To learn more about how COVID-19 has affected our participants, we reached out to Mitchel D., a J-1 Teacher from the Philippines, who has been living in the U.S. and teaching elementary school in Arizona since August 2019.
Mitchel shared her experience living in the U.S. during the pandemic and explained what it’s been like at her school over the past year. She also talked about a recent cross-cultural activity she was able to coordinate for her American students with students in the Philippines. Following are some highlights from our interview:
How is the current school year going for you?
At first, I was sad because I wasn’t able to see my kids for two months in August and September. But on October 1st I got to see all my kids because our school opened. I am very happy, but at the same time, I am feeling fear because of COVID. Arizona is the number one state in cases this month, so we have to be careful. I used to hug my kids but now I can’t do that, so I’m just doing “air hugs” all the time. It’s kind of sad for me, but it’s fulfilling that I get to see them from October to now.
What was the adjustment to remote teaching like at the beginning of COVID-19?
At first it was really hard because the kids didn’t know how to use the technology. They know about computers, but they didn’t where how to log in and where to go to for online lessons. The first thing I did was to call the kids and do the step-by-step on how to register with Zoom and Google. Everything was hard, but later they got used to it.
For teachers, we had to undergo training with Google and Schoology. Everything is about technology now, and we were overwhelmed with all the different resources. And with Schoology, we had to teach our kids how to use it. At the same time, we had to integrate with Zoom because that’s how we are able to see the kids.
How does it feel to be back in the classroom for the new 2020-2021 school year? What safety measures did your school take for teachers returning to the classroom?
When I got to see my kids on October 1st, I felt so happy because I’m a special education teacher, and it’s so much better when you get to see your kids and help them one-on-one. My heart is so happy to see them. It is so fulfilling when you get to see your kids every day on campus.
The first thing the school did is purchase disinfectant materials and equipment to make sure we have the cleanest school environment. The teachers were given face masks and face shields. We also have signage to remind the teachers and the students about hand washing, wearing face masks, and staying six feet apart.
At the same time, the number of students in the classroom is reduced. Before, we had thirty students in one classroom; now, we have twenty students in one classroom. The furniture inside the classroom had to be removed to give the twenty students physical distance.
What kinds of cultural activities have you been able to participate in around Arizona?
Me and my friends went hiking. Though I have a disability, I learned to love hiking here. Last summer, I was able to make it on top of the mountain, and all the people around me were just saying to me, “You are awesome! We didn’t know that you could do that.” It was so fulfilling that I was able to do it. I took a picture, uploaded it to social media, and then all of my friends were amazed. In the Philippines, I don’t do that, but here I am able to do things I might not have tried before.
You recently arranged a virtual cultural exchange between your American students and similar aged students in the Philippines. Could you tell us more about that?
My kids here and my students in the Philippines clicked very well and had so much fun! I didn’t know that my kids here in America are into what’s happening in the Philippines. They were talking about current events like the typhoon in the Philippines and about their favorite games since they both love computer games. They also talked about their favorite subjects. They shared a lot of common things. They learned from each other and asked how to say different words in their own language. It was so much fun, and the conversations lasted for 45 minutes!
Do you have any plans for other cultural activities for your students this year?
Since last year, I showcased Filipino folk dances, this time around, I’m thinking about showing them different games that we have in the Philippines and showing them different foods that we have. In the Philippines, we have different food that we don’t eat in America, so I’m thinking of showing my kids that.
In America, the big meal is Thanksgiving. In the Philippines, I want to show them how we spend Christmas. Christmas is a big deal in the Philippines. We have to prepare gifts, and we don’t sleep until midnight so we can have Christmas all day. We have a sing along with the whole family and a feast, so I’m looking forward to sharing that with my kids as well.
What is some advice you can give to other international teachers who are coming to the U.S. in Fall 2021?
My advice to them is to always be ready. The culture here is different, and the kids here are very different. Be prepared and always make decisions with your kids in mind. When you’re able to do that, it’s so fulfilling.
Another piece of advice is that it’s hard to be away from your family, but you have to be strong, and you have to have goal setting in mind. What do you want to do when you come here? What’s your plan?
And make good friends because you don’t have your family here. Your friends here are your extended family!
What have you learned on the J-1 Teacher Program so far?
So many things!
- Have a good relationship with your colleagues. If you have problems when you arrive, your colleagues will be the ones helping you.
- Practice time management. You can easily do everything you need to finish in a day if you have the time management skills.
- Always think about what you can do for your kids. You are here to teach them. Even if something negative is going on in your life, try to stay positive in the classroom.
- Make good friends. It’s so much fun when you make good friends in America. People here welcome you with open arms.