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4 New Teachers Share What It’s Like To Teach For The First Time During A Pandemic

In the Houston Independent School District alone, just over 1,100 educators will start their profession during the pandemic.

Houston Public Media
From left to right: New teachers Donald Peacock, Tierra Harris, Ryann Williams and Alaina Haley share their thoughts about teaching for the first time during the pandemic.

This week marks back-to-school for nearly half a million children in Greater Houston, including the Cy Fair, Klein and Houston school districts. It's also a big first day for brand new teachers, even if their classroom is online. In the Houston Independent School District alone, just over 1,100 educators will start their profession during the pandemic.

Houston Public Media talked with several first-year teachers about what drew them to the profession, what concerns them about teaching during the pandemic and what they’re looking forward to the most.

Read their stories, or listen to highlights below, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Tierra Harris, 3rd Grade at Woodson Leadership Academy

Courtesy of Tierra Harris
Tierra Harris

I was fascinated with the profession at a very young age. I always wanted to play teachers/students with my cousins. I would teach my imaginary class in my mirror. I think that new teachers have an advantage, especially new teachers that just graduated, because we don’t have a set way of teaching yet. I expected this year to be a learning experience.

Obviously, [thinking of] my health and the students’ health as well. Thinking of, how can I still have interactive learning, peer to peer interaction, small group work, and still stay safe and still social distance in my classroom? I don’t necessarily see how that can work. I’m still trying to research ways on how to keep a safe environment and still keep the learning process going. That’s just been worrying me the most.

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I’m positive that school is a safe space for a lot of children. I’ve been thinking of some kids, it’s not a luxury to be home right now. It’s not enjoyable. And so I just want to be that positivity in their life.

Ryann Williams, 2nd Grade at DeAnda Elementary School

Courtesy of Teach for America
Ryann Williams

The school that I randomly got placed at is three miles from where I grew up my whole life. And so I felt very lucky that I get to actually teach in the community that I grew up in.

I feel very lucky that I got to be a student during the pandemic. It sounds weird, but it really gave me a chance to understand what our students will be going through, even though at a totally different level. I’ll be teaching seven-year-olds.

I feel very adept at the virtual platforms that we have to use. But then on the flip side, I’m lesson planning for the first time. I’m learning things about actual instruction.

It’s a concern of mine, especially teaching really young kids, is how much they need an actual in-person figure in order to feel supported. To be able to learn, kids need hugs and high fives, and they need fist bumps greeted at them every day, throughout the day. They need those things in order to feel motivated to learn. And so my concern is not being able to build the same sort of relationships that I would be if we weren’t in a pandemic time.

Alaina Haley, 3rd Grade at Dogan Elementary School

Courtesy of Teach for America
Alaina Haley

This is one of those times where we hear the statement "teacher wears a lot of hats." It's very crucial — this is a time to be a great mentor, a motivator, a counselor, and also just a teacher in general because they need that vital education.

Courtesy of Teach for America
Alaina Haley’s Bitmoji classroom

On the virtual side, I feel like I’m about as prepared as I can be, but then something may crash and all of a sudden, I can’t go with anything that I have prepared. I’m not concerned about how to work Microsoft Teams. My concern is, is Microsoft Teams going to work today? Or is my laptop going to drain a battery in five minutes today?

I guess a piece that I always want to share with my students is to always stay grounded in your truth. I feel like we as a society are beginning to lose ourselves and get trapped in the negative that’s going on. But just being positive, staying motivated and sticking true to who you are and what you believe in is definitely something that I hope to get into my students.

Donald Peacock, 8th Grade at Yes Prep 5th Ward

Courtesy of Teach for America
Donald Peacock

I grew up in Acres Homes, so like the northside of Houston. I feel prepared, but 2020 keeps making me second guess myself. Because I can’t really test a lot of the teacher skills that I’m learning because when you’re on a video call and you don’t see the kid’s face, I don’t even know if they got the material. I don’t really want to penalize or reprimand them for something that’s kind of out of their control. I don’t want to force them to be motivated about school when maybe they’re facing an eviction the next week. It’s very hard trying to take these valuable teacher skills, but use them during a pandemic.

I’m excited to meet my kids. I only met, like, half of them because we do an A and a B day. I met A-day kids, so now I’m going to be meeting B-day kids. Even though only two or three had their cameras on, they were very excited to see me. I love that good energy.

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