Interviewed by Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Happy Teacher’s Appreciation Week! The AFRO salutes teachers all year round, but during these unprecedented times, the world has truly seen that educators are real-life superheroes that are essential to society. As we celebrate all teachers, this week we’re highlighting District of Columbia Public Schools middle school science teacher Courtney Grant. 

AFRO: Tell us your role as an educator and some of the triumphs and challenges presented with the job.

Grant: As a science teacher, I pride myself on encouraging student’s innate curiosity to understand and make the world better. When students start to put together things they have seen in isolation, say in other classes or outside of school, then ask more questions and devise solutions – it makes the mound of papers to grade and teenage attitudes I navigate daily all worth it. While some may see the varying background stories or academic levels of students as a hurdle, I believe it strengthens the classroom community I cultivate. It mirrors the “real world.” Every student is different in the best way, and I intentionally tap into their strengths to share with the class. Whether that is drawing, speaking, dancing, acting, critical thinking or comedic relief – every student has something to offer.

Courtney Grant is a middle school science teacher in D.C. Public Schools. (Courtesy Photo)

AFRO: May you explain how your job has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and if you’re able to effectively connect with students?

Grant: Instructionally, I can teach an immaculate lesson with zero interruptions all without leaving my kitchen. But are kids learning? 

In a typical school day, I lay eyes on every single student I teach. I hear their voice, read their body language and feel their energy. Not being able to do that during home learning has made it a challenge to be there for every student daily. With over 70 students on my roster, it isn’t feasible to have regular check-ins and that weighs on me. It leaves me wondering about students that don’t have the most stable home life and forces me to pull back on my “no mediocrity” approach to student work. Holding high academic expectations along with letting everyone know that it is okay to not be okay is a balancing act.

AFRO: What are some of the concerns teachers have for their students during the pandemic?

Grant: We know this is a fragile time for our students and their families. My team has had the pleasure of teaching our current 8th graders for the past 3 consecutive years and the bond we have with their families is what has made this experience of home learning/teaching effective. Amongst our team, we know every single students’ situation, academically and personally. This has allowed us to be there for them in the ways they need us most. Initially, the most saddening part of being distant from our students was not being able to get in touch with kids that were happiest at school and relied on the supports of all staff in the building to be their best self. Thankfully there is a village of people supporting every single student and with distanced home visits and community partnering, all families have been reached. As a team, we want our students to be happy and some are really struggling. Whether it is being overwhelmed with workload, frustration with technology or traumatic circumstances at home, many of our students are not equipped with the coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of this pandemic…and the loss of being able to hug them and see them impedes our ability to comfort them.

AFRO: What is some advice you can offer to parents who are having trouble with homeschooling?

Grant: Prioritize. Every teacher is doing their best to provide rigorous, meaningful instruction to students during this time. And, it is fair to say that schools may overestimate the amount of time, resources and capacity of our students while learning from home. As with all things, take it one day at a time. Create your own daily schedule that fits your child because we are all working to figure out our new normal. Remember, you’re not homeschooling, yet trying to get schooling done amid a pandemic. Your sanity comes first.

AFRO: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Grant: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”- Frederick Douglass

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor