Class Acts: Our Educators
“At Belfountain Public School and beyond, teachers, principals, custodians and support staff got our kids learning again in classrooms and online.”
This fall, in schools across Caledon, Erin and Dufferin, teachers, principals, custodians and support staff managed to get our education system up and running again in classrooms and online – no mean feat.
Wendy Brooker knew she had deeply missed teaching in class – no teacher will tell you they chose the profession to sit alone at a computer – but she says she didn’t realize just how much she had missed her Grade 1 students until she saw them racing to enjoy one of Belfountain Public School’s beloved outdoor play areas in September.
“I remember when they first got to play in the gully again and they were giggling and laughing,” says Wendy, who has taught at the school since 2007. “Oh, my gosh, I felt a little normal.”
Wendy says she and her students agree that masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing are small prices to pay to be together after six months of exile. “They missed each other. They missed us. There are so many times I’ve had to refrain from giving the kids a hug. I’m a big hugger.”
Indeed, in addition to pulling the rug out from many conventional education practices – think group work, the basics of sharing and, yes, even the rug itself in the form of carpet-time reading circles – the pandemic has forced in-person teachers to rejig the fundamentals of how they communicate with their charges.
Wendy, for one, now sees how much she used to rely on facial expressions to relay information. In the Before Times, she might just mouth a gentle suggestion to a student to redirect behaviour. “They can’t read my lips anymore,” she says of mask wearing. “I’m trying to talk to them about what my eyes look like when I’m smiling and when I’m not. I now give a little wink when I’m smiling.”
While this has all been hard work, Belfountain principal Lynn Bristoll says she’s happy one of the pandemic’s biggest hurdles for educators – harnessing technology for remote learning – is more under control than it was when March Break stretched into infinity.
“That was a steep, steep learning curve. Now we’re in a great place because we’ve been through that,” says Lynn.
One major shift is that all Belfountain lesson plans are now created with online learning in mind, in case a child or a class needs to quarantine. (Ninety per cent of the student body, 180 students, opted for in-person learning.)
Back in March, staff scrambled to get their personal and school computers in working order – many lacked cameras, microphones and the right software. And spotty rural internet affected staff and students alike. But Lynn doesn’t begrudge becoming an ad hoc IT department: “We signed up for this. We signed up to teach children. Parents didn’t sign up to be teachers.”
On the first day of school on September 8, the whole Belfountain family – including the tireless custodians and support staff, and the in-house YMCA before- and after-care team (supervisor Karen Dhaliwal took the photograph for this story) – was ready for the next chapter.
“To see them get off the bus and walk into the school was pure joy,” says Lynn.