Teacher shares his experience as a first-year educator during a pandemic

A teacher's first year in the classroom is challenging. While classes, observations, and student-teaching are invaluable, there's so much to learn when in charge of your classroom for the first time.

Cartrell Smith has been dreaming of being in charge of his classroom for a long time. He envisioned the daily face-to-face contact with unmasked students. Though he did not see virtual learning as part of his first year, he learned a lot about patience and flexibility.

Charged with teaching both virtual and hybrid 5th-graders simultaneously, Smith said, "Things are different than I imagined. I don't think anything could have prepared me for adapting to teaching during a pandemic."

Under the new conditions, Smith has pushed himself to improvise and explore new ways of doing things. The advantage is that the pandemic has opened a learning door for education to focus more on technology. "We always knew that technology was the education for the future, but technology is the education for today," Smith said.

His classroom is decorated for March Madness, the classroom activity of the month. He uses props and bulletin boards with a basketball theme. As the students complete their writing essays, they earn a free throw shot. Hybrid students shoot the ball at the end of each class. Virtual students are given an invitation to join a virtual basketball game on Friday afternoons.

Student response to the new way of learning differs. Virtual is a struggle for some of the students who are not familiar with the technology. They tend to freeze up and respond slower than others. The students who are "tech-savvy" are much more open and respond faster. Smith does a lot of one on one interventions to help his students stay refocused and, for some, "get the wiggles out." 

He joined Frazier as a classroom assistant in 2020, splitting time between his education courses at Alcorn State University and his ministry work. 

Smith says he's longed to be a mentor to young people. "My career choice of education was to be a model for students. I have always had a love for children and a willingness to do anything to help them be successful. I cannot wait to see my students in the future and hear the words, "Because of you, I did not give up." In the meantime, he plans to "keep pressing on, and things will work themselves out."
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