Teachers are master jugglers, especially elementary teachers. They have to make sure that every child in their room is engaged, following along, and actually grasping and then mastering the material. Sometimes they have to do this while also managing conflicts, dealing with kids who are hungry, tired, anxious, or over excited, and still nurturing vulnerable personalities. Plus they have to make sure everyone has the proper materials (sharpened pencils, anyone?), and can see the board and hear the lesson.
Multiply this by a pandemic year when teachers have students both in front of them, behind masks and plastic shields, and at home on their computers. Now everything the teacher says and does has to be within view of her computer’s camera and microphone while also reminding the in-person students to raise their hands using the remote button and speak into their own microphones so their classmates at home can hear their responses.
It’s a lot. But Oxford 4th grade teacher Machelle Moultrie is an expert at flexibility. “She’s very adaptable,” says Principal Jackie Taylor. “This is where her creativity really comes through – in making sure every child knows what they need to be doing and how to actually do it whether they’re at home or in her classroom.”
Ms. Moultrie actually has another set of students she’s responsible for and those are the in-person and remote children in the room next door, where Megan Erker teaches 4th grade. The two taught at Noble together before moving to Oxford and have continued to team teach. Ms. Moultrie is in charge of language arts and social studies instruction while Ms. Erker does math and science. When it’s time for their subject, they teach the children in both classes at once, two sets who are logged into their computers in their classrooms and two sets who are logged in from home. The other teacher serves in a support role, monitoring the online chat or stepping in when there are technical difficulties.
“Having a partner to walk through these challenges with has made [the switch to remote and then hybrid teaching] so much more bearable,” says Ms. Moultrie. The two will return to their usual departmentalized team teaching, each in charge of two subjects, when pandemic restrictions are lifted. “I miss the close personal interactions, sitting at a table with a small group listening to kids read, or seeing them collaborate on a project,” said Ms. Moultrie.
Focusing on just two subjects allows each teacher to focus on planning fewer, but more creative and effective lessons. “I’m thankful I’m a veteran teacher,” said Ms. Moultrie, who’s been in the district since 2010, “because I was still able to provide rigor in instruction, plan thoughtful lessons and create materials kids can use” at school or at home.
She wasn’t always sure she’d be a teacher at all. Starting off as a fashion merchandising major, it was her summer and part-time work at day cares and camps that made her realize how much she loves being around children. “A lot has changed in the dynamics of teaching,” she said. “But I haven’t lost my passion.”
Her students can tell. Kya Moore, who was in Ms. Moultrie’s 4th grade class during the 2019-20 school year, says she’s a “very, very nice teacher. She always cares about us. When I’m sad or having an issue, she helps me over that.” She regrets having to miss the last portion of her 4th grade year live and in person with her favorite teacher. “It was hard on her when we first went home, but she dealt with it well,” she said of her teacher. “I think she should maybe be a principal some day because she’s so caring.”
While Ms. Moultrie does envision something outside the classroom one day, she doesn’t think it involves being a principal. “I do want to experience a role outside the classroom,” she said, while still being deeply involved in education. “Maybe as a literary specialist or teacher coach.”
She does relish the opportunity to participate in Oxford’s Building Leadership Team, a group of teachers, administrators and school leaders that meets at least once a month. “I love having those rich conversations and being able to add input in making decisions to move our school forward.”
Doing so takes enormous time and effort. “This is not a 9 to 3, Monday to Friday job,” said Ms. Moultrie. Between fulltime teaching, meetings with her grade level team, meetings with the Building Leadership Team, mothering her own middle schooler, grading, reading, researching, communicating with parents, and planning lessons, she can often be found working until 2am.
Principal Taylor sees Ms. Moultrie’s commitment. “My biggest take away from having worked with her for the past two years is that she’s such a great advocate for her kids and will do anything to make sure they do well.”
Recent 5th grade graduate Kiryl Lewis, who also had Ms. Moultrie during 2019-20, had similarly high praise for his former teacher. “Personally, she’s a great teacher because she can switch from fun to serious, without being mean. She made us feel safe and I’d rather be in the classroom. She sees what’s good about all of us and makes us want to be good.”
“I truly love what I do,” said Ms. Moultrie. “The best part is having high expectations and having kids reach those high expectations.”