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My Student Experience: ‘Even Though There is a Pandemic and We Are Teaching Virtually, I Wouldn’t Change it for the World,’ Says Jana Humphrey ‘20MAT

Jana Humphrey

This is part of a monthly “My Student Experience” series in which the NC State College of Education highlights the student experience through profiles, stories and videos.

As a child, Jana Humphrey ‘20MAT loved the story of Matilda. And she knew if she was ever to become a teacher, she wanted to be just like Miss Honey.

Humphrey tried several different professions, from counseling to camp director, but ultimately realized that teaching was and has always been her life’s passion. As a former pre-K teacher and instructional assistant (IA), Humphrey decided to pursue a teaching license.

“Nothing compares to the reward I experience in a classroom. I had my own personal lightbulb moment when I was teaching pre-kindergarten, and I knew that I wanted to go back to school for my teaching license,” she said.

Humphrey chose the Master of Arts in Teaching program in the NC State College of Education because she felt it was the best fit for her. She says it checked all the boxes — master’s program, in-person and online classes, the ability to finish in two years and supportive faculty.

Now in her final semester of the elementary education content area, Humphrey is wrapping up her internship experience, where she is teaching in a first grade classroom at Cary Elementary School — a school she is all too familiar with. She worked as an IA at the school.

“I have pretty close connections with our students and families because I have been an IA here for a few years, and I have worked in the after school program (ASP). Fortunately, through ASP and carpool duty, I was able to already start building relationships with several of our students,” she said.

For Humphrey, her day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3:45 p.m. with five blocks of lessons and independent activities a day, including a morning meeting with the positivity project. Most of the time when there is a break, she is in virtual and in-person meetings. Collaboration and teamwork, she says, have been key to delivering strong instruction for their students.

Her cooperating teacher has taught her to keep it simple, which she says is especially important with virtual learning. “I have a tendency to try to invent new things or have overly complex independent activities. My mentor teacher is great about reminding me that, while we want quality work, we do not need to overwhelm our 6-year-old students with the latest app or trick.”

With her student teaching experience being online and virtual learning, Humphrey says it’s been challenging but also unique.

“It can be overwhelming to student-teach with the world watching. It is a little intimidating to know that I am technically being observed not just by colleagues, like my mentor teacher, university supervisor and administrative staff, but also by the families of my students,” she said.

What she’s enjoyed most about the internship experience has been the students.

“I love learning how resilient they are and seeing the community that the classroom has even over Google Meet. My class loves to celebrate each other during our online learning by clapping for each other and ‘raising the roof,’” she said. “They love to show our connection symbol when someone else is talking and they have a connection with them. It just amazes me how connected we are even virtually.”

Even with virtual teaching, Humphrey and her mentor teacher have made a point of finding ways to connect with their students outside of the computer screen. As a reward for positive student behavior and to celebrate birthdays, they visit students at their homes. They physically distance themselves and stay in the car, but conduct drive-bys.

“It’s been a great way to get to see some of our students in person. It’s also been a great management tool for our students,” she said. “They get to cash in rewards for teacher visits, mystery mail, etc. They get really excited and go above and beyond daily to earn these rewards.

Through this internship experience, Humphrey says she feels that she was mistaken thinking she knew all about teaching with her prior experience as a pre-K teacher. She has learned that it takes a lot more patience and flexibility than she could ever imagine.

“Even as an IA, I had no idea the number of late nights that teachers have working and perfecting lesson plans. I also have learned that we make a million decisions a day,” she said. “There is so much that we have to decide quickly and efficiently.”

Humphrey will graduate on Dec. 4 and will be one step closer to becoming Miss Honey.

“Having that teaching license at the end of the day will make everything worth it. Even though there is a pandemic and we are teaching virtually, I wouldn’t change it for the world!”