Investing in the person before the student is how teacher Melissa Good shows her students she is invested in their futures. With 14 years of teaching experience at various academic levels, Good’s ability to connect with her students continues to push her outside of her comfort zone as she explores new ways to educate during a global pandemic.
After beginning her career teaching preschool in 2007 at a daycare she owned and operated for four years before joining the Delta County School District as a second-grade teacher. For the past six school years, Good taught fifth grade at Oak Grove Elementary before fulfilling a need at Centennial Middle School.
“This year I’m teaching sixth grade Centennial math because of COVID causing a teacher shortage at that school so they looked for volunteers and I moved into that position to make sure the kids had somebody,” she said.
From helping students make the transition to distance learning and digital instruction to transitioning into another building and instructing on a specific subject has been a new challenge for Good, who said her teaching style has changed massively during the pandemic.
“A lot of the little kids had never really worked with iPads that much and now they’re fully remote, so it started there. Then, we had to learn how to put everything up digitally for our kids and for them to learn Zoom and submit their assignments.”
Good recalled an evening where a student showed up on Good’s doorstep seeking help using her tablet.
“I had a little girl show up on my doorstep so I could help her troubleshoot her iPad because she lived with grandparents, who had no idea how to do anything,” she said. “We sat with masks on my front porch and figured out her iPad.”
The learning curve challenged both teachers and students, but Good embraced that opportunity to challenge herself and her students to continue learning under new circumstances.
Before making the transition to teaching middle school math for the 2020-21 academic year, Good further challenged herself by expanding her classroom through PBS programming over the summer. She became involved in the programming to address the digital divide across the Rocky Mountain region by working collectively with other educators to offer free public educational T.V. programming.
Gov. Jared Polis partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS and several other sponsors during the spring of 2020 to bring together various teachers to teach lessons. Colorado Classroom features daily literacy, science and math lessons targeted toward students in kindergarten through third grades. Teachers tailor their weekly instruction to themes, including space week, art week and animals.
After the success, PBS began to prepare content for the fall, which is when Good became involved in the programming. Eight teachers were assigned to a specific grade level with some teachers connecting with English Language Learners in each grade.
“Twice a week we would have different lessons,” Good said. “That was fun because not only were the kids able to watch on T.V., but also they could replay the lessons online if they did have internet access.”
Students could call in or write in to the Colorado Classroom to get hard copies of the lesson and materials to complete at home.
Good was the third-grade English language teacher. She met with the producer and team via Zoom, a virtual video conferencing app, to plan out the week of lessons. Through the collaboration, Good was able to engage with representatives from various organizations, including from the Denver Museum of Arts and Space Station to show students model rockets.
“So, mine on rockets they gave me information about the rockets and some resources to pick what I was going to do,” she said. “I planned out my lesson that way.”
A challenge Good faced while teaching through PBS was delivering her lesson to a camera, rather than a classroom of students.
“They sent us Go-Pros that went with boom mics and tripods because of COVID, they couldn’t send us the filming, so I filmed myself,” she said. “It was fun, but it was really weird. In teaching you engage with your kids all of the time and there’s the rapport back and forth and this is a camera staring at you.”
During animal week, Good had the opportunity to visit the Denver Zoo and interact with the animals. Students wrote a paragraph about tigers and tiger salamanders and then compared and contrasted gopher and rattlesnakes.
Teachers were also responsible for Math Minutes, where they would deliver a lesson on essential arithmetic.
“I would say that has been the biggest thing I’ve done with the digital divide,” she said.
“Honestly, a lot of it was partnering with all these really great things that kids in our town would never get to see,” Good said about what she enjoyed about being involved in the PBS programming. “So many of our kids have never been to Denver, let alone the zoo, so partnering with somebody who could show them around the zoo was really awesome to take them on a virtual field trip.”
Teaching middle school math
While Good had the opportunity to engage with her fifth graders in-person throughout the spring of 2020, she had to adjust to teaching her sixth-grade students both in-person and remotely.
Teachers, like Good, are also working to narrow the digital divide among their students during the pandemic, which has improved since the district went 1-to-1 iPads for sixth graders. Despite these efforts, the pandemic continues to impact students’ education, particularly when students are quarantined for a couple of weeks. That heightens the importance of student-teacher relationships to keep the student caught up on the curriculum.
“I think what people are not accounting for, unless you’re in the education world – and maybe some are – is the emotional impact this is having on the kids,” she said. “Three weeks of being at home learning if you are not a student who learns well at home is difficult to say the least.”
Add in the life struggles where families are faced with evictions and putting food on the tables, Good said it is not surprising students are behind in school. Students’ social and emotional needs have taken a priority for staff during the pandemic as the district works with local partners to provide free breakfasts and lunches as well as weekend meals, so students have one less stress.
“There are so many kids struggling with just basic necessities,” Good said.
The pandemic has also challenged her to personally this year teaching strictly one subject, although she said she likes challenges. As part of her teaching style, Good said it is important for her students to see her flounder at times to learn a valuable life lesson.
“They have to see failure because failure is a part of life,” she said. “Then to see the success afterward, the students know they can achieve success, too.”
She continues to advocate for students who do not have internet access at home to help address the digital divide in the classroom. Good also builds relationships with her students.
“I really value our ability to connect personally because I feel like my kids will do more for me if they care about me and they feel I care about them,” Good said.
As teachers continue to adjust to the challenging landscape of education to best meet their students’ needs, many teachers like Good continue to foster relationships with their students and explore new avenues to not just meet their educational needs, but also their basic human needs.