berman Hebrew Academy. She lives in Silver Spring with her husband and three children.