Education: Meet Teri, a French Teacher at Henry M. Jackson High School

Interviewer: Vy Nguyen; June 13, 2020

Interviewee: Teri Grindstaff

Henry M. Jackson High School is located in Mill Creek, WA (The Epoch Times).

Could you tell us more about who you are and what you teach?

My name is Teri Grindstaff and I am French Teacher at Henry M. Jackson High School. I am just finishing my 20th year as a teacher and I love it!

What do you miss most about teaching in person?

If you have studied psychology there was an experiment done on monkeys. In the experiment, if you fed them and didn’t hold them or are not anywhere near them, they don’t thrive as well as those who had that human contract. So, I think for me it’s just that human contact. Not necessarily human touching but that contact with the kids, being nearby and seeing them. Noticing if someone has had a good day and kind of connect with them but also when someone is having a bad day to follow up. I miss singing happy birthday when it’s their birthday to celebrate them. So I think that it is more that of that human connection that I really miss, and I have been worrying about the kids that I haven’t been seeing since we have gone to quarantine and online teaching. So, it is that worrying when you can’t have somewhat of a daily contact with kids.

"So I think that it is more that of that human connection that I really miss, and I have been worrying about the kids that I haven’t been seeing since we have gone to quarantine and online teaching."

How has your teaching changed because of online learning?

There are a couple of things that really affected it. When we first went into the lockdown they said "don’t give kids any new learning, we are not going to do anything with the grades” and so I think everyone kind of got that message of “okay our grades can’t change”. Then, they said, “...we can teach some new stuff but you don’t want to hurt their grade, they can improve their grade.” Which is great but what happens when you have got over a half of a class that isn’t engaged in the zooms or isn’t doing it, how do you move forward with that? So for me, I think that the content that was delivered was definitely very different from being in the classroom with me. We asked, “look how could we make this work.” So, online classes turned into more independent, online activities for kids to do well at home and then one class meeting a week. But I really feel that the interaction with the language is important, so it was different to not get that interaction. I keep trying to find resources and to find ways that kids could still get that input and in an interesting way that they might be somewhat interested in doing if they did it at all. Though this is online learning, I don’t think this is necessarily an online class because in an online class, kids know that there is going to be a grade and that they are going to be responsible for that work. This is different in quarantine because when students already had an A, then they are not going to put much effort into their work. I am not against online learning but I think this was a little bit of a tumultuous time where it was confusing if you should be responsible for the work or not. So again, I needed to find things that kids were somewhat interested in doing.

"...what happens when you have got over a half of a class that isn’t engaged in the zooms or isn’t doing it, how do you move forward with that?"

What do you miss most about your regular day to day routine?

For me the hardest part is that when I get up, work is here. I am just working at our kitchen table and sometimes I am here until 8 o’clock last night trying to find resources. So for me, what I really miss is having that routine where you get up, you get ready, go to work, do you work and then you leave and come home. Not that I didn’t bring work home with me, I did but it wasn’t always there. My work was not there, on my kitchen table all day, everyday. So, I miss that clear distinction between, I’m at work and this is what I do at work and now I get to go home and it’s not here on my kitchen table just waiting for me. So, that is kind of what I miss.

How has COVID-19 changed your life as a whole?

You know I was thinking about that. On the one hand is, I feel like I am very blessed because I have not had anyone that is close to me suffer from COVID or die from COVID-19 or anything like that. So you know, I feel really fortunate that way. I think that in general just the going out like going to a restaurant once in a while. Now, I’m wearing a mask when I shop so in general it’s just the going out. Going to gatherings or not having any gatherings and group things. So that has probably been the biggest change but again I feel that the people that have lost family members and loved ones have had the biggest impact. That is a big impact on them and I feel fortunate that it really hasn’t impacted me that much other than work and learning how to do this online school thing. But really, in the scheme of things, that has been doable and okay, just different.

Have you learned any new skills or adopted any new interest because of the COVID-19 situation?

Yes! I am kind of excited, the whole duolingo thing. I was thinking before we went into this lockdown, right before I thought, “hey you know, let’s make sure everybody is doing duolingo.” I remember someone saying, “...well know much? One lesson or two lessons?” So I thought, “gosh, I have never really done duolingo, I don’t really know the format.” So, that is why I decided that about ten minutes a day! So, I started duolingo the day I think we started lockdown. I think that I am on like a steak of 80 some days and so I told my husband, “hey, so that is how long we have been on lockdown because that is how long I have been doing duolingo.” So, I have been doing German so that way I can talk to Tucker’s wife because I assume we are going to go to Germany perhaps someday to see her since they are still there. So, it would be nice to a little German so it has been fun! And it can prevent me from getting Alzheimer's because when you learn new things it can help prevent Alzheimer's. So, yeah every day is like, “I’ve got to keep my steak, I can’t skip a day, I’ve got to keep my streak and do my duolingo!”

How do you feel about what is going on in the world right now, relating to COVID-19, the protest, and the changes that need to be made in this country?

I don’t know how political you want me to get, but I think most of all what this has really shown is the need for strong leadership. We really need strong leaders. Related to COVID-9, I think that it is really sad that wearing a face mask has become politicized. How can that be politicized? I mean there is a reason to do it and a good reason to do it. When our leaders don’t even feel like it somehow applies to them, it sends a mixed message. I don’t think it creates cohesiveness. With the protest, again, I think that we need strong leadership. I think we need someone that can listen and see the issues. You don’t always necessarily have to agree but at least listen so we can move forward. Going out and gasing peaceful protestors and moving them out of the way so you can get a photo op in front of a church holding a bible is not good leadership. It is not connecting with what is going on right outside your front door and it was literally outside his front door. And so I don’t mean to be political but I just feel like it just really points out that we need a strong leader that can connect with all people. This leader says he is the “commander and chief of law and order.” but I guess my question is, “what do we need law and order from? Why do we need law and order?” In a sense that the problems need to be handled but does that mean military? I don’t think it really does. So the changes that need to be made is that we need good leadership. I think it shows good leadership and where they can listen so there is something collaborative that can solve the problems.

"Related to COVID-9, I think that it is really sad that wearing a face mask has become politicized. How can that be politicized?"

What has this situation taught you as a teacher, how will you change your teaching style in the future if something like this does happen again?

Well again, if something does happen again in the future, I hope that there are some parameters. I hope that we have learned from this time so we can figure out how we hold kids accountable, if we should. I mean, there will always be those kids in that situation where they may be taking care of their younger siblings. But, I feel like as a teacher, my hands are tied as far as what my expectations could be. So what would I do differently? I guess that, A: I would talk to the students like I did and ask, “What would work with your lives?” I remember students saying that they wanted independent work and do their own thing. I hope that if this happens again for the long term that we would maybe be able to progress a little bit more in the curriculum and teach a little bit more than we did this time. But again, we were just thrown into this and two weeks turned into a month and a month turned into the rest of this school year. So, I have already started looking for resources and ask what can I do online? And what I would do if next school year, there is a little a mixed model where students are at school one day and maybe at home the next day. I have to think, what can I have kids do at home? What is something that can be meaningful to do at home? I really like duolingo and I think duolingo is really meaningful but it’s not something that is necessarily targeted that can bring all kids together and have a conversation. It is much more independent. It’s not the same as having a topic, a subject, kind of not a focus classroom activity. This has taught me that I am not very technology savvy. But I want to work on canvas. I learned to send out emails through Canvas and I think that is a really good platform that students enjoy using and getting their assignments on. But, I am not very good at that so hopefully in the summer I can get some training and work through that so that it could go more smoothly.

If you could give anyone any piece of advice, what would that be?

I would say just listen before judging or jumping to conclusions. For every situation we are in. The whole COVID-19 thing, we don’t know where someone is at and how they are coping. We don’t know how they are doing at home or what is going on. In any situation you have to listen. I mean if you look at the blacklivesmatter, you need to just listen and say, “Wow, how are you feeling? What are you going through?” and especially to friends of color because like I said in the zooms, I totally understand that other people’s realities are not my realities. Perhaps there are things that I have never experienced and so it is important to just listen. Listen before you jump to a conclusion or you judge someone. Take the time to connect and listen, I think that is the key.