When Erin Patterson and her husband took possession of more than a dozen decades old windows in their garage, neither of them had any idea what use they would have for them.
Or if they would ever even use them.
They certainly never imagined Erin would use them in his fourth-grade classroom at Barfield Elementary.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in mid-March and before the Rutherford County School Board voted to open schools in August with social distancing measures in place.
Nine years ago, when Patterson and fellow fourth-grade teacher Sheila Berry were moved to a portable classroom at Barfield Elementary School, Patterson and her husband built a series of tables to replace traditional desks. Last month, the crafty couple cleaned up those old windows they had stored away and then modified the tables she had brought back into her new classroom.
“When the pandemic happened, I said, ‘Well, I’m going to make these tables work,’” said Patterson, who now uses the windows to separate individual workspaces for each of the students.
She and her husband installed the windows prior to the first day of school, thinking the windows would serve as a physical barrier and “keep these babies safe” during this time of social distancing.
Patterson has made the most of a once-in-a-lifetime start to the new school year by combining the use of her windows — see attached photos for visuals of her classroom — and utilizing modern technology to not only connect her classroom with Berry’s room across the hall via Zoom chats, but also provide each of their distance-learners an opportunity to livestream with them at the same time.
The first moment everyone was connected, it was pure joy.
“It went exactly as we had hoped,” Berry said.
Patterson added, “We’ve been a team. We’re accomplishing more together.”
The teamwork Patterson spoke of includes five other fourth-grade teachers at Barfield — Cara Brown, Beth Phillips, Kim Raymer, Jennifer Sanders and Leah Williams.
Teaching has always been a shared experience, but, under this year’s conditions, collaboration is more important than in any of their previous years of teaching.
“If you were working on your own with no help from anyone,” said Berry, who is now in her 29th year of teaching, “I would say this would be an almost impossible task because you’re trying to not only manage your physical class in front of you, but then you’ve got your virtual class as well, and we’re doing both at the same time.”
Patterson is beginning her 18th year in education.
The key to making the technology work was all the hours they spent connecting one another’s rooms before the arrival of students on the first day of school. They were troubleshooting together and familiarizing themselves with what they can and cannot do with the Zoom platform.
One afternoon, Patterson signed into Zoom and set her cellphone next to her laptop with music playing at full volume. Then she went to Berry’s classroom and the two began plugging and unplugging chords and adaptors and working together until they finally heard Patterson’s music playing through Berry’s laptop.
Rather than focusing on the challenge, they put their collective effort into finding a solution.
“We just started exploring it,” Berry said. “What can it do? What happens? That all takes time so that it goes as seamlessly as possible once we have kids on.”
Patterson added, “Sheila said it and I’ll say it again, we’re extremely lucky and proud of the other fourth-grade teachers that we work with. When one has been down, we have lifted them up and we all have had that moment where we said, ‘OK, I don’t understand this’ and we have just worked through it.”
Together they figure out solutions.
Just like, together, teachers and students are connecting and working together in innovative ways.
As with the windows, Patterson concluded, “There are things that just happen in life that work out. … You need to find something that works.”