Inside SFS

Teaching and Learning During the Shut Down

by Laura Burges, Retiring 3rd Grade Teacher

Laura began her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse in the Los Padres Wilderness. She joined The San Francisco School in 1997 as a drama specialist. She has also taught 4th and 5th grade, but she has been the 3rd Grade Teacher for most of her time at SFS. Outside of school, Laura is a Buddhist teacher and lecturer.

During my 33 years at The San Francisco School, we’ve been through a number of major and minor disasters. I remember hosing down the North Class when it was threatened with a grass fire burning on the other side of the fence. We’ve had downed power lines, toxic spills, floods and, in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake. For weeks, kids were playing “earthquake” on the yard. One child would yell “Earthquake!” and the other kids would all duck and cover. We had to shelter in place one time when there was a ruffian on the loose in the neighborhood. We had a bomb scare during our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration and evacuated to the green top. And then there were the smoky fires in 2019 that closed down the school for a few days.

But the Covid 19 shut down takes the cake!

Luckily, with our technology in place, we were able to move more or less seamlessly into School on the Go. Sending the kids off with their canvas bags stuffed with projects, books, and papers on March 13, little did we know that we would be apart for so long. Getting everything going was a bit of a learning curve but with great support from the administration and with the energy and optimism of the teachers, we made a go of it.

My goal during those weeks was to offer the students real projects to do in a three dimensional world, with the help of technology. We quickly moved to having a “live” Morning Meeting online every school day at 8:30 am, which provided us with a sense of normalcy, since it was close to what we do in class every day. Ringing the mindfulness bell, singing together and reciting poetry, sharing jokes and stories, the buoyancy of the Third Graders lifted my spirits each morning. It became very important to me to see those shining faces every day before sending them off to do their work independently and with the support of their heroic parents!

Normally, the last weeks of school in Third Grade are the time when we would be reading and discussing Charlotte’s Web, when we would be studying trees and learning about seeds and leaves and George Washington Carver, when we would be learning tree songs and tree poetry. We would be writing personal narratives and poetry and reports. Each student would be choosing a topic to teach to the rest of the class during their “Teaching Lessons.”

And all of those things were accomplished by the resilient, curious, motivated, and delightful Class of 2025. Though sheltered at home, we read about Charlotte, Fern, Wilbur, and all their friends on the farm. The kids diagrammed trees and appreciated the trees they could see in their yard and on their daily walks in their neighborhoods. They wrote about what these strange days were like for them, what they missed, what they cherished. They engaged in the fabulous STEAM projects offered by Jalen, designing seeds and catapults and paper airplanes. They met with their classmates to share work and ideas with one another. They helped around the house. And, using the books they could gather and online resources, they researched the topics they had chosen and entertained us all with an impressive and colorful batch of Teaching Lessons. 

While I could never have imagined finishing my time at the San Francisco School in front of my trusty computer, rather than in the company of my beloved Third Graders, we have truly made the best of things. We never really know what we are capable of until life presents us with the difficulties and challenges that come to us all. When we find we can wholeheartedly meet those challenges with strength and humor, we are the better for it. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Posted July 01, 2020