LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — Larisha Nelson is a fourth-grade virtual learning teacher at Daisy Bates Elementary School in the Pulaski County Special School district.
This is Nelson's tenth year teaching for the district, and so far it's proven the most difficult. Most mornings her day begins at 4:45 a.m. She and her two children make their way to Daisy Bates by 6 a.m. and arrive by around 6:30. They're able to enter the school at 6:45 after completing a temperature check and a coronavirus screening survey before her children are taken by bus to Mills Middle School and Mills High School.
The first thing Nelson does when she gets to her classroom is to publish her virtual classroom zoom link so her students can join as soon as school begins at 7:30 a.m. Before class begins, Nelson helps with morning duty every day. She helps to greet the student and direct those who have transferred out of virtual learning to in-person classes get to where they need to go.
"It's all hands on deck when you are on duty," Nelson explained.
Nelson said her students have been doing very well with joining her virtual classroom on time. She stresses to parents that she expects the students to be at school as if they were attending in the building. Nelson tries to make her virtual classroom as much as a traditional classroom as she can.
"I try to set up my room so that I can move around and the students can see me in different areas," Nelson said, "So when I'm doing a science lesson, I like to go to my lab, and when I'm reading I try to be here (her reading corner), sometimes the Wi-Fi won't agree with me, but we make it work."
Nelson said in order to keep the students attention, she has a lot of built in breaks throughout the day.
"We talk about some things and I have them go explore something, so its that most of the day," she explained.
At 8:20 a.m. Nelson has a planning period while the students go to specialty classes. She completes any tasks that need to get done, plans for the next week, creates schedules, has occasional grade level meetings or meetings to discuss curriculum and how things are going until students return at 9:00 a.m.
Her class is dismissed for lunch from 11:50 a.m. to 12:30 pm. Since her students are home, she said most of the time they like to stay in the virtual classroom through lunch.
"I still see their faces, they don't want to leave, and sometimes we have a working lunch, like I'll just work and then they can stay on and work too," she said.
Lunchtime is also used to catch up on coffee and check her mailbox.
"Hopefully if you get back in time, you can have something to eat," Nelson said.
Throughout this school year so far, Nelson has been unable to have an actual sit-down lunch break, largely due to technical issues.
"I haven't this school year, because I'm just trying to make sure everything is set up and ready for when they come back," Nelson said, "They've been experiencing like, you know, internet issues, so I just want to be prepared."
The technology problems are a daily occurrence for Nelson. She said oftentimes, she'll have to pause the class and have all the students log out and back in in order to get students who are locked out into the lesson.
"My kids are really good about just, if I say I need to take a pause, 'guys I need to take a pause and we need to get a student,' in they're really helpful," Nelson said.
On days students can't get logged in, Nelson will even send the student a video of the tasks they need to complete.
The students are released every day at 2:15 p.m.
"They're checking back in with me to just say goodbye, and I have to like kick them out, they don't want to leave, which is shocking," Nelson.
Once the students are dismissed, Nelson's workday is far from over. She also helps out with afternoon car duty, which typically lasts until around 3:35 p.m. After, Nelson goes back to her classroom and works to prepare for the next day for another 30 minutes before going to meet her son at Mills Middle School, where they wait an hour for her daughter to finish up with practice. During that time, she does more work while her son works on his homework.
"Sometimes I'll just go in Schoology and start grading, doing some grading and he's back in the back doing his work, so we're talking about his work and checking his Schoology, so just extra work," Nelson said.
Her daughter is done by 5:30 p.m., and the Nelsons' head to their family's food truck to pick up dinner before heading home for the evening. That's where Nelson settles in to do more work, and finish any other tasks still needing to be completed for the day. By around 9:45 p.m., 17 hours after waking up, Nelson is ready to call it a night. However, she never fully feels caught up. Nelson said making time for herself and her family can be a challenge.
"Sometimes I have to be like, 'look, stop, put it up,' and sometimes I just have to put it away, even though it's still on my mind," Nelson said.
The work doesn't stop for the weekend either. Nelson still wakes up before 5 a.m. to try to get ahead for the upcoming week.
"I try to work Saturday mornings, and then I try to let it go by the afternoon and then just have family time after that, but early Saturday, I try to get up the same as if I'm going to school and work a little bit and then, take the day off," Nelson said.
Nelson admits, some days are a struggle, but to her, teaching is a calling.
"Oh, my gosh, it's just something I've always wanted to do, I mean, the sacrifices to me they're worth it," Nelson said, "I think about my own kids, I always tell parents that 'look, I'm gonna treat your kids like I treat my own kids, and I want the best for my own."
At the end of the day, she hopes parents know they’re in this together.
"It's different for all of us, and just know that we're with you and we're gonna get through it together, I mean, no matter what it's throwing at us, we just have to get through it together, just bear with us and be patient," Nelson said.
Thursday, Sept. 31 at 10 p.m. on KATV, a hybrid virtual learning and in-person teacher at Sylvan Hills Middle School will walk us through a day in her life.