‘My First Year Teaching is Not Even in A Classroom’

Mercy alum battles the crashing waves of the digital teaching sea

My First Year Teaching is Not Even in A Classroom

“If I can conquer Zoom teaching, I can probably be prepared to do anything in my teaching career.”

Samiyyah Willams is a second-year grad student at Mercy College and a first-year second grade teacher at King Elementary Uncommon Charter School in Brooklyn, New York. Due to the school building shutting down for COVID-19 ventilation repairs, Williams has been forced to teach her students remotely over Zoom.

This has turned the teaching game around completely, especially for Williams, who already has to deal with the pressures of being a new teacher. She has been challenged to conquer the online learning experience in order to keep her students on track.

“I start the day between 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. where the team has a staff huddle and we all meditate and say mantras to get through the week. We also discuss what we want to improve on since this is new for all of us,” she explained.

By 8:15, 20 minutes before her students, she logs in to Zoom to ensure there are no technical difficulties.

The school day ends at 1 p.m. She goes into meetings with the staff, where they recap and share new ideas and more ways to improve. Then, she spends some time making PowerPoints and going over the lessons for the next day. At around 8 p.m., she does her own graduate homework, which consists of weekly reports.

Willams is currently in her fourth week of virtual teaching and feels she has a better grip on the personalities and learning styles of her students.

“When I’m on a call with my students, I like to play the clean version on Drake’s ‘Toosie slide.’ It makes them happy and motivated to start the day. Then, we go over our core values: unity and confidence.”

Williams then splits the class with her co-teacher and they teach reading mastery, narrative reading, and mathematics.

“I like to say we play good cop – bad cop. I’m very warm with the students and he has more discipline,” she said.

She manages to keep an animated and positive attitude by lending “spirit fingers” to students struggling with math problems or reading compression.

Before she switches off after 45 minutes, she has a dance break. This keeps hold of their attention span and motivates them to continue for the rest of the day, she says. 

Williams works tirelessly with working-class parents to keep their kids on track.

“It has made me look at life differently because I have to be patient and understand that most of my students’ parents are essential workers, and during the day, the person that logs them in is their caretaker: a grandmother or a grandfather or even a sibling. Also, not everyone is good with technology.”

She routinely calls parents to make sure the students are adapting well to online learning and to ensure that they are doing okay when they are excessively absent.

“At the beginning of our transition, I noticed a lot of families didn’t have even have wifi. So, the school provided them with routers, and now the attendance has improved drastically.”

It is also a lot of pressure to teach children right in front of their parents or family members.

“I make sure to watch my posture and everything I say, as well as be extra animated to keep their attention because the parents will let me know if they have a problem. It is added pressure, but it has prepared me as a teacher to deal with things under any circumstance.”

Common core learning is now being completely replaced, so Williams is learning as the students learn, to break down math problems.

“It’s harder for kids to fully understand. You have to break math equations down by making a ‘key’ and a ‘strategy.’ I’m learning every day with them. The PDs train us and observe our class to give us real feedback. I get sad when a student really does not understand, but I can’t just give them the answer, I have to break it down step by step. I would really love to teach them in-person to make the process easier,” she shared.

Williams is set to take her TPA exam at the end of the year, which measures teaching performance and instructional practice. However, due to COVID-19, testing is up in the air because she will need to be observed in person.

“My school said they will be flexible with helping me take my exam once the world start opening up, but I’m just waiting to hear back from Mercy in regard to how that process is going to go. It’s a really hard exam that I’m working on being prepared for, so I’m a bit nervous about it.”

For now, Williams aims to be the best third grade teacher she can possibly be, given the circumstances.

“My advice to other teachers: be okay with making mistakes. To the parents and students: please bear with us!”