Joanna Bis sang her students a song. Jeanette Wolters-Lennon sent her graduating seniors letters in the mail. And Noelle Kouris visited her students during a teacher parade.
Teachers have found new and unique ways to connect with their students as COVID-19 caused schools to switch to remote instruction.
And people across the country are celebrating these educators — like the St. Joseph’s College alumnae mentioned above — May 4-8 as part of Teacher Appreciation Week.
“I feel that as a teacher, we are used to working with our fingers on the pulse,” said Bis, a fourth-grade teacher at PS 253 Blue Ribbon School of Multicultural Studies in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. “This was one new hurdle for us to cross, and it was a large one. No matter how much you plan, nothing prepares you for this transition.”
Wolters-Lennon, a teacher for 28 years at Lindenhurst High School, mailed out handwritten letters to her 132 graduating seniors, letting them know that she’s still here for them — and just just through a screen or email.
“There is something very special about a handwritten letter,” said Wolters-Lennon, who graduated from SJC Long Island in 1992 with a degree in history with a concentration in adolescence education. “It’s personal; you know the person took the time to sit down and really think about you in that moment.”
Wolters-Lennon, a member of the SJC Long Island Alumni Association Board, shared that she learned this from fellow SJC alumna Karen Gerold.
“She was a guiding force in my development as a teacher from very early on, and even now that she is retired, I can turn to her for advice and encouragement … in the letters we write back and forth to keep in touch,” said Wolters-Lennon.
While Wolters-Lennon misses her students and their daily face-to-face interactions, what’s keeping her positive is how supportive and kind both her students and their parents have been.
“The parents have been really amazing and very supportive,” she said. “They reach out just to say thank you, how awesome is that? I get messages from the kids just checking in and seeing if I’m OK — they are too sweet.”
Saying ‘Hi’ from the Street
Kouris, an instructional support coach for the Longwood Central School District, is one of many educators to participate in the new trend of teacher parades — when educators from a school drive through the neighborhoods of their students, waving and saying “hi” from their cars.
Kouris joined her colleagues from Ridge Elementary for two days of teacher parades last month. To date, all schools in the Longwood district have participated in the parades.
“To describe what I felt in words isn’t the easiest,” said Kouris, who graduated from SJC Long Island in 2003 with a degree in child study. “First off, the response was amazing. To see how many teachers came ready, with cars decorated, supplies to share to decorate, the energy…it was amazing. Then to actually start the parade and see students…tears, both happy and sad.
“The faces of the families and the students just lit up,” added Kouris. “They were calling our names as they saw us. They waved, made signs, jumped up and down…I can’t say I have the right words to describe this feeling.”
Kouris, who has overcome her fair share of obstacles — including beating cancer — likes to think of herself as a pretty positive person, so she’s remained optimistic during these trying times.
“I think of how hard everyone is working and how proud I am to be a teacher,” she said. “I know that when this is over and we are allowed to be with our students once more, the appreciation for one another in the profession and for our community will be stronger than ever.”
After seeing a Facebook video of another teacher singing a song to their students, Bis was encouraged to take the song and make it hers as a way to share with her students just how much she misses them.
“When I first saw the video, I was in tears because I’ve missed my students so much,” said Bis, who graduated from SJC Brooklyn in 2016 with her undergraduate degree in child study and speech communication, and in 2018 earned her master’s in childhood special education with an adaptation in severe and multiple disabilities.
“I published my video on my classroom page a month after being in quarantine,” she said. “I wanted to show my students how proud I was of them for transitioning and show them that although we are in such uncertain times, it’s okay to feel different feelings, and that I too was going through these feelings.”
Bis is struggling with not being able to know if her students are truly happy and safe. Her heart breaks every time they ask when they can come back to school. She’s eagerly awaiting that day herself.
“My students are why I can breathe and do what I do every day,” Bis said. “They motivate me to create fun assignments and find awesome websites so that they have a couple of hours where they feel normal. They are such wonderful children, and I am so thankful I have them as my students.”