Video Captures Not-so-Sneaky Snakes…and Enables Our Human Experience

Video Captures Not-so-Sneaky Snakes…and Enables Our Human Experience

Yesterday, a student asked for my autograph; I felt like a ROCKSTAR!  I know you’ve also felt that feeling. You’ve seen shining eyes eager for approval when students share a proud creation and you attained the moniker “Favorite Teacher” scrawled on paper hearts. Younger students have clung to us on first days of school, while seniors have sobbed upon our shoulders, thankful we were a part of their journeys.

Friday the 13th, March 2020 was the last day I taught in a classroom of my own. How fitting a day for such a drastic experience. That is not to say that I stopped teaching that fateful day—not by a long shot. Like others, I spent two days building packets and securing texts to challenge and engage my students, even if technological and pandemic restrictions divided us.

In the days that followed, I learned to host virtual conferences, gleefully squealed as students successfully joined, and continued teaching in the new environment.

Through video, I could see faces and hear voices. It afforded a shred of humanity amid the gripping, relentless isolation. Our virtual conferences were lifelines providing the connectivity that make classrooms thrive. Through video, Zoom meetings, and Facebook Live,  I reached an entire district community four days a week and led workouts to encourage wellness and stress relief through this vastly traumatic experience. It was also through video that I said goodbye to the last classes of students I would call my own; they cried along with me as I told them how proud I was to have been their teacher and that I would always be a willing support in their lives.

Now, video support allows me to lead twice-weekly professional development meetings with teachers, and develop “Tech Tuesday” videos each week to bolster teacher confidence with useful methods and modalities for reaching students through virtual or quarantined classes, hybrid schedules, and blended teaching experiences.

With video support, we inch one step closer to normalcy. Last month, an administrator approached me to ask if I would participate in their “One Book One School” initiative as a guest reader. As a former high school English teacher who is constantly mistaken for a kindergarten teacher, I immediately agreed. I thumbed through the pages of 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel / 1 Dog = Chaos and felt thrilling anticipation build within me for how to bring a chapter to life. My eyes fell upon “Angel (the Fifth Grade Corn Snake),” and a plan was born. Sunshine the Snake, a thirty-pound, twelve-foot long Albino Burmese python was brought to my home and draped upon my shoulders. For eight minutes he slithered around my legs, back, arms, and face (he even rested his chin on the top of my head for a bit) as I videoed myself reading this chapter. It was exhilarating and awesome, and for days afterward I waited impatiently to learn of the students’ reactions to what they’d seen and heard.

Last week I was able to revel in their wonder.  Even behind my mask, students who’d already seen the video realized who I was and shouted “IT’S THE SNAKE LADY!” They asked enthusiastic questions and were keen to know about my reading experience. Soon, I walked into a fourth-grade classroom. They had not seen the video yet, and I witnessed their responses in real time.  Gasps, exclamations, surprised starts, and incredulous eyes met my gaze as I watched them engage with the video. They also had questions, and a student from the back raised her hand. She shyly brought me her bookmark and requested my autograph. Tears filled my eyes as students, following her lead, walked toward me with various pieces of paper.  I had reached star status in their eyes; I was on video (VIDEO!) reading with a snake (A SNAKE!).  It had all the glamour of an Academy Award winner for them.

 That is how they see us—whether we are on screen or live and “performing” in person—all teachers have the potential to be awe-inspiring role models for every student we encounter.

We may not be face-to-face; circumstances may dictate that we meet from afar. But we can still reach out; we can see gap-toothed grins and hear chime-tinkling giggles.  We can also see tears spilling down cheeks and search out ways to interact to support students through trials and struggles.

Extraordinary technological capabilities have supported us through this year of hardship and distress. Though it may seem the simplest of all, video capability is the technology my teacher heart cherishes most. It allows me to be with students despite our physical absence, and it offers a chance to teach the way I know students want and need to learn.

Erin Fox is the Coordinator of Teacher Quality and Professional Development for Cherokee County School District in South Carolina. In this role, she works to elevate teachers by supporting growth in their teaching crafts. She has been a secondary English teacher since 2003 and was named the South Carolina Teacher of the Year in 2018. Erin is married to her best friend Danny Fox, her support and sounding board for everything she does. They have been married for eighteen years and have two children. They also have a wild German Shepherd puppy—Coco!  The Foxes love working out and participating in fitness opportunities both as a couple and with their children.  They have done several 5K fundraisers as a family and have also participated in family mud runs. They also love hiking, backpacking, and camping.  Any chance to get outside and explore our natural world is a blessing for their family, and they look forward to more opportunities in the future

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