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With schools closed, teacher juggles parenting, remote teaching

For Mallory Lovell, a first-grade teacher at J.E. Terry Elementary School, the school year came to a sudden and unexpected end on Friday, March 13, though it would be a few more stress-inducing days before teachers across the state knew that their students would not be returning to classroom this year, when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state.

“I knew the coronavirus was popping up around the nation, but I would have never imagined something so threatening and frightful was about to cause life as we knew it to come to a halt,” Lovell said.

Lovell said she sent her students home that day with two textbooks, telling them to use them at home as school may be cancelled for the next couple of days.

“As they lined up to leave the room, they looked at me and their faces showed a sense of confusion,” Lovell said. “Not trying to cause a panic before they left, I told them everything was going to be okay, but that everyone might have to stay home for a while to stop the spread of some bad germs. The dismissal bell rang and that was it.”

Lovell returned the following Monday to clean her classroom and arrange supplies and materials for parents to pick up for their at-home students – at that point, teachers were still under the impression that students would return Monday, April 6, and staff members and teachers were busy talking to parents and assuring them that they would have support as remote learning was rolled out temporarily.

Within less than two weeks, Lovell and all other teachers across the state learned that they would not be returning to the classroom this school year and were faced with having to develop and implement a remote learning program that would serve all area students.

For her part, Lovell is wracked with worry for the students she no longer sees every morning.

“I think all teachers across the nation are concerned about the students as they attempt to continue their learning at home,” Lovell said. “I worry about the safety of my students – some parents are still working during this time and students are moved to another place until their guardian comes home. I worry that some of my students will not get the help they need from an adult. I am also concerned that internet access and a working device to use for digital learning are not available in numerous homes.”

Lovell noted that she still has to hand out grades for the final nine weeks of school and it is essential that students complete the assigned work and turn it in for grading.

Now, Lovell has turned one end of her kitchen table into a makeshift work space where she keeps in constant contact with parents, asking them to connect through a communication app that allows parents to send messages and allows her to assign work during quarantine.

“Patience and participation are going to be critical during this time because, as a teacher, I can’t shut down and ride off into summer and neither and neither can the students of my classroom,” Lovell said. “I still weeks ahead that include precious time for learning that I am not able to have with my students in the comfort of our classroom.”

And while she’s corresponding with confused parents and children and overseeing a newly-launched remote learning program, she’s also keeping eyes on her four-year-old son, Chance, who she says is not bothered at all about being home.

“His school work consists of craft projects, puzzles and outdoor play in the backyard,” Lovell said. “His question every morning is, ‘Mama, where are we going today?” Lovell said. “My response is always the same, ‘Nowhere today, buddy. The virus is still spreading and making people sick, so we will just have to stay here a while.’ He then goes about his normal playtime.”

Still, Lovell looks forward to the day when she can tell her son that it’s time to go to church or school or the local library, as well as the day that she can return to the classroom, but says that life under quarantine is, for the most part, proceeding well.

“Working at home as a parent has been successful thus far,” Lovell said. “I have hours set aside to work with my first graders online and I have hours set aside to be my son’s preschool teacher. I have explained to him that I have to keep teaching my students even though we don’t get in the car and go to our schools. Our household is surviving and, by God’s grace, we are thriving.”