I think we can all agree that the pandemic gets a big, red “F” for how it’s failed teachers this year. First, they had to deal with pivoting to entirely remote teaching in mid-March. Then, at the end of the summer, they had to worry about the shape of the school year to come. Would students be on a hybrid schedule—some days live, while others on Zoom? If they were learning in person, would students comply with mask-wearing and social distancing rules? And would any in-person arrangement be safe?
Melissa Pecora, who has been a second-grade teacher at Caroline Street Elementary School for the past six years, was in the middle of it all—and so were her PEEPs (an acronym she uses to refer to her students, which stands for Positive, Encouraging, Engaged Partners). At press time, Pecora had an in-person class of 20 students in attendance and room for a few more. (She had also been required to teach virtual classes to five students, who had been sent home to be tested for COVID. All have since returned.)
Nowadays, Pecora is super proud of her classroom setup—the “classnasium,” as she puts it (it’s in the school’s gym)—and by the sound of it, she’s taken a ball-pit’s worth of lemons and created a lemonade stand for the ages. Saratoga Living caught up with her to find out what it’s been like teaching during a pandemic.
Do you feel safe in school right now?
As a teacher, it’s my number one priority to keep my kids safe, and I’ve said that for years. I do feel safe at school, and that’s [largely due] to the maintenance staff, who is present and working overtime and constantly cleaning. But I have to hand it to the kids: I was the most nervous about returning and managing 20 kids wearing masks. Incredibly infrequently throughout the day do I have to remind them to put a mask on. They are aware that they are doing themselves a favor and showing respect for one another and to me by doing this.
That’s interesting, because that’s in stark contrast to what’s happening out in the real world amongst adults.
I feel safer with twenty 7- and 8-year-olds than I do in many places. The kids want to be here, and their families want to keep them here. The worst part for me has been when a PEEP’s pencil box falls on the floor, and I have to tell the others, “You can’t help [pick it up].” As children, they run to help one another; it’s been hard to undo some of the things we’ve worked so hard to teach them.
What’s been one major win since you’ve returned to school?
Bringing creativity back into the classroom. We’ve been having to really rethink and restructure our days. I knew that the challenge this year would be to keep students engaged. I feared that students would be saddened by the lack of “fun” in the classroom. I’m the most surprised that students are telling me, “That’s the most fun thing we’ve ever done at school!” Or “that was the best day I’ve had!” It’s not because I’m this great, miraculous provider of fun; I think that they are more grateful than ever.