COVID-19 has shut down schools and establishments all over the world and we are all figuring out how to navigate through these unprecedented times. Students have had to transition to online learning and are are forced to miss some of the events that they have been looking forward to all year. This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Murray, a 5th grade teacher and bride-to-be from New Jersey. Read more to find out how she is navigating her virtual classroom at home and some of the biggest struggles she has had to face.
Q Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your Instagram page. What made you want to start creating content?
A Hi everyone, I'm Sam! I am a teacher and bride-to-be living in New Jersey with my fiance, Jeff, and our puppy, Bentley! We just bought our first house a year ago and have been channeling our inner Chip&Jo to fix it up and make it a "home" this past year and especially during our time in quarantine. We were supposed to get married this summer, in August, but have made the tough decision to postpone it until next summer. Being a teacher, I have always known I wanted to get married in the summer so I can take my honeymoon and not have to worry about balancing school and wedding prep!
I originally started my instagram 3 years ago when I got my first teaching job! I was passionate about sharing my ideas and classroom decor with all the other teachers and creatives out there! I started as "Miss Murray in Fifth" on instagram and shared my teaching ideas for about 2 years. A little over a year ago, I decided that I really wanted my instagram to become more of a creative and fun outlet for me to share my life outside of teaching and so I began to transition. Last summer, I changed my instagram name to "Simply Samantha Style" and started sharing more and more of my life outside of the classroom. Now, a year later, I love getting to share my everyday life with all my followers! The day we got engaged, the outpouring of love I received from my little community on instagram was seriously incredible! My favorite part about creating content is getting to connect with all my followers and sharing sales, Starbucks drinks, recipes, home decor and even wedding related stuff as I plan our wedding!
Q How has the COVID-19 quarantine changed your daily routine in life and as a teacher?
A COVID-19 has really flip turned our world upside-down here, like everyone I'm sure! My fiance has always worked long 14 hour days and I have always worked in the classroom, neither of us have ever worked from home. Now, with the quarantine we are both working from home- we have never spent so much time together! My sister, Jaime, is a nurse on the COVID unit at our local hospital. Prior to the COVID outbreak she was living at home with my parents, but once we found out the severity of the disease we made the decision to have my sister come live with us. We did this so she didn't put our parents at risk of contracting the virus, especially our immunocompromised Dad. Jaime has been living with us for about 2 months now and we have been doing our parents grocery shopping for them to keep them home as much as we can. We have seen our parents from a distance, but it is definitely weird not spending time together or even getting to hug them!
For the most part we have all adjusted to our new routines, I spend the first half of my day on Virtual Learning with my students, Jaime either is working or completing her online NP school, and Jeff is now taking all of his meetings remotely. We all usually have lunch and dinner together, we go for walks with Bentley most nights and have gotten to spend plenty of time outside on the deck together! So that part has been nice!
Q Can you describe your transition to teaching virtually? And what would you say is the most difficult task you have faced so far?
A Virtual Learning has been an evolving transition for students and teachers. At first, we started off with 2 weeks worth of work, and thought maybe we would go back to school after that. Once we realized that was not happening, everything started to change. At first the students worked off a Google Slide and we were available to them via email, everyone was a little confused. That was about 8 weeks ago, when Virtual Learning just started. Now, we heavily work through Google Classroom, Google Meet, and Gmail and we have a lot more contact. I see my students on video calls multiple times a week and we talk every day. In New Jersey, we just got word that schools will remain closed for the duration of the year and a lot of the students are really upset about it, especially being that 5th grade is their last year in our elementary school, and in the Fall they will be off to middle school.
The most difficult thing so far has definitely been this week, when the students heard that we will not be returning to school. Since then, I have been trying to provide different prompts and opportunities for them to discuss and let me know how they are feeling. Many students have said the news has left them feeling "upset, angry, lonely, disappointed, and bummed" and my heart just breaks for them. It's hard for me as a teacher, because it feels like nothing I can say or do over video chat or gmail will make them feel better about the situation. They're upset they missed their 5th grade carnival, their DARE graduation, their band concerts, Field Day and most importantly just time with their friends. Our district has two middle schools, so some of the students won't even be in the same school together next year, and I know many of them are sad about that. So that has been hard for me, as their teacher, to see and hear them all upset about it and not have those special days that the kids look forward to all year.
Q What does a typical day of Virtual Learning look like for your class? Are there any interactions between the students themselves?
A A typical day of virtual learning for my class starts with me releasing their "E-Notebook" at 8 am, this is for my early risers to get started. Each day, the work they will do is all put in to one Google Doc, that I release through Google Classroom. Between 8 and 9 is when I will start to get emails from the students if there is anything they don't understand. At 9 am, I post our class's Morning Message which contains a greeting, a quote, a share and an activity for them to try! Each student has to respond to the morning message on the post. At 10 am is when our virtual meetings start. On Monday Wednesday Friday we will do a "Morning Meeting" and some of our special area teachers pop on to see the kids and do an art, music, PE, etc activity with the kids. On Tuesday and Thursday we have "office hours" where I sit on the video chat for an hour and kids can pop on and off to ask me any questions or just chat! Our videos typically end by 11 and then I just stay available on my computer via email until 1, and that's pretty much when our Virtual Learning day ends!
Q It is a bummer that the kids are missing out on those activities. Does your school district have any plans to either re-do those missed events or have them virtually somehow?
A We are currently brainstorming as a school and as a grade level to figure out a way to find special activities for the students! We definitely will do some sort of virtual celebration for them before our virtual learning ends. We are also hoping once everything clears up- even if it's already the summer- that we can do an ice cream social or something to celebrate them!
Q It is so great that you are having your sister stay with you instead of your parents! What does her day typically look like?
A She works 3 days a week for 12-hour shifts. If she is working she is up and out of the house by 630 to head to her hospital for her 7am- 7pm shift. Her days are long and she gets home around 730-8. We try to have dinner ready for her when she gets home because we know she is usually exhausted. We have her take off all her dirty scrubs, shoes, etc in the garage and we have her run right up to the shower. On her days off, she is working on her online Nurse Practitioner school, running, watching Netflix and doing all the quarantine activities like the rest of us!
Q Lastly, we love that you were able to relate your story with our designs. If you were to give a title to your life story, what would it be and why?
A I am a big country music fan, and I have always loved Luke Comb's song "Beautiful Crazy". If I had to give my life a title I think it would be something like the first lines of his song, "Her day starts with a coffee and ends with a wine". (Especially during the quarantine!)
Follow Samantha on Instagram @simplysamanthastyle