Lizzy Bahner: What changes have you had to make to your lesson plans?

Mrs. Brown: In order to make my lessons fit the distancing rules, I have made use of technology much more than ever before. Where I used to have kids gather around a table to watch a demonstration for an activity, now I present it under the iPad camera, which is projected up on a screen so they can watch from their seats.

Lizzy: Have you had to make different changes for different grades? If so, what changes?

Mrs. Brown: No, I have made pretty much the same changes for all grades.

Lizzy: Do you think that you would have been teaching different art projects if it hadn't been for COVID?

Mrs. Brown: Last summer, when I first found out we were returning to school and I would be traveling to the classrooms instead of holding classes in the art room, I thought I was going to need to change everything. I had never taught art from a cart before, and I assumed it would be too difficult to use messy materials at small desks. I started out with pretty simple lessons using pencil, marker and crayon. As I got used to the process, I realized there were ways I could organize in order to do the kinds of lessons I normally do. The key was organization: I needed three carts instead of one, so I tied them together in a train formation that I roll down the hall and fold into the elevator. It's actually worked out quite well, much better than I had imagined.

Lizzy: That sounds like a lot of work to get from one classroom to another. Do you think that different art teachers are teaching their own ways this year due to COVID, or teaching sort of the same?

Mrs. Brown: I think everyone is doing the best they can, considering the conditions. Different teachers have different resources accessible to them and that greatly affects what they are able to do. Working with colleagues that are supportive of your program makes a big difference, particularly when you need to share their classroom space. I am very lucky to have that here at CASS.

Lizzy: Do you think kids behave the same in class as they did when you were teaching in the art room? If so, how differently?

Mrs. Brown: I noticed right away that teaching art in the classroom was very different than in the art room. The biggest change is the transition time. The act of moving spaces can be distracting for a lot of kids and it can take several minutes to get them settled in once they have traveled from one room in the building to another. This is taken out of the equation when they are already quiet and sitting in their familiar spot in the classroom when I arrive. We can start class immediately.

Lizzy: How are you using the art materials differently? I know you are putting the materials in different containers. How is this different from what you were doing in 2019?

Mrs. Brown: Sharing the art materials has always been a big part of the lesson, particularly with the youngest students, for many of whom this is an important skill that needs guided practice. This year I spent many hours sorting batches of equally colored supplies in little cups and bags so that no one touches anything that has been used by another person in the past 72 hours.

Having everything individually packaged has helped keep the peace in many ways, but I look forward to returning to the times of working out the sharing and having helpers pass out and collect materials. It's also been difficult to say to a child, "No, you can't help the person that just dropped all of their crayons on the floor, they have to pick them up alone." I have to remind them that we are lucky to be here in the room together, and for now that needs to be enough.

Lizzy: Are you enjoying teaching art just as much as you did back before COVID-19?

Mrs. Brown: Yes! I feel like students have been feeling the good fortune of being able to be back in school. The most rewarding part of my job is when I see kids trying really hard and doing their best. I've seen a lot of high-quality artwork this year. There has also been consistent attendance, I think from the masks protecting us so well. Having full attendance from week to week with everyone on the same page has a strong positive effect on the class environment. I'd love to see that continue, as much as I can't wait to get rid of the masks.

Lizzy: Has mask wearing and social distancing affected your class schedule? If so, how?

Mrs. Brown: It has not so much affected my schedule. It has tested my patience. I think I get frustrated a lot more quickly with a mask on. I think all of us have felt a lot more isolated this year, keeping away from each other in the name of staying safe.

Lizzy: Did remote learning change how you taught art class? If so, how?

Mrs. Brown: I found remote learning very difficult and it certainly changed the way I was able to teach. Elementary art is a studio class, based in the use of materials. I couldn't rely on what kids might have at home for art supplies during that time, so I created lessons that could be done with a piece of copier paper. I also found I was very unskilled at filming myself and it took many hours to get something that I felt was of decent quality. I got better at it, but it took a lot of practice.

Lizzy: Do you think how you are teaching now will affect how you will teach art class when COVID is over?

Mrs. Brown: There are many practices that I will carry over with me into post-COVID teaching. The way I use technology now has been a great discovery. I love using the iPad camera for demonstrating and it's a great way for kids to share their work with the class. I was forced to become hyper-organized with my supplies and I will definitely continue that, as it has streamlined how I do everything.

Lizzy: What are some positive aspects of teaching this year?

Mrs. Brown: I think that gaining a new perspective has been the best takeaway this year. It takes a major event or change sometimes for us to gain that. We've had a great shakeup and it forced us to say, "OK, we can't do everything as we used to; what are the most important things?" And then restructure from there. In the end, I think we'll look back on what we've had to do here as a time of intense learning and growing.

At the very least, it has brought us to a place of flexibility and empathy for one another. We're all going through something hard and facing the challenges in our own ways, and there's generally a common understanding about that. The end result is a feeling of solidarity that I think will stay long after COVID has gone.

Reprinted from The COVID Chronicle, a newspaper started by students in Nancy Nickerson's fourth grade class at Capt. Albert W. Stevens School about what it is like to attend school during the pandemic.