Jenks teacher, Terrance Tolbert

by Sue Ann Rybak

It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. It’s a lesson Terrance Tolbert, 34, a 5th-grade teacher at Jenks Academy of Arts and Science tries to convey to his students and their parents.

“As a kid growing up, I always had questions about everything,” he said. “Then, I went to the Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) in 5th grade and school was actually fun.”

The child of two teachers, Tolbert joked that he was born a teacher. Although he said, he tried to “run away from teaching.” He studied Culinary Arts, Hotel Management, and Business Management at Drexel University before accepting a position substitute teaching for a third-grade class.

“I remember doing that for a couple of days, and the kids left me notes saying ‘Thank you,'” he said. “And I was like ‘AH’ thank you. This is what I was meant to do.”

Shortly after, he enrolled and graduated from Temple University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, certified in K-6, Special Education, and Middle School Mathematics.

Tolbert believes his love of learning and wiliness to try new things helped his students transition to online learning easier.

Chestnut Hill resident Haviva Goldman, whose daughter attends Jenks Academy for the Arts and Science in Chestnut Hill, said the School District of Philadelphia’s transition to online learning has been challenging – for teachers, parents, and students.

“Shifting online took many teachers out of their comfort zone and they faced a big learning curve,” she said. “I teach in higher education so I can really appreciate all that teachers have to do to make this shift. Annalena’s science teacher, Mr. Tolbert, was already pretty tech-savvy in the regular classroom, so he was able to create some very engaging lessons for students utilizing games and creating simple, do at home, science experiments. Mr. Tolbert’s dedication to teaching and the children really showed through. I’m very thankful to him and all of her teachers for their efforts.”

Tolbert said his students didn’t have difficulty logging on to Google classroom or learning how to use it, because they were familiar with it before the pandemic. However, he said, the challenge was that many parents were not familiar with Google Classroom and Google Meet.

He said the bigger challenge was, “How do I get the parents to understand without call or texting me every five minutes?”

Then, he said there was a bigger challenge of not being able to see the kids and work with them one-on-one.

“I think when we initially started everyone was up in arms because no one really knew how to do anything,” said Tolbert, an alum of Temple University. “I think by just by being available and trying to convey to the parents ‘it’s okay if you don’t know how to do anything. I can talk you through it. I can show you links and videos. I can talk to you on the phone.'”

Tolbert said he recognized the district’s transition to online learning as an opportunity to try new things.

For example, Tolbert uses Kahoot, kahoot.com/what-is-kahoot/ “a game-based learning platform that makes it easy to create, share, or play learning games or trivia questions.”

“We have three hours where we have to be doing our lessons, but we can try new things and the kids love it,” he said. “We do a 20 minutes reading lesson where they are watching videos and analyzing things and the last few minutes are all quick questions where they challenge each other. It’s something they look forward to. They can get a leaderboard. They can be in second place the first question and be in the first place the next question. I post the results in Google Classroom, and they post comments ‘like I am gonna get you tomorrow.’ I think my main thing is to continue to teach them, but also make sure they have fun doing it.”

Tolbert said his class starts at 11:30 a.m., but he lets the kids check-in at 11:20 a.m.

“That’s when I check-in,” he said. “There are days when you have to remind them that ‘It’s okay to not be okay. This is just temporary. Let’s try and have as much fun as we can. Then, hopefully, we can appreciate school, even more, when we are there.”

Tolbert added often after he says “Okay, see you tomorrow.” Students will linger online and tell him little things. He feels grateful that they want to share the “little things” with him because, in the end, he knows they are the moments that matter.

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