March 12, 2020 was what seemed like a normal Thursday afternoon in my life. I was anticipating the countywide Professional Learning day already determined for the next day which meant students wouldn’t be at school and the end of the “normal” work week. One of the things my colleagues and I tend to look forward to on these days is the ability to sit down and eat lunch together. We share stories of our classrooms, we laugh, we swap family stories, catch up on life events, and enjoy the time we have together.
I live in a very rural area, so flooding can stop school in the blink of an eye. It just so happened that this particular Thursday night, we had severe storms which caused flooding to occur and our county to cancel the professional learning day. All of a sudden, we had an unexpected 3 day weekend. Though I am very dedicated to my profession and my students, I have to admit I enjoy an unexpected or unplanned 3-day weekend. Once the high water had receded, I immediately decided it would be best for me to go ahead and take care of some chores around the house and make the most of the extra time—which included taking my son to the barber shop and grocery store.
I was aware of the Coronavirus and the danger it held for everyone it came into contact with, but I never knew March 13th would mark history and change my life. I was aware of the virus spreading throughout the nation, and I was aware that I would have to soon take caution to protect my family. At that point, however, I didn’t see things happening so quickly. It was even at that moment I felt safe enough to have my son out with me, which is something I wouldn’t dare do today.
As I entered the barber shop, they were televising a press conference from our governor in West Virginia and a man in the shop who knew me looked at me and politely said, “You guys won’t be going back to school will you?” His question threw me off guard. I paused many moments before I could answer him because I had just never imagined this happening so soon for us. I am still embarrassed by my response to him as I quickly replied, “Really?” and returned my attention to the governor’s press conference. Within 10 minutes of the start of the press conference, Governor Jim Justice officially announced the closure of all schools in West Virginia. The man I was previously talking to quickly said, “There it is, I told you.”
At that moment, I didn’t know what to think or how to process the announcement. As I mentioned earlier, we live in a very rural area, so a trip back home from the barber shop can easily last 45 minutes if traffic isn’t an issue. The entire way home I pictured the school year simply ending and us moving on to next year. That thought alone was something difficult to process.
It was at that moment I felt like I was just leaving the locker room for a tied game with fellow teachers around the country. It was up to us to get back on the field and win the game together.
Once I arrived home and began to catch up on our local news and check in with some colleagues, I quickly realized that school would have to go on. Along with being a community coach here for Open Up Resources and an ELA teacher for my school, I worked for a company called Teaching Lab where I presented to literacy teachers across the nation. I was on a call with them when I realized the teachers across America were jumping in head first and turning their entire classrooms into online environments using platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, and many others. Once I finished that call, I hopped on another call with the community for EL Education at Open Up Resources, and I was privileged to hear the many ideas teachers were sharing for their approach to creating digital documents allowing their students rich opportunities for learning. It was at that moment I felt like I was just leaving the locker room for a tied game with fellow teachers around the country. It was up to us to get back on the field and win the game together. I immediately thought of how I would incorporate the ideas I had already heard in my own online environment, and I was immediately thankful that my students were familiar with Google Classroom.
Let me quickly say that I know this is not the best case by any means. I know the best way for students to learn is in my classroom using their pencils and paper to process their thoughts and technology to enhance the learning process. However, this is happening. Let's give it our all.
I was ready, but little did I know that my next hurdle was just an email away. Internet access is not as available here as it may be in other areas and my leadership felt it would be best to ensure equity by providing a link to a downloadable paper document students could work on at home.
I had to change all of my ideas again and with less time than ever to figure it out. It would have been very easy to let frustration get me down knowing that I couldn’t utilize many of the tools we just mentioned, but I knew it was very important to make the best of all this chaos that every teacher in the nation was facing. I immediately talked myself through this by adjusting my thinking to, “What matters most in my classroom, and how can I get that to my students in a stress free way?”
My first priority was the well-being of my students. In the second week of quarantine, I personally called each student and spent a few moments on the phone with them to make sure they were doing well. Out of all of my years of teaching this has become one of my most cherished memories as I reflect on the different conversations and my students reactions to receiving a phone call from “Mr. Endicott.” I also wanted my students to interact with text in a meaningful way and continue to build knowledge on the topics we were covering through our EL modules. My teaching partner and I, Stephanie Endicott, decided to try and incorporate the Read, Think, Talk, & Write process into each assignment. We were able to find online texts and articles to go along with our module topics and we built tasks for the students that would follow this cycle.
We also wanted to make sure that parents would have as little stress as possible added to their daily lives, and our goal was to make the tasks rich but easy to follow.
I find myself questioning often if there is something more I should be doing for my students. The answer is likely “yes” or at least will be at some point down the road, and that is okay. Why? Because we are teachers. We are always learning and always growing and that is what makes us so great. We will always change and adapt to meet the needs of our students. It is the reason I follow the quote by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better, once you know better, do better.”
It’s also a reason I am so excited about HIVE 2020. Though we have to meet virtually this year, the HIVE committee has been so dedicated to ensuring the magic of this Professional Learning event comes through each Zoom session. With coffee chats, keynotes and interactive workshops, this 5-day virtual conference will be one I know I will not forget. In particular, the EL Education K-8 pathways give educators, regardless of their experience with EL, a rich exploration through the joy and rigor of the EL Education K-8 Language Arts curriculum.
As this journey continues, we may find things we should do differently and we may possibly need to change things as we go. No matter what, we care and we always love our students at full capacity, and that is what leaves the most impact. Years down the road our students will probably not remember the assignments they completed through COVID-19. What they will remember is whether or not they had a teacher who loved, supported, valued, and cared for them. That is my goal and mission.
Justin Endicott is a 4th/5th grade ELA teacher, Open Up Resources Community Coach and ELA Facilitator for Teaching Lab. Reach out to him and other Community Coaches on the EL Education K-8 community Facebook page, via email and on Twitter.
About Open Up Resources:
Open Up Resources is a 501c3 that exists to increase equity in education by making the highest quality curriculum freely accessible to educators and providing implementation supports to the broadest number of teachers, empowering them to effectively and sustainably improve student outcomes in pre-K-12 English Language Arts and Mathematics. To learn more about Open Up Resources' mission and work, click here.