It’s not hard to imagine how difficult this year has been for students — experiencing unpredictable shifts to when and where they are in school, having to adapt to a remote learning culture and feeling a sense of loss for the community and personalized instruction that schools provide.
I’ve heard far less about how difficult of a year it’s been for teachers, who are doing everything we can to make up for what this year has taken from our students.
All year, teachers have had to be flexible and malleable even when everything we have come to know about best practices in education is being rewritten in real time. It has been a difficult adjustment, but I’m consistently encouraged by the resilience and creativity I’m seeing in my school from educators who are committed to adapting to the times and giving our students the best we can.
I’ve been an educator for seven years and I joined Naugatuck High School as a civics and economics teacher three years ago. Our students are creative and innovative in so many ways but, just like the rest of us, they often struggle with the challenges presented by COVID-19 and distance learning. Being able to give them a high-quality experience this year has required some creativity and innovation on my part.
As a partner in the RISE Network, Naugatuck High School teachers have been able to receive funding for out-of-the-box solutions to challenges presented by the pandemic. Through the RISE Innovation Fund and Donors Choose, I was able to raise supplementary funds for my classroom and have them matched dollar for dollar.
Our school is located in a community that is extremely close-knit and at times lacks the necessary funding it so truly deserves to make all of the creative ideas of students and teachers a reality. Students in Naugatuck work very hard to pursue their dreams and as educators, we’re obligated to do what we can to make that happen. As educators, we always strive to give our students the best opportunity to succeed, regardless of the obstacles they may face. And right now, the smallest barriers have the potential to have an immense impact on their ability to participate in class.
If my students at home can’t see the whiteboard I’m working on, I can’t be a resource to them in their learning. So I had to get creative to address this issue.
Through the RISE Network, I was able to submit a project that I called “The Invisible Hand of Drawing,” to get our students drawing tablets that connect directly to mine. This piece of technology has allowed students, both in class and at home, to interact with visuals that would otherwise be impossible to see from the computer screen.
With this personalized tech, I’ve been able to tackle the issues of equity that are apparent in my classroom. We have students who may or may not have the tools necessary to achieve their fullest potential. Every kid has a Chromebook, but that doesn’t mean that they have Wi-Fi. We know the difficulties they’re facing in and outside of the classroom in normal circumstances — but these aren’t normal circumstances. As we all navigate a global pandemic, I know it’s going to take partnerships like the one we have with the RISE Network to get our students what they need.
If there is one thing that this entire year has proven, it is that our students need collaboration and partnerships like these to support their ongoing success. Through our partnership, I’ve been able to give our students, whether in class or at home, the same high-quality experience and to support them as much as I can.
While all teachers have great ideas that can help their students achieve, not all teachers have access to the same resources to make those ideas come to life. And there is no greater goal for an educator than to see their students succeed.
Teachers across the state are rising to meet the challenges facing us this year. We’re rolling up our sleeves and being as innovative as we can to ensure no student is short-changed this year.
If I’ve learned one thing from my school’s partnership with RISE and from watching teachers get resourceful in the face of this pandemic, it’s that when you place trust in teachers, they will not disappoint.
Laura Firmani is a teacher at Naugatuck High School.