By Michelle Velbis — Colorado Springs, Colorado … I am a middle school teacher and principal. As of March 30, I still dress like a professional. I still drive to my office. I still start school at 8:00 a.m. My students and I have devotions, a time of worship, and prayer. We talk about the days assignments and anything else that might be on their minds.

What’s different about teaching during a pandemic? I am the only one in my classroom. I “meet” with my students through Zoom. Staff meetings, administrative meetings, board meetings are all virtual now. I eat lunch by myself, sit a lot more than I would like in front of a computer, and spend more time creating lessons and trying to find creative ways to reach out to my students and parents.

Keeping students on task in class is hard enough. Give them all the free time they want with little or no supervision and accountability – I have some students thriving and others bombing. I send a lot more texts and emails to parents to try to keep them informed and connected to their student’s learning and achievements. Just like the students, some parents are succeeding, and others are not.

As a “coach” to my students, I really feel like I have one hand tied behind my back. Normally, I am in the ring with them, cheering them on. Online learning takes a lot of self-discipline and that is a trait that is lacking these days in my classroom under normal circumstances. Add a whole house of distractions, video games, movies, social media – who wouldn’t have a hard time focusing?

As many teachers have commented, having a mute button has been nice at times, but honestly, I miss the face-to-face connection with my students. I can’t read their body language or facial expressions, especially when they only share a black screen with their name on it. It feels institutional and impersonal.

Although, I do like the fact that I meet with every one of my students throughout the day individually. We go over math problems and anything else they might need help with. I get to see family pets, hear their siblings in the background, and once and awhile, mom or dad might pop up on the screen.

I also like the fact that my day is a little more flexible. During my lunch break, I can go for a walk if I want to. If I need to quickly “meet” with a parent between classes – no problem, I can hop on Zoom. Grading assignments from home without lugging books and strewn papers is nice. In addition, students have no excuses that they can’t find a paper – they turn their assignments in electronically.

COVID-19 has brought with it instantaneous flexibility and creative thinking. I have been stretched in ways I could never have imagined and so have my students. All in all, I think we have done pretty well. I am proud of myself, my staff, and students.

My students and I also agree that COVID-19 has given us more time with God and our families and this is something I count as a priceless blessing. Yes, we are in the middle of a storm, but we get to be in the boat with the Master Teacher.

–Michelle Velbis is principal of Springs Adventist Academy, Colorado Springs; photo supplied.