A new semester usually arrives with a new set of anxieties. But given the year we have had thus far, it is far from unimaginable that this one will fail to present unique constraints and require novel accommodations. Tuesday’s guest on DesignMakePlay was none other than Samatha Smirfitt, a teacher here in BC entering her third year as an instructor.
Being the conscientious individual that she is, she began our interview by recognizing that she lives and works on the traditional and ancestral territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil-waututh, and Tsawwassen First Nation peoples. Smirfitt holds degrees in English, Gender Studies, and Education along with a diploma in Special Education. She is passionate about the environment, mental health, and equity, and does her best to incorporate these themes in her lesson plans.
“I really value my students’ mental and emotional health,” said Smirfitt, “it means just as much to me as their academic success”.
“I think normalizing the things we’ve all had to adapt to is something we have to be conscious of”, Smirfitt told DesignMakePlay, “it’s okay to remind students they need to wash their hands often. It’s fine to wear a mask, these things don’t necessarily mean we’re in danger”. This year is going to look very different for Smirfitt, and not just because of Covid-19. She is entering a new role this fall as co-teacher in an adapted support program for students with autism spectrum disorder, as well as other chronic health issues. We asked her about the challenges this new opportunity presents, to which she responded by saying that she is both excited and nervous. She has worked with many of these students before in more of a one on one capacity, but never something this intense. Despite the obstacles in her way, she remains enthusiastic. Optimizing for social distancing between students, doing as much as possible to provide meaningful work, and cultivating a safe atmosphere are things to be mindful of.
At Zen Maker Lab, we do our best to communicate with parents and better understand their concerns in relation to their kids' education and wellbeing. What we have found to be the notably pronounced incentive for getting back to face-to-face learning is the social element it provides. The most considerable discrepancy between virtual and face-to-face learning is that the latter fosters camaraderie and collaboration between students and their peers; something that is difficult to replicate in the digital realm.
When questioned about this element, Smirfitt said that some of her more introverted students actually thrived during the April-June part of the year, and her main entanglement with the whole debate is that students who need extra support, like the ones she works with are able to access that. Much like Monday's guest Stephen Price, Smirfitt said that the communication between school districts and front-line educators has not been as proficient as she would like.
She is not sure how the district is planning to help manage the stressors and unique constraints this coming school year may present but is confident she and her colleagues have what it takes to do their jobs as professionals and build their class communities.