One year later, Tampa teacher reflects on the good and the bad of remote learning

Northwest Elementary teacher Lauren Thibault is so glad to be back in the classroom

"Being able to see their faces, check in with them, I feel like we took for granted that if a student is struggling, we can just reach out to them and pull them aside," she told FOX 13, "but on e-learning, it’s hard to catch that error."

She realizes now she took a lot for granted. The pandemic tested her faith in everything. This time a year ago, the nation was already on lockdown. COVID-19 grounded airlines, shuttered businesses, and turned our homes into work headquarters.

And the schools were next. Soon, all were about to find out that kids would be learning from home. Thibault was Good Day Tampa Bay’s first live Zoom interview on the air. It would become business as usual for both our business and hers. But on the day of the interview, things were uncertain.

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It seemed fitting for 2020, that the day was an ominous one. 

"So, Friday the 13th -- Friday, March 13th -- was our last day before spring break and we were kind of told then at the end of the day grab your things because we do not know how this is going to go," Thibault explained.  

They never did go back. The 2020 graduation season, year-end class parties, and festivities grounded to a halt. Along with the rest of life as we knew it.

"Kids take that on," she said, "You know, our kids are 4th graders. They are kind of aware of what is going on in life." 

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That's why, she says, focus on the social-emotional is going to be so huge for students. That's a part that cannot be glazed over anymore, she said. She spends 10 or 15 minutes with her class at the start of each day together -- just talking and checking in with each other.  

Thibault tried to help the kids hold on, even as she was trying to hold on herself.

She was redrafting lesson plans on the fly, waiting for directives from a new superintendent, and trying to help her own second-grade son with the newness.

"It was a lot. It was very overwhelming to try to keep up," she recalled. "There's always that feeling of, ‘Am I being a great mom?’ or ‘Am I being a great teacher?’ So, to try to do both was tough."  

But there was plenty of mom in her to worry over the other 18 kids she was responsible for. 

Even now, she's not sure she did enough. Not that it was her fault. There was only so much she could do. 

"I'm definitely scared about the gaps. I feel like we've done a lot this year and the kids have come ready to learn so they're helping to fill out those gaps. But they are definitely there and this is something we are going to have to be mindful of for the next couple of years," Thibault said. 

It's helped that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran took some of the weight off performance for this year's standardized testing. Chance timing in the legislature brought another gift. 

"Our standards are about to change," she said, "So I think that will help. The new standards kind of take some of the things off 4th grade and put them on 5th. They take some of the things from 3rd grade and switch them around a little bit so I think that might help us figure out where to go."

And in the middle of all of this, these kids have walked away with a larger life lesson.

"A lot of my kids live in kind of an innocent bubble and I think that for good or bad this has shown them that there is a whole world going on around them," Thibault said. "So, I'm hoping the positive comes out of that and they see how interconnected things are how were have to rely on each other."