Virtual Dinners Bring Teaching Fellows Together for Learning, Community

It’s 5:15 p.m. on a Monday, and the faces of about 40 Teaching Fellows fill up a Zoom grid, so many a second page is required to fit them all.

Crystal Espey ‘11, ‘18MSA, coordinator of the Teaching Fellows at NC State program, says this is her favorite part — seeing all their faces. When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, Espey moved their Monday forum sessions online. Now, they get together every Monday for virtual dinner.

“It’s a great informal way for me to make sure my fellows are doing OK,” says Espey.

There is, of course, an educational component. Three Teaching Fellows are going to share what they learned from their student teaching experiences. But before that, Espey wants to know, how is everybody doing? What is everybody doing?

One Teaching Fellow tells Espey she bought an inflatable pool to beat the summer heat. Another Teaching Fellow is starting a job at Walgreens. On a Google sheet, Espey asks everyone to go into detail, and multi-colored cursors fly across the screen as the students write down their answers. They mark completed responses by filling in their respective cells with different colors, somehow managing to imbue the spreadsheet with personality.

Homework is keeping them busy; Netflix is keeping them entertained. Some of them are baking, and one Teaching Fellow is writing letters. If anyone wants one, the Teaching Fellow says, let her know.

Espey initially wasn’t sure if now was the right time to do something like this. After all, adjusting to virtual classes isn’t easy. But Espey wants to preserve a sense of community.

“We have to continue working on building culture and community, even if our physical locations are different,” she says.

Now, for the forum part of the dinner. Espey introduces three students: Caroline Alexander ‘20, a science education major; Devin Byrne ‘20, a technology, engineering, and design education major; and Erin Lisi ‘20, another science education major. All three were in the middle of student teaching when public schools across the state shut down.

The other Teaching Fellows on the Zoom call ask questions: How did you handle being close in age with your students? Did any of your students try to friend request you on social media? When did you get used to being called by your last name?

Alexander, Byrne and Lisi provide answers and more. They describe their most challenging days, discuss how they prepared for the edTPA (a performance-based, subject-specific assessment) and remember the students who made them feel special. They also remember when the pandemic took them away from their classrooms and how hard it was to say goodbye.

What does Espey hope the Teaching Fellows get out of these virtual dinners?

“I hope they gain a sense of pride that no matter what challenges we face, they are a part of an educational community who will grow and adapt to any situation,” she says. “No matter where they go, or the pathway their life takes, they have a family at NC State.”

They’ll join each other again for dinner next week.