Shameika Freeman teaches Kindergarten at St. Charles Borromeo School in Harlem. Her principal, Natalia Rodrigo, says—and we enthusiastically agree—that Shameika is “a talented educator who brings joy and zeal to everything she does.”
But what does it mean to bring joy and zeal now, particularly as she and other teachers navigate teaching both in-person and remote teaching amid the other challenges of our lives? We asked Shameika to reflect on the experience of teaching in this moment. The way she has come to think about her work this year contains ideas worth considering far outside her classroom.
This is going to be a wonderful day!
My Kinders—both in-person-“Roomies” and remote-“Zoomies”—and I sing this phrase every morning. We sing it on days when the sun is shining, and we have lots of energy. We sing it on days when the sky is gray, and we wish we could’ve stayed in bed. That daily affirmation has carried me every morning since we returned to school in September.
The beginning of this school year has been unlike any I’ve experienced in my 15+ years as an educator. Typically, this time of year is marked with excitement about the new school year’s possibilities. However, this year has come with a different type of worry: is it safe to return to the school building? Every morning in September, I grappled with that question. I was not only thinking of myself. I thought about my colleagues, students, and even my son, who would be starting high school. I vividly remember being in an Uber on my way to school on the first day. I was so nervous and, if I’m honest, afraid. I kept telling myself that Mrs. Rodrigo is doing everything possible to ensure our safety. I like to believe that God heard my heart, because not a minute after I said a prayer, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” began playing on the radio! “Don’t worry about a thing because every little thing is gonna be all right!” It was then, at that moment, that I decided to accept that every little thing was going to be all right.
Being back in the classroom during the pandemic has forced me to look for the good and God in every moment. Whether it’s the smile that I see as a student takes a sip of water from their water bottle or a quick wave and heart hands from a former student, I have no choice but to see God in those moments. Those small, simple moments remind me that every little thing is going to be all right!
It hasn’t always been easy adapting to the changes that have come along with COVID-19. For instance, I’m a hugger. It has taken some getting used to not being able to hug my littles when they are having a hard time. I’ve had to develop some other ways to be present for them when they need comfort. We’ve incorporated small activities like elbow bumps, heart hands, Friday Dance Parties, etc. to continue building our classroom community.
In contrast, some things haven’t been that hard to get used to. For instance, we get to have lunch together in our classroom each day. We get to chat and just spend time together, not having to think about COVID, staying away from each other, or the other mechanics of the pandemic. We are just having lunch as a classroom community. I love that!
Our classroom community is essential to me. I sincerely believe that a strong sense of community is what is needed to ensure our children succeed. I think this because I’ve learned that when people feel connected to something, they are more apt to invest in it genuinely. This community that I am building believes that we can do hard things, we are made for each other, and God is in all things. We believe this and thus walk in such a way that we are continuing to build our little classroom community. This community-building then spills out into the hallways, as I watch my students greet teachers and their peers by name, and as I watch them offer assistance if a classmate or teacher needs it. These actions, no matter how small, help me to recognize the good in every day.
I believe in community building so much that I chose to teach at St. Charles Borromeo School because I live five blocks away. I also grew up across the street from SCB, and my younger sister graduated from here. I am connected to SCB in such a way that I almost feel as though this is my way of giving back to the community that nurtured me. This community helped shape the educator that I am today. I was able to look past the negative that was sometimes present and see that I could make a difference. That is what I want for my students. I just want them to know that despite everything that might be going on around them, despite the noise of COVID-19, they are capable of reaching their fullest potential and making their dreams come true. It might not always be easy, but like Bob Marley said, “every little thing is going to be all right!”