11 Ways Teachers Are Going Above and Beyond During Coronavirus
Teaching isn't just a profession—it's a calling. No one embodies this more than these inspirational, innovative teachers, who are doing everything they can for their students right now.
America’s unsung heroes
It’s no secret that being a teacher, even under optimal conditions, isn’t easy. So it’s truly inspirational that educators coast-to-coast have been coming up with unique and innovative ways to help kids learn during the COVID-19 lockdown. From the smallest gestures to the grandest, teachers have been pulling out all the stops to make sure their students keep learning and thriving. And it’s not only kids who are benefiting from the added attention. Their stuck-at-home parents are grateful for the role teachers continue to play in their children’s lives and for the emotional boost it gives kids. In fact, according to a recent Kickstand survey, 88 percent of parents who are now working remotely have a deeper appreciation for teachers and childcare workers than they did before. Can you relate? Check out these 18 things homeschooling really made us appreciate about teachers.
Here are just a few examples of educators across the country who are going the extra mile. Or, as they would call it, keeping up with business as usual.
Creating a feel-good video
Fifth-grade teachers Matt Vitacco, Alexandra Virlas, and Katie Mies of Hoffman Grade School in Illinois (go, Hornets!) are very close to their students. The three educators have taught their current fifth-grade classes for the last two years, so they know the kids super well. They also realized they had to join forces, plus go above and beyond, to keep the kids learning during the lockdown.
Building on the success of math songs created by Vitacco in the past, the threesome devised a hysterical, educational video on cubic measurements. They used the melody from Lizzo’s song “Good As Hell” to create a catchy melody their kids would soon be singing as well as learning from. “We’re always looking for new, innovative ways to reach students, and using music and humor creates a memorable experience for kids to soak in the information,” explains Mies.
Putting the video together was a large endeavor. “The day before school was essentially canceled, we got together to record the singing portion of the video in my classroom,” explains Vitacco. “We were hopeful that we would be able to complete the video once we returned after spring break. Once we realized we were likely not heading back to the building, we had to get creative.” So each teacher created small video clips in their homes, adding flashes of bellyaching humor, and then sent them onto Vitacco, who turned them into a video on iMovie. The teachers also reached out to a beloved, soon-to-be-retired school associate, Kathryn Boyle, to bravely don a bathrobe and wacky sunglasses to film a bathtub scene, and the rest was education history.
Their masterpiece was released on April 17 in their morning Zoom meetings with the kids. That turned out to be a particularly difficult day, as their governor announced several hours later that school would be closed for the rest of the year. “I think the video was a light moment on a very dark day,” says Mies.
The video has been shared countless times on Good Morning America and by Lizzo herself, as well as Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon. “It’s been a lot of fun to see the hype. The kids think it’s pretty fun that their crazy teachers went viral,” says Vitacco.
“We were blown away by the support, but really want the message to be that we did this for our kids,” adds Virlas. “It’s always been about them. We miss them, and we know they are feeling down about not going back to finish out their final year at Hoffman before moving on to middle school. We hope this video was a way to show them how much we care.”
If you’re a parent, you’ll definitely appreciate these tips for keeping your kids calm about coronavirus, from a guidance counselor (and mom of three).
Providing birthday cake and Chromebooks
The Ryan Banks Academy in Chicago has been changing the lives of at-risk students in middle school and high school for years. When coronavirus hit, it hit these kids particularly hard, since 85 percent of them don’t have access to technology or the Internet at home. School principal Audrey Bland Hampton knew she had to act fast so her kids wouldn’t lose precious learning time.
“Our school is devoted to the social-emotional growth of our students and is intentional around building community,” she explains. “Due to COVID-19, we needed to find ways to make sure our students and families felt and stayed connected to our school community.” Through grants and donations, Bland Hampton and her team were able to supply parents with monetary support that allowed them to obtain Internet access, as well as food for their families.
Bland Hampton personally delivered Chromebooks to the students, making sure that every family had a device to use. As a result, the Academy now has a virtual school running five days a week, and classes are utilizing Summit Learning for their curriculum. “We do one-on-one Zoom mentor (teacher/student) check-ins every Wednesday, and I reach out to our parents by phone every ten days, to check in on how they’re doing and to see if there are any other needs we can assist with.”
She adds that during normal school days, birthdays are always celebrated, and she wanted that tradition to continue—lockdown or not. “We have had four student birthdays since being out of school, and I have made sure that our students still feel special by personally delivering a birthday cake to their homes.”
And that’s not all. “I will be making my next round of home visits this weekend, where we will be surprising our parents with additional monetary funds in order to ensure they are still supported since we will now be out of school for the remainder of this school year,” Bland Hampton adds.
Lifting kids’ spirits through music
David Martinez is one of those guys who always has a kind word to say and a goofy smile on his face. A passionate educator, the Bogota native is also an inspiration to his fellow music teachers at Education Through Music (ETM), a nonprofit organization that partners with schools to provide access to music education to all students, no matter their background or circumstances.
Martinez has been furthering ETM’s mission for the past two years at P.S. 76 in the Bronx. Along with the rest of New York City’s teachers, ETM teachers switched from in-classroom instruction to distance learning during the pandemic, providing online music classes and lessons to their students. But that wasn’t enough for the assistant band director and choir director. Martinez took it upon himself to create a significantly sized online library of 45 original videos for his students, ages six through nine. Check out this 30-minute lesson he made for his first graders, as well as an activity in Spanish that features him boogying down with his daughter and the Rhythmic Basketball Challenge, a movement activity designed to get kids outside (while social distancing, of course).
Taking care of kids with special needs
The Vincent Smith School on Long Island in New York serves youngsters with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Many of the children also have sensory disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism. Some of the kids have family members who tested positive for COVID-19 and are ill.
In anticipation of the remote-learning model that he realized was bound to occur in all New York schools, headmaster John Baldi set a plan in motion to serve his kids, way before politicians announced that schools would close. Out of concern that a lack of continuity would irrevocably set back his extremely vulnerable students, Baldi had his teachers and students training on Zoom early on, so they could hit the ground running once the inevitable occurred. When it did, they were able to convert to online learning in a heartbeat.
Today, he Zooms from one online classroom to the next, so that schedules and routines are maintained. He also makes sure that each student continues to receive much-needed therapeutic services like speech, reading, and occupational therapy. Without that, these kids could fall behind quickly and, in some instances, irrevocably. Knowing that parents need as much support as students, Baldi spends much of his time talking, texting, and emailing them. He has even taught some of them how to use Zoom, alleviating their frustrations, and calming their fears.
Baldi is also working hard to make sure his kids know they are cared about and missed by their teachers. He created a feel-good video montage of educators from the school, telling the students they’re missed. He’s also working to make sure that the students’ families, including extended family members, don’t feel left out, by keeping the school’s social media platforms full of photos of the school’s remote-learning classes.
The Vincent Smith School motto: “We teach differently because every child learns differently.” That’s never been more apparent than during this very different environment of distance learning, and Baldi has been living and breathing that motto every day.
Providing reading, writing, arithmetic, and food
Sometimes, it takes a village. When coronavirus hit, the entire educator community in Pennsylvania’s Chester Upland School District sprang into action, banding together to help their large population of underserved, at-risk students. The poverty-stricken city of Chester is consistently ranked in the top five most dangerous regions in Pennsylvania, as well as among the top 20 most dangerous in the entire United States. Murders, even of children, are heartbreakingly common. Making matters worse, the school district has been in receivership for the last ten years. It is currently run by the Pennsylvania Department of Education because the city is unable to fund it. Each school is cash-strapped and operates on a chokingly tight budget.
Shutting down schools in Chester during the pandemic meant that many kids wouldn’t have enough food to eat. To combat this problem, teachers and principals have been organizing and handing out food giveaways practically every single day. Students come to any school to pick up a bag filled with enough food to last them until the next giveaway.
Led by Superintendent Juan Baughn, Assistant Superintendent Jala Olds-Pearson, and Joanne Jones Barnett, educators worked together to create a distance-learning plan, which included gathering an ample supply of laptops and Chromebooks for high school students. It’s an ongoing work-in-progress, and money is currently being raised by the educators to supply Chromebooks to students in grades two through eight.
Like so many others, the teachers in Chester are connecting with their students virtually, as much as they can. While this may currently feel like business as usual, in a school district that is as focused on children’s basic needs as it is on learning, it deserves a special round of applause.
Nurturing the heart of the home
Many kids are spending more time in the kitchen than ever before. Samantha Barnes, a former middle school teacher and the founder of Raddish Kids, a subscription box service focused on academics through cooking, is making sure that time is well spent during the quarantine. To get kids cooking and learning, Barnes donated 50,000 Raddish kits to homeschooling families around the country. She also created a free online hub that features recipes containing learning components, social-media cook-alongs, and other activities. Parents who have found themselves at their wit’s end are breathing a slight sigh of relief, as well as enjoying the goodies their kids have been cooking up.
“We received the complimentary kit for the suddenly crisis-schooling families. This has brought inspiration, and motivation for my son to be in the kitchen,” says Missy Broadhurst of Fort Knox, Kentucky. “We made the cookie cake and soft pretzels. My son has really enjoyed making things, and we’ve even made math and science lessons out of it.”
Embracing a “crazy” idea
Some teachers teach. Others infuse passion and joy into learning. Enter Jennifer Cervantes. The public school teacher has been working with underserved kids for more than ten years. She adores her students at La Cumbre Junior High in Santa Barbara, California. But she was more than a little freaked out when learning went remote overnight, leaving her to teach from home with a six-month-old and two-year-old underfoot.
For Cervantes, creativity was the mother of invention. “I serve students of immigrants who come from low-income households and will be the first in their family to attend college,” she says. “I’m grateful to have had incredible success with student engagement during COVID and have found creative ways to inspire my classes, such as bringing in a Forbes scientist, a two-time gold-medal Olympian, and a California state assemblywoman as guest speakers into my virtual classroom. I have had 100 percent attendance on my Zoom classes!”
Cervantes, herself, is the daughter of an immigrant. She became a teacher so that she could create a classroom that would have inspired her younger self. “As a high school dropout who overcame adversity, I hope my story continues to inspire students and teachers to be creative and serve students during this time,” she says.
Cervantes’ students are currently working on “My Crazy Idea,” an assignment designed to promote out-of-the-box thinking during this time. Five students will win $100 each to pursue their ideas. Money for Cervantes’ work is coming primarily from Keiana Cave, a Forbes 30 Under 30 scientist. “She is the sponsor behind the assignment, as she was afforded the same type of opportunity as a junior high student and wants to pay it forward,” Cervantes explains.
Exercising while homebound
Len Saunders has been a public school teacher for almost 40 years. One of his passions is organizing national programs for kids that teach the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. One of these is Project ACES, (All Children Exercise Simultaneously). The project, which has run for 31 years, aims to get children across the country exercising together on the first Wednesday in May. Of course, having kids gather in their schools’ playgrounds or gyms was an impossibility this year.
“With schools closed, I feared the program could not take place. I started getting a lot of requests to make the program work remotely. But how was I going to accomplish this?” says Saunders. Then he had an idea. He created an exercise video using his students that could be posted on the ACES website, where children all over the world could access it. Saunders got four of his fifth-graders to volunteer to film exercise sessions, and he sent them music to use, plus directions. He intends to edit and post the video in time for Project ACES on May 6.
Nathan O’Brien and Megan, a mom, were among the participants. “The challenge for us was wanting to make the video perfect. Normally, kids are together in a group, which takes some of the pressure off, but when handling this solo and remotely, we kept doing the video over and over until we were happy with the outcome,” says Megan. “At our house, the grass was very wet and the bugs were out, but I still had fun!” O’Brien adds.
“I am so proud of all the students and parents who gave their time and effort to make this work,” says Saunders. “Hopefully, next year’s ACES Day will get back to normal, and life will get back to the way we are accustomed.”
These 34 inspirational quotes about teaching capture the priceless value of all educators.
Fighting on multiple fronts
Registered nurse Brian Hawkins, who’s based in New York City, knows what it’s like to be on the front lines. In addition to his work at NYC Health + Hospitals, he’s also an instructional coach with Read to Lead, a free digital-learning program that builds literacy and leadership skills in middle school students across the country. A true American hero, Hawkins has been tirelessly teaching, taking calls from students, and joining video lessons from the hospital while he’s fighting the good fight. He’s also helping to create virtual training modules to support remote project-based learning for his colleagues.
Brian knew he couldn’t care for his kids during this time. As difficult as it has been, his two small children have been sent out of New York City to Connecticut, to stay safe and be cared for by other family members until life is normal again. In the meantime, he’s doing what he can to help as many people as possible, in myriad ways. Here’s what it’s like to be a nurse fighting coronavirus on the front lines.
Teaching by example
Sometimes educators lead by real-world example instead of in a classroom. Such is the case at the Elisabeth Morrow School. The school is located in one of the hardest-hit areas of the pandemic, Englewood, New Jersey. Knowing how scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) currently is for health care workers throughout the state, Elisabeth Morrow’s Science Department Chair Jane Zagajeski joined with a few colleagues—school nurses Betsy Tyras and Desere Diaz and Arts Department Chair Amelia Gold—to donate materials from their science department and nurses’ offices to Hackensack University Medical Center and Newark University Hospital, both in New Jersey. Their generous donation included masks, gloves, face shields, Lysol wipes, and goggles.
The school professionals made their donation through GetUsPPE, a newly formed organization committed to creating a national, centralized platform where communities can get PPE to health care providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this pandemic, there is so much need but also a great opportunity for generosity. My role was to be a connection,” says Zagajeski. “Permission to donate these supplies came from my current Head of School Maureen Fonseca. Donations were gratefully accepted by medical professionals—the spouse of a current colleague and someone I met backpacking in New Hampshire almost 30 years ago. It was heartening to have these different parts of my life pull together in generosity and in hope.”
Going viral on TikTok
Nothing tickles a kid’s fancy more than seeing their teacher act like a goofball. Add a good dose of hope to the mix and you’ve got a winning recipe. Understanding this, educator Kevin McClintok of San Diego’s Rock Academy decided to meet his students where they live—on TikTok. Hoping to lift their spirits while under quarantine, he created an uplifting video filled with hope as well as humor, to let his students know that they’ll all get through this time just fine. McClintok (aka Mr.Mctiktok) went from 66 followers to nearly 97,000, the video garnered more than five million views, and he’s now posting new videos regularly.
Currently, McClintok is encouraging his colleagues to take on the same type of challenge by connecting and encouraging their students through out-of-the-box vehicles. He is also working with his students to create positive content of their own that is free of bullying and focuses on proactive messages.
For more inspiring stories, as well as information on staying safe and sane, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.