Mercer education major offering virtual help to parents and teachers

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Elizabeth O’Dell with some of her third grade students on a Mercer on Mission trip to Slovakia in 2019.

Elizabeth O’Dell’s student teaching job was cut unexpectedly short this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The junior holistic child education major at Mercer University is now unable to complete the 35-hour student teaching requirement with Bibb County Public Schools, but is finding other ways to help families and children complete online education. She took to social media to offer her virtual help with everything from technology assistance to educational resources. Here is a Q&A with O’Dell on her outreach and teaching experiences.

Where were you student teaching and what were you teaching?

This semester my placement was at Veterans Elementary school in kindergarten.

What was your favorite part about in-person student teaching earlier this semester? How do you think teachers can continue to be a part of their students’ lives during this time?

I’ve loved having the opportunity to go into different schools within Bibb County and learn from experience. I have built some incredible relationships with students and teachers. I enjoy teaching and being able to give students something new. I’ve seen a lot of teachers reach out to their students by phone to check-in and say hello. I hope teachers are allowing themselves to be available for parents and students for questions.

What issues do you anticipate teachers, students and parents are going through right now in terms of school shutdowns?

I can imagine that many teachers have struggled adapting to online classes with younger students. I have been in kindergarten, 1st grade, 3rd grade, and 5th grade. Imagining any child being able to sit on a computer while at home, focused, longer than 30 minutes is impossible. I know parents are stressed and overwhelmed. They think they need to be their child’s teacher… but I don’t. Parents need to remain parents for the sake of their children and themselves. Routines help, but in such a weird time it is okay to have weird routines. Pressure should be the last thing kids and parents need to be feeling right now.

Elizabeth O’Dell offered her teaching assistance to the community after student teaching field experience was suspended.

What made you want to extend a helping hand?

I’ve always enjoyed reaching out and helping others. I started seeing the worried and overwhelmed Facebook posts from moms I knew from church, Mercer and family friends. I decided to “copy and paste” this status I saw, but tweak it to who I am. I also knew I would be staying in Macon (my home) and would be able to do more hands-on help if needed.

Have there been any instances so far where you’ve gotten to help out?

I’ve had several parents who have told me once things settle down in their routine that they will be in touch either by FaceTime or in person. I’m letting as many people know that I can help and make this time in our lives a little easier.

What help are you offering and to who? How can people reach out to you if they want help?

I’m currently getting my certification to teach grades Pre K – 5th in all areas. I can help with assignments and extra support, as well as giving parents a moment to breathe during a chaotic time. Education should be the last thing parents should worry about right now. Parents can find me on Facebook or email me at [email protected]

How has self-isolation gone so far for you? What are you feeling? Anything surprising or expected?

Self-isolation was something I never thought I would have to experience. I am a huge extrovert that rives in social gatherings. I love people. Right now, I don’t feel like myself. I’m from Macon and I have never been in a situation where I couldn’t explore my home. My friends from other colleges are home right now and normally I would be excited to plan times to get together, but now it’s torture knowing they are here and we are all stuck at home.

What do you hope people will learn from the experience of self-isolation?

From a student-teacher perspective, I hope people can see how much work a teaching major/career is and that teachers will gain more respect once things go back to “normal.” I’m also hoping that kids who have taken advantage of the opportunity to go to school realize how amazing and fun school can be. I know they miss it, even if they don’t want to admit it.

Elizabeth O’Dell with some of her third grade students on a Mercer on Mission trip to Slovakia in 2019.

Is there a professor, faculty member or mentor who has been particularly helpful to you during this time? How so?

Dr. (Vicki) Luther, in the Tift College of Education has been so upbeat and positive through all of this. She is an incredible teacher and professor who sees how badly this has affected us. She sends messages regularly to make sure we are doing well and allowing time for us to ask questions, school or life related. A little bit of normalcy for me and the rest of my cohort.