Cultural Classroom is an initiative aimed at providing opportunities for Southeast Missouri educators and increasing cultural education in local classrooms. In light of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and the changes associated with remote education, we wanted to highlight the experiences of a few local educators during this time.
Erica Robbins is an Foreign Languages and Cultures teacher at Jackson Middle School and took part in Cenet’s pilot Cultural Classroom trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. She was able to give us a bit of insight into the current circumstances surrounding international education in the Jackson school district.
How are staff and students currently handling remote education?
Staff and students are handling remote education remarkably well. In the Jackson R2 School District, where I work as the Foreign Languages & Cultures Teacher to 5th and 6th Graders at the Jackson Middle School, we are very blessed to have 1:1 devices for each student as well as WiFi access hotspots set up throughout the district, which has made accessibility to online learning available for those who do not have smooth-streaming services at home.
Emotionally, it has been hard for us all as our schools are our common ground for coming together as an educational community, sharing with our students and colleagues, seeing their smiling faces, and serving others as we are accustomed to on a daily basis. Our students have been reaching out to us with how much they miss us, and we have been keeping in contact as much/best as possible with video meetings, telephone calls, daily emails, exciting announcements, virtual parades, and even our talent show to check in and let them know we miss them and care about them so much! In our daily announcements that are sent out each day by our librarian, our students are reminded that, “Even though the building is closed, our hearts and our learning stays open!” All in all, we have kept our chins up and I am extremely proud of the district, its administration and staff, and especially, the support of our community, families and above all, students.
What do you consider the biggest obstacles with teaching remotely, and how have you tried to combat that?
The biggest obstacle I see with teaching remotely is the lack of physical presence and energy between teachers and students. Videos and online lessons can be enticing for students and challenge teachers to think outside the box, but nothing can compare to physically being together with other human beings, sharing the magic that exists in face-to-face conversations and invigorating discussions, getting outside together for recess, eating together at lunch, passing one another in the hallways and waving hello, and ultimately guiding children through their days and conveying our love and support to them each day.
In an effort to combat that, I have sent videos for my students that are personal and check on each one of them, asking them questions, engaging them with snapshots of Murphy, the ever-so-cuddly black kitty, and publishing lessons that involve their lives at home to make learning meaningful. I have gotten positive feedback and know the students appreciate our effort to stay in contact as best as possible.
Has this situation changed any perspectives for you?
This situation has highlighted the importance of creating meaningful connections between teachers and students, students and students, among all personnel school-wide, and throughout the community. At the end of the day, it is our duty to serve and support one another and it has become clear that the educational community is willing to share teaching methods and make those available for teachers across the country. It has also brought to light the importance of technology in advancing education while creating opportunities and challenges throughout the digital divide.
On a local level, I believe this situation has also put the spotlight on how crucial schools are in supporting the whole child. For example, many local schools have worked hard to continue their meal-placement plans, allowing families to pick up food or delivering goods to individual homes, and social workers continue to make home-visits, checking on children to ensure their security and well-being.
Teachers are also working diligently to ensure students receive a holistic education while at home by creating lessons across all curriculums, both Core (math, science, social studies, English, etc.) and Electives (art, cooking, music, physical education, Foreign Languages & Cultures, etc.) alike.
How have you taken this time to develop an international curriculum in your teaching?
International curriculum is an essential piece of my teaching and I have used this time to explore ideas and create lessons with more time and dedication. For example, I was able to design this Foreign Languages & Cultures Scavenger Hunt Bingo lesson and Board Example for my 5th and 6th Grade Introduction to Foreign Languages & Cultures classes to do at home with family members! The responses from students have been heart-warming, allowing me a glimpse into their homes, tastes, and decorating styles, as well as created fun conversation starters that we’ve been able to have online, just as if we were together in the classroom!
As part of my existing curriculum, I teach the alphabet in French, German and Spanish, as well as numbers 0 – 10 and basic conversational phrases to my Intro A classes, then we add on to that knowledge base in my Intro B classes with how to say numbers 11 – 100, Days of the Week, and colors in the three languages. We also work on a “Consider Yourself Cultured” project, which has been incredibly popular with the students!
Are there important takeaways that we can glean from this experience as an exchange and travel community?
An important takeaway that we as a travel community can glean from this experience is the realization of how our every action affects our carbon footprint and the environment, the importance of ethical travel, and our essential role in preserving this beautiful Earth we are so fortunate to call our home. Hopefully, this time has provided a much-needed period of reflection for us all and helped us to truly understand that Mother Nature will prevail, heal herself and put humans in our place time and time again. We must work together to respect and take care of her, our environments, the creatures that inhabit them, and one another, as stewards of each other and the land that lends itself to us.
If we must hold back on travel in order to reduce air pollution, let’s do it! If we can get groceries for neighbors on a more regular basis, let’s do it! If the opportunities arise to take family walks, play outside, spend more time at home reading, writing, finding peace of mind, planting and tending to gardens, and understanding the purposes of our lives, let’s seize them! As Arthur Christopher Benson once said, “Very often a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.” Hopefully we can take this quote to heart and use this experience as an important opportunity of contemplation and growth.
Any words of encouragement for discouraged travelers and/or students right now?
In times of trial, I find inspiration and encouragement in various literature: books, poems, and others’ wise words. To quote a few more of my favorite sayings, as Annie belts, “The sun will come up tomorrow!” Let’s listen to Ralph Waldo Emerson and, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” And in times of trial, let’s remember that, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” -Lao Tsu
What’s the first thing you’re excited to do once things get back to normal?
I am VERY EXCITED to hug my family!!!
Thank you, Erica, for sharing your perspectives and a glimpse into your cultural curriculum!
For more interviews, please visit the Cenet Journal home page.