With schools closed and gatherings prohibited, one District 87 teacher is taking advantage of being able to connect with students in a unique way.
Bloomington High School science teacher Craig Lee said while school continues under unfortunate circumstances, virtual learning has helped him learn about his students like never before.
“We had a Zoom class meeting and there's a girl who’s very quiet but she always wears these awesome shirts of bands or movies and stuff which I always used to ask her about while going into class. Now I'm seeing her bedroom wall and it has all these posters of the Beatles and album covers of classic rock and it turned out that she plays the electric guitar. She pulled it out and started strumming a little bit while we're talking and then a couple other people said, ‘Hey, I play the guitar too,’ and pulled theirs out because it was just sitting right next to them,” Lee said.
“It's not like at school where there's this sort of passive, ‘Oh yeah I play an instrument,’ kind of thing. They got up and began playing, but unfortunately it was the last five minutes of class and I had something else right after that so I said, ‘Next Monday, I want a concert from you guys,’ and they were really excited. It's just been really interesting being able to have this sort of window into their actual lives and see them in a different way,” he said.
Now Lee and his students have arranged a weekly concert where they experiment with different instruments hoping to collaborate on a song through Zoom.
In addition to teaching science, Lee is also a soccer coach at BHS. They’ve been holding practice virtually.
“I had already sent them at-home workouts when the break started because I had no idea how long it was going to be. I was hoping they would keep doing those but then I thought we needed to do something together so we just set a time for when we would normally have practice a couple days of the week and we Zoom and do a 40-minute workout. It's mostly stuff that you could do in your basement or living room if you needed to.” Lee said. “Strength building, bodyweight stuff, we're not doing anything with real weights but this is just our way to sort of connect and workout together. It's always easier to work out when you have a partner,” he said.
While continuing to connect with students has been rewarding for Lee so far, the idea of school not resuming this semester didn't set in officially until Gov. JB Pritzker’s latest announcement.
“I anticipated it was probably coming because that's been the buzz around the teacher meetings, and the superintendent has said things about how it would probably happen, but the announcement brought a sort of finality to it,” Lee said. “All along there's been this hope that we might go back, but when the news came it was this sort of deep breath of like, ‘Alright well, that's it. I guess we're not coming back,’ so that was disappointing.”
Lee said the biggest challenge is not being able to see the kids.
“I do a lot of things with Google Classroom, Microsoft, I feed them videos and stuff like that but in the end, being able to sit down and answer questions and ask questions and interact with them every day, that is the biggest difference.” Lee said. “ In a way it’s kind of lonely. Zoom has been really good in helping give a little face-to-face interaction, but you’re still not getting that same rhythm to the day where it's just the little things that don't have anything to do with learning necessarily. Coming in each day and seeing how they're doing, saying, ‘Hey looks like you got a new backpack’ or ‘I like those shoes,’ it's like you’re still getting the business side of it but you just don't get the same interaction that you used to,” he said.
While the new lifestyle has been challenging, Lee said there are many lessons to learn throughout the pandemic. The biggest one he wants students to know is to not take the little things for granted.
“We as humans are social creatures, and it's important that we be social creatures when we’re actually in a school building and we build relationships,” Lee said. “ It's important that you don't just try to get through your day. Take advantage of what opportunities you have and just be thankful that those opportunities are there for you because you never know when they’ll be gone.”
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