Emily Gilbert

Teacher Emily Gilbert wears a mask with a clear vinyl window that allows her students to read her lips.

This year’s pandemic has caused virtual chaos at all levels of education. For teachers and students, the shift to remote has likely affected their ability to perform in the classroom.

In her first year as a full-time teacher, Emily Gilbert, a 2020 Ohio State University graduate and Columbus resident, is working to adapt to the unusual surroundings.

Gilbert began teaching third grade this year as an intervention specialist at High Point Elementary in Gahanna. Almost every class she has taught so far has been virtual, she said, but she has been able to adjust and create a positive learning atmosphere.

“It’s definitely different,” Gilbert told the CJN. “I did not picture myself having my first year teaching be through a computer screen, so it was definitely unexpected and something that I had to adapt to, but overall, things have gone pretty well. I feel very lucky to have the class that I have and my amazing kids, who are doing really well with the learning so far.”

Gilbert graduated from Solon High School in Solon in 2016. Her parents, David and Faith Gilbert, reside in Moreland Hills, and the family belongs to Park Synagogue in Pepper Pike and Cleveland Heights.

High Point Elementary is transitioning to a hybrid model of teaching, which involves a mix of virtual and in-person classes. The school’s general education students will follow a pattern of coming in on either “A” or “B” days. However, Gilbert’s intervention students will come to school every day from Tuesday to Friday, staying only for the mornings before the afternoon group arrives.

Last week, Gilbert began teaching some students in-person. One of the biggest challenges is building virtual connections with her students to help them engage with the material and learn effectively, she said.

“A lot of (the challenge) is that it’s difficult to physically explain things through the computer,” Gilbert said. “I really had to be creative and think about how to turn everything into an interactive activity that we can do through a computer screen.”

Creating these interactive activities has been made even more of a challenge by the necessity to adapt to students’ specific needs.

“It is challenging thinking about how it’s going to work for each student, how to hold their attention span through the computer, how to get their engagement or keep their focus or prompt interactions with peers,” she said. “Those social skills are so important, and it’s so hard to have that when your only interaction is talking through a Google Meet to somebody.”

Since her students sometimes need assistance with the virtual aspect of the class meetings, Gilbert has had much more interaction with the children’s families than she expected. The unusual circumstances have allowed her to build closer relationships with the families, she said.

“I really wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing without the effort of the families on the other side of the screen,” Gilbert said. “It’s given me an opportunity to really become close with these families as well as my students.”

Despite the virtual element creating an uphill battle, Gilbert said she is proud of the progress made with her students. One of her favorite classroom activities so far has been a virtual Jeopardy game, where students quizzed each other on personal facts.

Another specific moment that stood out to Gilbert was when one student expressed his affection to her in a creative way.

“He said he had something to show me,” Gilbert said. “And he said, ‘Hold on, I need to write something down.’ He held up a whiteboard and it just said, ‘I love you.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m doing something right.’”

Ben Blotner is a freelance writer from Westerville.

Recommended for you

Subscribe or opt-in to home delivery today!

Do you wish to receive free home delivery of the Columbus Jewish News? Click here to subscribe now.

The CJN is asking those who receive the newspaper to confirm their subscriptions to help us get a sense of our readers’ engagement. To opt-in to the newspaper if you are already receiving it at your home, click here. Home delivery to Columbus area residents is free, thanks, in part, to the support of JewishColumbus and Schottenstein Stores Corp.