Virtual Teacher Spotlight: Kristin Komazenski

It’s officially June, which means the end of the school year is near. Typically, this is an exciting, yet nostalgic, time for faculty and students. It’s a time where the workload slows down, there are more parties and school activities and summer “officially” begins!

Unfortunately, this school year is winding down differently than it has in the past due to COVID-19. But, this doesn’t mean teachers and students aren’t getting excited for the school year to end, because let’s be honest, everyone’s ready to stop teaching and learning virtually and are eager to get back to their classrooms in the Fall.

So, let’s round out the virtual teacher spotlight series with one of my dear friends and 5th grade English Language Arts and Writing teacher in Troy, NY, Kristin Komazenski.

What does a “normal” teaching day look like for you?
Each day looks a little bit different right now. Throughout the day, there are Google Meets with students. Some are one-on-one meets to help with assignments and others are just to chat and socialize a bit. We send out assignments for the week on Monday mornings so the students can work on them when they are able to. If they have questions, they contact us through Google Classroom and we can set up a Meet or we can answer through email. There are also a lot of Google Meets throughout the day with other teachers to co-plan and collaborate. In between meets, we are creating our distance learning curriculum to make sure we are meeting the state standards. Once that is created each week, I create the weekly assignments and assessments and record myself teaching mini lessons for the students to watch.

What are the positives of online teaching (if any)? What are the negatives?
One of the positives of online teaching is that some of the students who might be a bit more reluctant to answer questions or participate in class are very active in the Google Classroom. I think sometimes the kids might feel a little bit more comfortable expressing themselves at times. Another positive is that some of the students are really figuring out how to problem-solve. They are taking a lot of time to try to figure out the technology component and they really like helping each other out!

One of the negatives is not being able to be with them each day and it is tough to know they might not be getting the emotional support they need. School is a safe place for a lot of children and being away from it is hard for so many of them. Our classroom community is like our own little family and I know that everyone is certainly missing each other. 

What do you think the environment is going to look like once students and teachers can return to the classroom? Have your schools discussed this at all?I’m unsure about what it will look like. Socially distancing a classroom full of kids seems like a very lofty task. Conversations have started about what the next school year might look like, but nothing has been set in stone yet. We have to think about readjusting the curriculum as well. 

Does your school have any programs in place for children who need help, inside or outside of school, during this time?
Our school has been doing an amazing job helping families outside of school.

Our school has been doing an amazing job helping families outside of school. We provide food deliveries each week for families in need.We also were able to purchase Chromebooks for families who did not have access to computers. There have also been anonymous donors to help out families who needed it. 

What do you miss the most about being in school teaching? What do you think your students miss the most?
I think we all just miss being around each other the most. We talk about it a lot in our Google Meets. There are a lot of special moments that happen in school that I miss terribly. Watching students have  “a-ha!” moments or watching a friendship blossom are things that I can’t see from behind my screen. I really miss being able to laugh with them. A lot of the kids talk about how much they miss their friends and the social interactions that they no longer get. I also think they miss laughing at me when I trip over something or spill coffee on my shirt, even though they would never admit that to me haha!

Do you have any interesting stories or situations you’ve experienced during your time teaching from home?
The whole situation of online teaching with children really still blows my mind even after doing it for the past few months.  We definitely have gotten to know each other in a different way than we can in a classroom. Google Meets have brought me into a whole new world as a teacher. I have met siblings, pets, and grandparents. I have been taken on virtual house tours, had sing-longs, shared a few dance parties, and hosted virtual cooking classes (complete with a chef hat thanks to Amazon). Never have I ever been in my living room with a class full of 10-year-olds behind my screen.  It has been remarkable to watch some of the kids come together during this time and be so supportive of each other. 

What advice do you have for other teachers and parents to help them get through the remainder of the school year?
I would say to allow yourself to be forgiving. Not only forgiving to others, but also to yourself. This is such a weird time that no one knows how to navigate and there’s no handbook to help you get through this. Allowing yourself and your kids to have a bad day is okay and talking about what is upsetting us or scaring us is important. Celebrating small victories and sharing them should happen every day, even if the biggest victory of the day is something as small as a good cup of coffee. 

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