Teaching During a Pandemic

Posted by Monica Hoel
Terri James Cozart (’89) says there are some positive opportunities.

Terri James Cozart says education has been in need of a reset, and our current situation is giving us a chance to do that.

Terri graduated from E&H in 1989, finished her master’s degree at E&H in 2008, and is now a reading specialist at Greendale Elementary School in Abingdon. During this pandemic school shut-down she has been tapping into her creativity in order to best serve the educational needs of her students. “It seems I usually have my best ideas when I’m a little bored, and the typical school year is so much like running on a hamster wheel that it’s really difficult to find time to think or read or write.”

She says that education, like many businesses, are getting an opportunity to think. “It’s a chance to bring things into focus. What’s effective? What aren’t we using? People have joked that I seem to be living my best life – and I don’t enjoy having to work remotely from my students, but I am enjoying the chance to think about new ways to teach.”

“What's Riding My Roomba?!” Spatula has three syllables, and did you know you can use your ch...“What's Riding My Roomba?!” Spatula has three syllables, and did you know you can use your chin to count syllables? Check out other videos at Cozart's Corner on the Greendale Elementary website: https://ges.wcs.k12.va.us/.She says it is easy to continue doing things the same way because it’s familiar and because it is really complicated to make changes within the framework of education hierarchy. “But right now we’re in a situation where we have to be creative. This is forcing us to prove that new things can work. And when you have no choice, you have to figure out quickly what works. It really is like building an airplane as you fly it!”

One of her surprise successes has been a little segment called “What’s Riding My Roomba?!” She places a different item on her Roomba vacuum cleaner every day and then posts a video on Instagram giving the kids three clues for figuring out what the item is. “It’s under the heading of ‘Kicks and Giggles,’ but and it’s fun, but it’s been a great way to talk with kids about words. If being silly gives me a chance to talk with them about compound words and syllables and phonetics, then it’s worthwhile!” (It also got her mentioned on the Instagram account of QVC host Mary DeAngelis when the item riding her Roomba was an off-beat kitchen gadget from QVC!) 

The Hunter Blake McKinney Little Free Library at Greendale Elementary School.The Hunter Blake McKinney Little Free Library at Greendale Elementary School.Another creative outlet is more personal. When her son died two years ago, some friends established a certified “Little Free Library” in Hunter Blake’s memory. The free book box is located behind Greendale Elementary, and kids can find a free book there they can take home. “Honestly, at first, I couldn’t bear to even walk past it; it was just too hard. But now it’s a place of healing. With libraries closed, kids are using it more, and I’ve been using it more to make books available. We even used it to give away some fishing poles recently – but I made them take a book, too!”

She gives a lot of credit for her creativity to her E&H education faculty members. “Dr. Herb Thompson was a huge proponent of lifelong learning and service through education. And Dr. Janet Crickmer was a champion for kids who learned differently. They have greatly influenced my teaching.”

And, she is also grateful to her IT assistant, Katie McKinney (E&H School of Health Sciences grad 2018) – who just happens to be her daughter!

Terri recognizes that kids need to physically be in school. “For some of our students, being in school is the best part of their day.” She has applauded their school system for continuing to feed the students while so many are food insecure (“Our cafeteria workers are the bomb dot com!”), she has seen that not all students have equal access to wifi, and she knows that not every child has a family at home encouraging them to use the online resources.  But she is hopeful that going forward teachers will have an opportunity to incorporate some of these new online ideas into their education routines. “I was looking at retirement and wondered what I would do. Now that the ‘virtual’ world has opened up, I’m not so restricted; the world has opened.”

  • Terri James Cozart, E&H '89, E&H Master's '08.
    Terri James Cozart, E&H '89, E&H Master's '08.
“When you have no choice, you have to figure out quickly what works.”
Terri James Cozart
E&H Class of 1989
E&H Master’s Degree 2008

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