A profession in teaching is one of uncertainty and controlled chaos, especially during the elementary years. Throwing a pandemic into the mix does not make the life of an educator any easier. Megan Louis ('17), kindergarten teacher at Willowville Elementary in Batavia, Ohio, can attest for that.
“Distance learning was a huge learning curve for all teachers, students and families,” Louis says. “As you can imagine, creating a virtual classroom that was age appropriate and able to be navigated by kindergarteners who were 5 and 6 years old was quite the challenge.”
Distance learning is a way of teaching that Louis and her colleagues had never done before. With the existence of online schools, educators knew that learning virtually would not be impossible, but it was not something they had trained for or had time to properly prepare for. March 13, 2020, is a day that will forever stick out in Louis’ memory.
“The craziest part of the day was sending students home and saying, ‘See you in three weeks!’ and then that being our last in-person day of teaching with them for the year,” she says.
Louis describes the adjustment for not only students, but parents too as “difficult” to get used to. Many of her students’ parents were reaching out to her through phone calls and virtual meetings to discuss difficulties and behavioral issues. Creating a virtual classroom that was age appropriate while also working to accommodate differing schedules and families without internet, computers or electronic devices they could connect from was a challenge, to say the least.
“We had to be very flexible and allow students and families to complete the schoolwork when and where it was convenient for them,” she says.
Parents and students relied on their teachers for support during these difficult times, but who did the teachers, who had their own struggles adjusting to the new normal, turn to? Louis is grateful for the kindergarten team she was able to work with, not only to create weekly “slides” for their students, but also break the subjects up among themselves to help with the workload of recording video lessons from home.
“We jumped into action and did what teachers always do… we made it work,” she says. “I keep using ‘we’ because truly, everything about distance learning for me was done with my three colleagues on my kindergarten team. The collaborating and support that we did made everything about moving to distance learning possible.”
Due to the circumstances, the adjustment period for students, parents and educators alike was understandable, but Louis remarks that she was blown away by how quickly they learned to navigate Google Classroom and any applications needed to submit their completed assignments.
“I remember the moment I realized how well they had adapted when it was the first day. We had mastered how to mute/unmute our mics to talk and I noticed students were already raising their hands to talk just as if they were sitting in our in-person classroom,” Louis says. “It was a moment that gave me chills as I was staring into the eyes of 5 and 6 year olds demonstrating the same classroom expectations from our in-person classroom on a computer screen at the drop of a hat. They adapted better than I could have ever expected.”
It would be easy to feel hopeless during such a time, but thanks to Louis’ determination, with a little help from her kindergarten students, they were able to create a video that would uplift their class, and eventually the entire state when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine featured them during one of his daily briefings.
Louis wrote a script of what she wanted to get across in her video, aptly titled, “Together at Heart,” and divided the lines up evenly between her students. With their parents’ help, each student recorded a segment that Louis combined into one cohesive message: they would get through these trying times, and they would get through them together.
Louis came up with the idea to make the video during a “sleepless night” when she was feeling “overwhelmed with the virtual learning and disconnected” from her class.
“I wanted to do something that could be uplifting and make them feel connected, that’s when I came up with the title—‘Together at Heart,’” she says. “We might not have been able to be together in person but by golly, I was going to make sure my students still felt connected to one another in their heart.”
While nothing could have prepared Louis for teaching during a pandemic, her time at NKU and the connections she made certainly made her as ready as she’d ever be to tackle the challenges ahead of her.
“Had I not persevered through the challenges I faced, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to meet the incredible people during my time at NKU who molded and shaped my core values as a teacher," she says.
Louis notes that she kept in touch specifically with one of her former professors, Dr. Lynne Smith, who sent her messages inquiring about how she was handling teaching during a pandemic.
“My experience at NKU didn’t stop when I graduated in 2017,” she says. “It is still active and a part of my core as a teacher today almost four years later.”
During this current 2020-21 school year, Louis’ classes have been in person until recently, when they were moved to a hybrid model.
“As nervous as I am to go back to teaching virtually, my class last year taught me how well kids adapt to different situations,” she says. “I have faith as I begin adding virtual learning into this year’s class, they will rise to the challenge and blow me away again. Kids are magical.”
Louis would like to offer “the biggest heartfelt thank you to each and every one that I encountered during my time as a student at NKU. Your passions and love for teaching shine through me daily as I share my love for teaching with my students.”