5/20/2020, noon | Updated on 5/20/2020, noon
Alfreda Blalock has been an educator for more than 33 years. At the end of the school year, she is ...
Michelle Silva is shown with her students before schools were closed for the remainder of the year. Photos provided by Chicago Public Schools

Teachers navigate the end of the year remotely due to COVID-19


Alfreda Blalock has been an educator for more than 33 years. At the end of the school year, she is set to retire from Burnside Elementary Scholastic Academy in Chatham. Michelle Silva is a first-year teacher at Marcus Garvey Elementary School in Washington Heights.

When school first started, neither teacher imagined they’d be teaching remotely by the end of the school year due to COVID-19.

Blalock, who teaches reading to third graders, said initially, remote learning was challenging because she wasn’t able to connect with all of her students.

She has a gifted class and a general education group. In her gifted group, more students were able to participate in the e-learning experience and embrace the technology, but with her general education class, Blalock said it was more of a challenge.

Initially, learning how to use Google Classroom and navigating her students on how to use the technology, both were a challenge. Blalock said this caused her to make some adjustments. She decided to go back to some of the platforms she had been using while the schools were still open, which helped ease some of the frustrations, she said.

Now, Blalock said e-learning is coming along and students are journaling and have an activity they do each day. She makes sure she greets each child by name and to keep them motivated, she does a chant with them and they sing a song. She also uses visuals, such as anchor charts and videos.

Blalock said it was emotional to find out the school year would end with teachers and students doing remote learning.

“And, it still is because I’m not able to touch my kids, connect with them, the things that they do, make them laugh, do the things we do on a daily basis,” she said. To stay informed on how they are doing, Blalock said she lets the students share what is going on with them.

“I think it makes me feel better knowing that my students are physically, mentally and spiritually okay,” she said. “That helps me continue day-by-day with this remote learning,” she added.

Silva also has been using Google Classroom as well as Google Meet and Google Docs for her students. She said it has helped her connect with her students.

“I’m able to see if they’re physically okay, for the students who can log-in, we do our check-ins, see how they’re feeling, mentally. And, then, the students I unfortunately can’t connect with on a daily basis, I’m doing constant calls with their parents, seeing if they need any support. I’ve been sending things through the mail, just to encourage them to keep up the good work.”

Silva said during her classes in college, she was trained on how to use technology, just not on the level where there was use every single day.

“It doesn’t prepare you until you’re actually in it. I’m learning day-by-day,” she said. “Our schools have done a great job giving us resources.”

Silva credits her colleagues at Garvey with supporting her during her first year as a teacher. Silva said she’s disappointed that she won’t be able to end the school year with her kids in the classroom.

“I kind of was looking forward to seeing that change, the development from the beginning of the school year to the end,” she said. But the well-being of her students, she said, is first and foremost, “so as long as they’re okay, I think it makes me feel better.”