Teaching in a Pandemic

Amber Norwood Dialogue, Ethnography, Interview

Ring ring! A new school year is already here and we’re still in the pandemic. We may be affected differently by the world pandemic and by social changes as we live in different environments, but we all a universal experience during this new way of life. The effect of Covid-19 has caused people to experience unpredictable circumstances like school closure. An academic counselor who maintained her role for over 20 years at a small private Christian High School is now facing some new experiences as this academic school year is pushed to remote learning. Her name is Regina Bloemendaal, but students like to call her Mrs. B. She is 53 years old, has been married for 33 years, and has 3 children and 3 grandchildren. For the most part, her life has been dedicated to helping students choose the right career path. Before the pandemic, Mrs.B worked most of her day, she got home and, on the next day you’d see her back in the office.

To slow the spread of Covid-19 most school campuses in the U.S must remain closed. I am always curious to know how people respond to the pandemic and how they keep up with everything while many crises are going on around them. I asked Mrs.B if she has time to share her experience with me for this research paper. I haven’t talked to her for a while since I graduated last year, and when I contacted her, she did respond “I would love to help you out!” That’s who she is, always has time for her students. She emails me that she’s available on Wednesday the 17th, 2021. I asked her if we can have a Zoom meeting later that day and she agreed. We started our zoom meeting around 3 pm.

I patiently waited for her to join my zoom. I was so excited to talk with her face to face even though we couldn’t be in person. Then, five minutes later she zoomed in on my zoom waiting room. I then began our conversation by thanking her for taking the time to talk with me. Before we get started with our conversation related to my research, I asked her “where are you right now?” She answers, “I’m in my office at school.” I thought she works remotely from home but what’s happening here? She continued, “Our school’s campus just opened about two week ago. Staff and students are allowed to work and study in the classroom but just have to follow the protocol.” I was surprised and then I began to interview.

I asked her, “What’s one word you use to describe your job right now, and why?”

She paused for a second and then said, “Grateful because I get an opportunity to work and maintain my job. As you may know, many people are losing their jobs,  shortened hours, and other issues but for me to just have the opportunity to work I’m grateful for that.” Working during the pandemic isn’t easy for her, but the challenge brings her to a different level in preparing her students to succeed. I then asked her,  “How do you break it down and handle everything?” She said, “While I spent most of my summer last year preparing, and when the school year started I just needed to find a way to be more creative to get the students to engage.”  Who would have thought that her job has to rely 85% on technology? An academic high school counselor normally just pulls a student from their class right away when she wants to talk with them, so she found having to use a phone call, text messages, and Zoom meeting to get their response back the most challenging part this year. She gives an example from the senior class, “they’ve missed so many good opportunities such scholarships and helpful webinars from different colleges available to them but they don’t take advantage of it. I have done my part to gather the information but I don’t know if the student takes the time to look at it or not.” The frustration from her response gives me the feeling that what else she can do to help her student when she already gives her best. The next question that I asked was, “What’s the other hardest thing as being an academic counselor this year?” And her response, “Trying to connect with the struggling student, and trying to reach them. Because you know some students need the motivation to feel the support but now I don’t know who is struggling when I can’t have the connection when everyone is on campus.”

Then, about fifteen minutes into our conversation via Zoom I switched the topic. I asked her, “What have you been doing besides working?” Her facial expression changed immediately. “Yes! I got to spend some time with my family during the weekend. Last week I got to visit my son who recently had a new baby born; it’s a baby boy!” Then she added that she has not been doing anything new recently because of her health issue and doesn’t want to be in public much, so she just stays home and does her work. Our Zoom conversation comes to an end after we spent about 30minutes discussing some of her experiences.

After the conversation that we had that day, in the end, I asked her if I can visit her in person at the school since she works at the school now. “Yes, you’re welcome to stop by anytime,” she said. I check my schedule when it is the best time to visit, and I end up telling her I will visit the school on Friday the 19th. I let her know beforehand, just to be safe. At 3 pm on Friday, I arrive at my high school campus. I got there when the regular school day was over so that I can catch up with some more information about Mrs. B’s experience. I pulled up in one of the school parking lots and noticed that there were so many empty spaces. For a minute I feel the difference already. I got out of my car, put my mask on, and walked forward to the main gate. A big tree located near the gate reminds me of many great moments between me and my friends during our lunchtime. I took my turn toward Mrs. B’s office. While walking in the hallway, I saw some familiar faces of the staff. And this brought me so much joy. I saw Mr.Fox who taught me Pre-Calc during my junior year, he volume up his voice and said “What’s up kiddo!”. I screamed, “Mr. Foxx!” Then, we chat for about 5 minutes. He has to leave and I also have to get to Mrs. B’s office. Joyfully make it to her office. Ten minutes after we talk about the issue that’s not related to my research, I change the topic to ask her for some more information that I need to observe.

I asked, “What have you been doing today?” After a moment of silence, she then responds “So I get here at 7:15 in the morning, meet with one of the student’s parents at 7:45 am, after that I have another meeting with one specific university counselor at 11 am, then prepare for the staff meeting on Monday, the rest of my day I check my email and prepare for next week.” Her job is like a repetition from day to day and I can feel her loneliness inside of her. She knows it is hard but she will not let this challenge get in her way, and she keeps finding a way to improve herself for the benefit of her students. I have been at her office for about an hour already, I think to myself I get enough information and don’t want to take up more of her time; I think I should leave.  Right before I am about to say goodbye I hear some noise coming from the gym. I asked Mrs.B “Is there a sport going on right now?” She said, “Yes, the girls on the volleyball team practice in the gym, and most of the other sports are canceled for this year.” After my trip to my high school, I feel even though the school environment does not feel like the traditional school year, yet the school staff is working their best for the good quality that the student should deserve.

In learning about Mrs. B’s experience working during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have the sense that, even though you must perform to the best of your ability, you still have to do more. That’s okay because everyone experiences new challenges and will not succeed at first but learn from the experience, which makes you better. Her experience resonates with mine because I also find online learning stressful and less motivating. But knowing that I am not alone and other students might experience like me, too. Therefore, facing hardship helps people find purpose and a goal to strive for; failure to do so only results in giving up, failing to succeed is never an option.