By now, every corner of our community has been touched by the coronavirus pandemic. As he will until the crisis subsides, reporter Anthony Zilis spent an eighth week telling the stories of those affected. He recently spoke with Nia Curtis, Elementary Education major and soon-to-be graduate, as part of his 'Coronavirus and the Community' series.
The small taste of teaching was exactly what Nia Curtis hoped for when the University of Illinois education major stepped into a second-grade class at Dr. Howard Elementary School in January as a student teacher.
“I kept telling my mom and my co-op, ‘I know I want to do this,’ because every day there was something rewarding,” Curtis said. “It was either a gift from a student or a student really getting an idea that I want to teach, or them saying something funny.”
As she headed into spring break, Curtis was looking forward to the culmination of her four years as a college student. For six weeks, she’d get to lead the class almost all by herself.
When she left the building on that final day, she knew she’d come back prepared to take on that role. Of course, that didn’t happen, and like all full-time teachers in Illinois, she’s left to figure out how to approach online learning.
Her school days consist of videoconferences and online activities with her second-grade students as she and her mother, who is a high school teacher, plan their calls at different times.
“Doing Zoom calls with a bunch of second-graders is hilarious,” she said, “because they can’t handle it.”
Curtis is back home in Chicago finally after spending a few months in her campus apartment near the new Kam’s location on Green Street, a busy corner that all of a sudden became eerily quiet in mid-March. She spent her days on Zoom calls with students and taking shifts at her job at Potbelly’s down the street.
Curtis said she’s a natural extrovert and loves planning parties, so she had already booked hotels for many of the 22 guests who were planning to come see her graduate. She and her best friends had devised a plan of where exactly they were going to sit in the Education Building so their parents could see them, and tables were reserved at restaurants.
“It was so disappointing,” she said. “Those are my closest friends, and we live so far away that we don’t get to graduate (together).”
Now, her graduation robe hangs in her closet. She took it out last week, when a photographer friend said he would take photos of her around campus. She took the traditional photo in front of the Alma Mater statue without having to wait in the line that goes down the street on graduation day, and she took pictures on the Quad and in front of the Education Building.
She may throw on the robe on graduation day, when virtual commencement will be held. She’ll get together with a few family members while abiding by social distancing standards and celebrate in the only way she can.
She’s unsure of what the future will hold. Curtis hopes to either teach in Chicago or Champaign next year, but she’s not sure how the process will unfold as she tries to set up interviews from her childhood bedroom.
Curtis has long looked forward to the day when she’d step into her very own classroom. Now, she’s not sure when that will be and if that’ll even take place this fall.
“As a teacher, you dream of the day when you get to have your classroom decorated how you want, you get those students who are all your own,” she said. “I feel like I’m grieving that that might not happen, that I might not be able to have my first-year teacher experience.”