By Martha Garcia, 2019-20 Hudson County Teacher of the Year.
What a time to be alive! Looking back on March 11, 2020, we had our usual faculty meeting after school. One of the main topics for discussion was planning and preparing to send our students home with emergency school work in the event we had to close due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I put together a packet for my 450 art students in the building. On Friday, March 13, 2020, we were notified that every teacher would have to be ready to accommodate enrichment learning online if we had to extend the school closure.
I was excited and nervous to begin distance learning and working from home which officially began on Monday, March 16, 2020. It felt great to be able to go on a morning run before starting my online classes. In addition, I enjoyed not feeling rushed to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast. I had to individually invite each of my students over the weekend to join my class since I was unable to share the class code before we left school on Friday. I have had some experience using Google Classroom as my Honors Art Class’s curriculum, but I have not fully immersed myself in online learning until these past two weeks. As a way of taking attendance and checking in with my students, I’ve been assigning a daily question to each of my classes, from something as simple as “What did you eat for breakfast?” to “ What problem or issue do you want to solve when you grow up?” Or questions relating to current events, like “If you could be quarantined with any person dead or alive who you would choose and why?” By the way, the number one response for this question that students chose is their mom.
As an art teacher, I’ve been making the most out of the online learning tools available to students and teachers, such as travelling virtually to museums and galleries. This inspired me to ask the question, “If you could travel to any museum or art gallery where would you go? What exhibition or artwork would you want to see?” The most common artworks that students wanted to visit and see were the “Mona Lisa,” by Leonardo Da Vinci in the Louvre in Paris and the “Starry Night,” by Vincent Van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. In addition to Google Classroom, I’ve made use of YouTube, which has been incredibly instrumental in supplementing lessons for student exposure to art.
By the second week, I started to become overwhelmed by the amount of emails I was receiving from students in addition to all the notifications from them submitting assignments. During a Zoom call meeting with other NJCTY teachers I learned how to adjust the notifications settings, which has made it a bit more manageable. Also, I had more students acknowledge and join our Google Classroom, which was a good sign that students are keeping up with their art class assignments.
A weekly question I asked during the second week related to Social Emotional Learning (SEL) was, “How do you feel right now? How do you want to feel at the end of our online journey when you return back to school?” This question allowed students to be vulnerable with their answers, which made me realize that they, too, are overwhelmed by having to change gears. Students have responded that they are inundated with a lot of work from their other teachers. I took the time to respond back to each student, letting them know that their feelings of being scared and anxious were valid, and that it’s okay to feel that way. I suggested they prioritize their time and remember to take breaks when working. I also let them know that I miss having them in the art room, and I look forward to when we are allowed to go back to school. Some students mentioned they were feeling relaxed since they did not have to wake up early for school and hoped to feel refreshed by the time we go back.
Since we can’t see art in person, I told my students to re-create the art at home! I’ve had some classes choose artworks that they find interesting and recreate the artwork using available supplies and materials they have at home. I’ve asked that they submit a photograph of their progress this week and next week the final project will be due and they will be responsible for submitting a photo of the finished assignment.
It’s been a roller coaster of a journey so far, but I’ve found sticking to a routine and creating a schedule has helped to accommodate my new normal. In addition, checking in with family, friends, and other teachers has helped remind me that we are all in this together! One of the great positives to this is being able to use the bathroom whenever I need to, instead of waiting for security or another adult to come watch my class. I think this freedom to go to the bathroom whenever has helped me to stay well-hydrated and not have to worry while teaching!
Martha Garcia is an art educator at Academy 1 in Jersey City, NJ. She is the 2019-20 Hudson County Teacher of the Year.