‘It Made Me More Creative’ : Tunstall Teacher Learns Lessons During Pandemic

Trenton Forney glues alphabet letters to a tree. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

October 2, 2020

Dry Folk resident juggles multiple roles as teacher and mother.

DRY FORK – It wasn’t the first day Kathryn Forney expected.

The Tunstall High School Algebra I and Geometry teacher wasn’t the only person in her family getting ready for school. Her son, Trenton Forney, also had a big day ahead. It was his first day of pre-kindergarten.

Instead of putting him on a bus bound for elementary school, Kathryn buckled him into the family’s vehicle. Together, off to school they went.

It’s not too often that a child’s first day at school lands them in a high school math class, but it’s also rare that students have their own parents for teachers. For many families, the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck the commonwealth in the spring 2020 semester, changed that.

As the spring semester ended and summer came to a close, school districts scrambled to create a schedule that would work for everyone. Taking the virus into account, social distancing requirements and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, there wasn’t a blanket option that covered every need. For that reason, many school districts revealed their decisions with little preparation time for families and staff.

The Forneys found themselves in the same limbo situation as every other family with school-age children. Yet, Kathryn commended the leaders for being cautious.

Once the word went out that classes would start remotely for the 2020-21 school year, Kathryn contacted Trenton’s teacher. She asked for her son’s schedule and plan and adjusted her own agenda around his. She even offered her lunchtime for his Google Meets sessions.

The teacher noted that the preparation wasn’t too strenuous, but executing the plan wasn’t always easy. It was worth it, though.

The teaching begins

Being Trenton’s first year, Kathryn noted that, ironically, virtual schooling seemed normal to him. For her, it provided a unique opportunity to be an active part of his learning, an extension of playing school at home.

“We have always done ‘schoolwork’ at home as far as cutting, pasting, letter recognition and such. But I have been able to see Trenton in his Google Meets and see him interacting with his teachers and that has been absolutely amazing,” Kathryn said. “Seeing that sparkle in his eye and love for learning is priceless. I mean, I get to be a part of this and have a career! How cool?”

Having mom as a teacher also allowed for individualized learning opportunities. Together, the two expanded Trenton’s vocabulary, read books and acted out stories.

“During breaks and lunchtimes we have painted so many pictures, cut and glued so much. We have taken stories and made games out of them. I have loved hearing him explain what he remembers from the books he read. He loves mixing colors to make new colors. Even when he isn’t doing schoolwork, it is something new going on. I will be working at my computer on lessons or recording new videos and I hear him on the floor building a tower and talking himself through the process or talking to his imaginary people,” Kathryn said. “I feel so blessed to have had this extra time with him. These are moments that we would never have had if it wasn’t for COVID-19.”

Trenton Forney 2
Trenton Forney and mother, Kathryn Forney, paint their hands for a school print-making project. Contributed photo.

A renewed vigor

The benefits didn’t stop with Trenton’s learning. It also gave the teacher new perspectives on the ways children learn. 

“It has helped me become more creative. Working as a secondary teacher, I can be kind of boring – ha! I try to bring my Algebra lessons to life, but to be honest, I had lost some of my creative energy over my 10 years in education,” Kathryn said. “Working with Trenton has changed that. I have a fire in me to be effective, but add some flavor. Just the other day, I painted my hand and stamped papers with Trenton. I was like, ‘Who am I?’ COVID has changed me and I am not mad about it at all.”

The experience also increased the student’s interest in socialization. Kathryn noted that at daycare, even though he loved going, Trenton often felt upset when his parents dropped him off. During quarantine, things changed.

“I honestly thought when it came time for him to go back into the classroom, he would be hesitant. Wrong! The child got on a school bus like he had been doing it his whole life. I had my mom and husband there to help because I knew there would be a meltdown. Wrong!” Kathryn said. “He has matured so much during this COVID time. The six weeks of learning we had together has really opened my eyes to what he is capable of.”

A positive takeaway

Now working with students reentering the classroom, while still teaching remotely as well, there are certain elements of the past six weeks Kathryn will hold dear throughout the year.

At the beginning of the irregular school year, the teacher challenged herself to seek out the good – a practice she observes in her personal life as well.

“We could all sit around and think about all of the negatives with COVID-19. There’s tons of restrictions and plenty of things that we’ve all missed out on. However, as a working parent, I miss out on so much of my child’s learning experiences during a normal year. But not this year,” Kathryn said. “I am blessed that Trenton’s amazing teacher provided awesome activities for us to do together, was there for support and built a relationship with Trenton even over the computer screen. All of this, while also teaching my own classes and building relationships with students. In a sense, for once, I was able to have my cake and eat it too.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

Author’s note

Hey, teachers, students, parents – everyone embarking in virtual learning this year! This story is part of a series called #ClassDuringCovid and I want to feature YOUR unique learning experience. Is there a special project you’ve done this year? What about some interesting virtual field trips? From Common Core to uncommon adventures, I want to hear about it. My inbox is ready and waiting for all of your great ideas at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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