Story

April 28, 2020

Newfound Appreciation: Teaching during the COVID-19 crisis

by John Holt, KIPP Texas Public Schools talent recruiter

As we all continue adapting to the uncertain times involving the COVID-19 pandemic, KIPP Texas teachers are steadily adjusting how they teach through distance learning. Rubi Perez, a fifth-grade science teacher at KIPP Austin Beacon Prep, now is incorporating videos she creates into her teaching that feature different visual science backgrounds.

“My first video was from space,” Perez said. “I record myself going over the topics, and I use random materials as props. I think my students just enjoy seeing my goofiness.”

Prior to this pandemic and the ensuing school closures, Perez never had read a book to her students. That recently changed as she thought it would be beneficial for them to see her do so. Being creative is part of Perez’s DNA and self-described improviser.

“Whenever I’m thinking of a lesson, I’m like, ‘ok, well I can teach that, but I have these materials here. Let me see how I can incorporate these.’ It could be anything random from bouncing balls to paper clips or anything that I would have in the classroom just to make it entertaining for them,” Perez said.

Beacon Prep School Leader Kristina Michaels says Perez carries several important traits that make her a highly effective instructor, including a perpetual smile, optimism, and an ability to connect with her students through laughter. 

“If you’re looking for someone when you walk in the door and you know that they love and care about kids, you want your child in her class,” Michaels said. “It’s great for our kids to experience someone who loves what they do every day.”

Each of Perez’s classes begins with a specific routine and she always makes it a point to bring a moment of joy to each class as well. Establishing balance between sticking to a routine and creating daily joy has been a key to her success. 

“Seeing those ‘aha moments’ when (my students) are grasping something, that’s one of the things that I love,” Perez said.

Like many, Perez was anxious when she first learned that she’d be teaching virtually. She wondered whether her skills would transfer from teaching students in a classroom to instructing them on a computer screen.

“I kind of freaked out,” she admitted.

After composing herself, she came up with the idea of customizing her own teaching videos. It’s been useful for her students and she plans to continue creating them when things return to normal.

“These videos that I’m making, I’ve got to reuse them,” Perez said. “Sure, I can give my students a YouTube video, but they can relate more to seeing me, the way that I explain things, the way that I break it down.”

While the circumstances of teaching virtually are challenging, Perez believes her students are acclimating to the routine and she’s discovering what works best for them. Most importantly, she is learning how to reach different students during a crisis that just months ago seemed unimaginable. 

“I went from interacting with like 130-some people on a daily basis to just my puppy,” Perez said. “It’s really eye-opening. I miss being in my classroom, I miss being active.

“In my classroom, I’m always moving around and always grabbing stuff. I jump, and pretty much put on a show for these kids. I can create videos, but it’s not the same thing. Now, I’ve really learned to appreciate those interactions with students and with co-workers. They’ve kept me busy and going every day.”

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