When Jeremy Adams began his teaching career at Bakersfield High School in the late 1990s, he thought students were ready and willing to learn at all times.
He quickly learned that isn't always the case.
Through his 22-year career as a history, government and economics teacher, rather than just providing students with new subject material on a daily basis, he learned of another important task educators have: making sure their students feel safe and supported.
"Students have to feel supported and know that you’re on their side if they’re going to learn from you," he said. "I had teachers who would say 'I don’t care why you’re tardy, get it together.' Now you have to understand some of these kids don’t have transportation or they're taking care of a younger sibling."
The constant changing and challenging world of education and importance of relationships make up the core of Adams' newest book, "Riding the Wave: Teacher Strategies for Navigating Change and Strengthening Key Relationships."
Every few years, teachers are given a bigger plate and have to learn to juggle new technology or teaching strategies, Adams explained. Sometimes it can be sink or swim.
"You stand at the water's edge and you see waves coming, and you don’t know how big they’re going to be," he said. "Either you’re going to be destroyed by them or ride the waves and improve your skill set and flourish."
One way to navigate those tides, he writes, is based on the relationships teachers build with themselves, colleagues, students, administrators and the community. His book outlines different strategies for strengthening those relationships, which can lead to thriving in the classroom.
As luck would have it, his book was released during the coronavirus pandemic, as teachers locally and across the country are taking the plunge with distance learning — a true example of the constant cycles of change and reform within education. But it seems to have come at an important time when teachers are finding new ways to maintain their relationships with students.
Building up a strong rapport with her students is the goal at the start of every school year, said Wajeha Chaudhry, a third grade teacher at Loudon Elementary. She and her students establish classroom rules together and hold morning meetings almost daily.
During those morning meetings, "They would share something happy, something new. Many times students would share something not happy like an animal passing away or a sick family member," Chaudhry said. "They all supported one another ... and felt comfortable."
To maintain that routine and those tight-knit relationships, she uploads a daily morning meeting on her YouTube channel, Ms. Chaudhry's Champions. She encourages students to leave comments or send her a message if they want to talk.
She's also reaching out to students about once or twice a week and holding class Zoom calls. Her entire school is even encouraging students to dress up for virtual spirit days, show off window art and participate in car parades. Several of her students have written "I miss you, Miss Chaudhry" on their windows.
"People would think this is a dream come true for kids to not be in school," she said. "But contrary to popular belief, they do want to be in school. They’re sad to not be in class."
Just as Adams discovered over the years that students need support, he continues to reach out to those who are not turning in assignments.
Some teachers, however, find it difficult to reach each of their students. Access to electronic devices and internet has proven to be a challenge with distance learning. Schools have passed out devices, but many are still left out.
Bethany Gonzales, third grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School, said out of 22 students in her classroom, she connects regularly with five. Even through various messaging apps, such as ClassDojo, where she has 90 percent of parents connected, only three reply.
It's disheartening to not be able connect with all her students, especially since many live in violent neighborhoods and she worries about their safety, but she's constantly thinking of new ways to engage with them.
She was recently awarded a $500 grant that she would like to use to buy and mail them supplies or set up a science experiment which could encourage more participation. She also plans on continuing to use Zoom, videos and other learning platforms to connect with her class.
The biggest surprise throughout this process, however, is that her former students, now sixth graders, are reaching out and sharing how they've been feeling.
"It just shows how relationships matter," Gonzales said.
Adams leaves "Riding the Wave" readers with a few pieces of advice that can help them navigate the high and low tides of distance learning: teach the student not the subject, remember education is a process and try to mitigate student anxiety.