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A new adventure

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Jenn Chancellor
Jenn Chancellor teaches kindergarten at Carter Lake Elementary on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma.

I left a 15-year journalism career because I wanted a new adventure.

Being a first-year teacher during a global pandemic wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

To go from working in the news to being the news — education in the era of COVID-19 — has been jarring at times. My admission that I am a teacher has been met with "I'm sorry" more times than I can count.

They shouldn't be. I'm not.

I was a mere nine days from finishing student teaching when schools were shut down last March. I had no idea what would happen. Still, I signed my contract with the attitude to expect the unexpected. In mid-August, I found out I would be teaching kindergarten, and I was ecstatic.

But then reality set in.

I was going to be laying the foundation for these children's educations … over a tablet … at my dining room table. Talk about irony: I had given up a career where I worked at home using Teams — for a career where I would be working at home using Teams. But now, everything was new.

Could I do this?

Fast-forward three weeks, I logged on for my first virtual WaKids conference, and a little girl came into view. "Hi, Teacher!" she chirped. "I'm all ready to learn!"

Just like that, I was a teacher.

With steadfast support from my principal, Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) mentor, and the teacher I student-taught under, I found my virtual footing. Week after week, we forged ahead in reading, writing, and math — and every week, it became harder to not see my class in person. When we found out we were moving to hybrid in February, I cried, both in worry and relief.

It has turned out to be a blessing. I am able to differentiate my instruction more readily than I could virtually. I don't have to worry about Internet outages. And I get to see kindergarten through my students' eyes. From making paper rainbows and friends to reading stories and sight words, everything is exciting as we navigate this adventure together.

Every one of my students has shown academic growth this year. I doubt most teachers get emotional over number bonds, but I did last week, as I graded exit tickets and contemplated how they are rocking a concept learned in a very unorthodox situation. That is what I am proudest of: against the odds, these amazingly resilient little kids are all in. When my students say they want to live at school, they aren't kidding. COVID has not crushed their spirit. They are so excited to learn — and for me to teach them.

Yes, there are challenges, like keeping kindergarteners 6 feet apart (and not hugging), and moments of sadness, like the first time they saw the taped-off playground equipment, or when they say they don't remember life before masks.

But there is joy to be found in this year. Because even with a mask on, you can tell when a child is smiling.

Jennifer (Jenn) Chancellor is a first-year teacher in the Clover Park School District where her formal schooling all started.

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