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What Teaching in a Pandemic Has Taught Jaclyn Sutherby

Every morning, from two doors down, I can hear the laughs and chatter of a class full of second-graders. While I don’t live in an elementary school, I do live with a student teacher — which, in the age of COVID, is nearly the same thing. Jaclyn Sutherby (Wheelock ‘21), my roommate, former FYSOP project manager, and best friend, has been working tirelessly this semester to provide a beneficial learning experience for her students, in spite of all the challenges remote learning brings. 

I have been consistently impressed by her determination and commitment to her students despite the plethora of changes remote learning has brought. My friends and I all affectionately call her Miss Sutherby… even when she’s off the clock.

From leading GoNoodle jumping jack breaks, performing erosion experiments on chocolate chip cookies, and turning her tiny Stuvi1 bedroom into a modern classroom, I’ve gotten the pleasure to observe Jaclyn and all her great ideas throughout the semester. Her experience is definitely worth sharing with others. I wanted to sit down with Jaclyn and ask her about her experience and what teaching and leading in the age of the coronavirus has taught her. 

Responses have been edited for clarity. 

Grace Fischetti: Has teaching always been what you wanted to do?

Jaclyn Sutherby: I’ve known since second grade that I wanted to be a teacher. I always loved being in school, and coming to BU to teach was always my dream. This has been my career and life goal, so even with the challenges, it does feel like a realization of my hard work, and my passion has not waivered. 

GF: In your own words, what would you say your job and responsibilities are this semester?

JS: For my senior year practicum, I was placed with my supervising practitioner at the Remote Learning Academy in Brookline. I work one-on-one with the class’ teacher to complete the day-to-day tasks and organization of the classroom. I develop lesson plans, lead activities, and work in small groups with the students. Right now, I’m in my takeover week which means I’m the main teacher, and I plan the activities for every subject during the day. 

GF: How, in the pandemic, has this experience been different than what you anticipated?

JS: There’s a lot that’s different than what I expected. I knew once I was placed with the remote school, there was going to be a lot I had to learn. I had to adapt everything I had been learning at BU and consider how I could translate it to a virtual program. I was excited for the challenge, and it made me even more excited to provide the best experience for my students.

GF: How did you prepare yourself for these changes?

JS: Over the summer, I served as a Project Manager for the BU program FYSOP, where we had to adapt an annual program into an entirely virtual experience. It helped me learn about the technology, and how you could use it to still connect and interact with people. 

GF: What do you think has been the best part of your experience as a student teacher this semester?

JS: First, I have no commute, which has been nice to save me time in the morning! But also it’s been great every morning to see my students and their smiling faces on my computer screen. I love watching them create friendships and relationships even when they can’t be in person. We put them in random breakout rooms and allow them to get to know each other, despite not being able to interact physically. It’s great to see them laugh, talk about random things together, and just be 8-year-olds, because it’s important to keep that joy alive for students this year.

GF: From your perspective, what has been the most challenging part of adapting to remote learning?

JS: Adjusting to the virtual learning was difficult, because I had to understand the resources available for each of the students in their home environments. I also had to look for virtual resources that could teach things I normally knew how to teach directly to them. It’s hard not being able to count with blocks with them, teach them how to hold pencils, and to give physical books and worksheets to them. I have to focus on really being present when they need me. 

There’s also a really big gap in the students’ learning this year. Coming off the emergency learning programs of last year, they all had different experiences and different abilities starting this year. We use a lot of small groups to try to help students who still need their skills from last year strengthened. It’s hard to differentiate instruction and make sure you’re meeting all their abilities, but I focus my lesson plans on addressing all their needs. 

GF: What have you learned from the experience and from working with your students?

JS: I’ve learned the importance of taking things day-by-day. Nothing is perfect, and we are all always learning. Especially with this virtual experience, you never know what someone is facing behind the computer screen. Even for myself, I’ve had to push through bad days in order to present a strong front for my class. Despite all the difficulties, I have the motivation to continuously push through, because there will be an end, and it will have taught me so much about how to be a better teacher and be a better person. 

Thank you Miss Sutherby for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m so proud of your work this semester and I know your future in teaching is so bright!

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Grace is a senior at BU studying PR and minoring in Film and TV. She loves reading YA novels, watching (and screenwriting) rom-coms, baking new recipes, and convincing herself that One Direction is reuniting soon.
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