Photo: Chris Yiu

At Work

COVID-19 Dispatches: Behind the Screens With a Grade 5 Teacher

Learning how to teach in the age of physical distancing

By Stephanie Bailey, '10 BA(Hons)

April 27, 2020 •

Wherever you look, there are members of our U of A community navigating life under the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the ones conducting hundreds of tests every day to protect our most vulnerable. Or making sure our grocery store shelves are stocked. Or adjusting to teaching and learning online in an age of physical distancing. They meet every new day with courage, compassion and creativity, whether it's cleaning cots at an emergency shelter or engaging students remotely via TikTok demos. We've asked a handful of U of A grads to record a few days in their everyday lives, and capture history-in-the-making.

Who: Chris Yiu, '00 BEd

Job: Grade 5 teacher with Edmonton Public Schools, at Johnny Bright School in southwest Edmonton.

Education: Undergraduate degree in education as an elementary school generalist.

Notable: Yiu is lucky enough to teach at his neighbourhood school where his own children attend. He sees it as a bonus. His kids have differing opinions depending on the day.

Day #1

9 a.m. - Woke up tired today because I stayed up late watching Dave Chapelle on Netflix. But I needed some levity after the nightly pandemic update. After shaving for the first time in a week (much to the relief of my family), I eat breakfast and check the daily email tsunami. Then, I make sure my assignments are all posted correctly before I start my video conferences. The number of kids checking in decreases with each meeting … At the same time, I have to keep my own kids going with their work. My 10-year-old daughter is really good about getting her work done but my 6-year-old twin boys need more supervision.

12:30 p.m. - I'm back at the computer after clearing up lunch and kicking the kids outside to the yard. Thank God it's getting nicer out. I check another wave of emails, look over kids' work and send it back, hoping they'll review it. Much of this is hoping and waiting ... It's nice to see some of my students are doing the work. As long as I have more kids doing work than the other teachers on my team, I'm happy. Gloating over Google Meet is a feather in the cap.

2:30 p.m. - There's no new work coming in, so I'm calling it a day. Time to go outside and pump out the water that is puddling before it floods my basement. Life goes on, and a priority right now is to mitigate water damage.

4:30 p.m. - I feed my after-school snack attack and then start dinner. The kids are watching TV. This feels like normal after-school time but without the rush to get dinner done and get out the door to a sports practice.

Day #2

8:45 a.m. - I check my sons' and daughter's list of tasks from their teachers and get them all going on their school work. Meanwhile, I continue to track my own students' progress or lack thereof. For a moment, I consider sending emails to reach out to parents, but no. I have no idea of the stresses going on at home. I'll just stick to reaching out to the kids for now. I miss my students.

10:50 a.m. - I just finished a video meeting with colleagues. It was great to see their faces - so much of this job is interacting with colleagues, not just students. It's nice to commiserate on the roller coaster between hope and despair.

Now it's time for a stretch - I've been sitting in this chair for too long. My hips are incredibly sore, and I groan when I stand up.

3 p.m. - Incidentally, the dad of one of my students is an ergonomist. He emails me asking if I'd be interested in being interviewed by his colleague and shares some resources for setting up my work station. He must have heard my groan over the Cloud!

4 p.m. - I practise soccer with my daughter in the garage. Then, I tackle the puddle that grew back overnight. This is what Sisyphus must have felt like.

Day #3:

9:30 a.m. - I check in with my students via Google Meet. This is the best part of online learning - I really do miss seeing their faces. We talk about an assignment to write a friendly letter to a senior living in a long-term care facility. A parent of one of the students works in a care home and suggested our students write letters to offer some cheer. Here are some choice excerpts of the letters that are perhaps a bit too blunt:

  • Dear Senior, I hope you don't get coronavirus and die.

  • I know you're old and stuck inside.

  • I heard the coronavirus mostly kills old people.

  • If you don't make it, I know you'll be looking down on us from heaven.

  • Hopefully you have a reliable device to talk to friends and family with. If not, even a phone will work. You just won't be able to see them.

However, we also have these:

  • Don't forget that you are awesome in every way. Stay healthy.

  • I hope you know that even though everyone is at home, there are still plenty of people thinking of you, including me.

  • I know it might be sad not seeing your family members but just pretend that I am here visiting you right now.

  • I know that your family is trying to keep you safe so that's why they can't come to visit. So just remember that your family is always with you even though they are not there.

1 p.m. - I have a video meeting with school administrators. Teachers are asking them questions like: "Will we do report cards in June?" and "How hard should we pressure parents whose kid isn't doing any work even though they have the technology at home?" Hard to answer these questions amid so many unknowns.

7:45 p.m. - I do a final check-in before putting my kids to bed to make sure tomorrow's posts are up. I should do this during the daytime instead. It's good to have goals.

Day #4

9 a.m. - I open up the morning email wave and get my own kids going on their Friday work. This is only getting done because I have the flexibility to make sure the kids are doing their work. It must be so hard for parents with less flexibility and experience, which makes me wonder if I'm expecting too much from my students' parents. I start to give feedback on more student work.

1 p.m. - I do that interview with the ergonomist. While telling him how sitting at a computer in the basement for long durations is killing me, I think to myself, I should set an alarm for when to get up and stretch before my body seizes. Teachers are ruled by bells.

2 p.m. - I finish scheduling work for next week (I'm learning!) and finish checking kids' work for now. The rest can wait. Right now, I have to hit the grocery and liquor store and get supplies for the next couple of weeks. I'm our family's errand runner so I mask up and make sure the kids are fed and my wife and I don't run dry.

Day #5

8 a.m. - I record a video message to accompany the list of daily learning tasks I send to my students. I'm getting pretty good at this.

9 a.m. - I finish reading an article on how to be good at video meetings. Turns out, I'm not good at video meetings at all: my lighting is all wrong, camera is at a terrible angle, work space is a mess, and I'm too rambling with my directions.

2:30 p.m. - Work has been checked, emails have been answered. I'm done for the day. The weather is finally nice and the puddle is almost drained, so it's time to take advantage of working from home. My deck is calling me.



READ MORE: COVID-19 dispatches: On the front lines at an emergency shelter

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