Lakeisha Brown ’05 Teaching Love via a Virtual Classroom
IT MAY BE THE HUGS LAKEISHA BROWN ’05 MISSES MOST. Like teachers across the country, Brown took her kindergarten class – room virtual in March when public schools in Washington, D.C. shut down due to COVID-19. While it has not been easy, there have been some profoundly rewarding experiences.
Like the little boy who suffered from selective mutism in the classroom, but who online laughed and chattered away to his teacher as they built with LEGOs together. Or the little girl with whom Brown blew bubbles – Brown in her living room and the student in her back yard.
Still, one cannot hug online, says Brown, 37, who was honored as the 2019 Washington, D.C. Public School Teacher of the Year, and that has been difficult.
“A hug is the first thing my kids get in the morning, and the last thing they get before they leave for the day,” she says. “I want them to know when they’re in my classroom they are safe and loved.”
Brown graduated from Albright College in 2005, where she was a track standout and the college’s first African American homecoming queen. In 2017, she was inducted into the Albright Athletics Hall of Fame. Her life’s path, however, has not been easy.
As a child, Brown was a primary care – giver for her mother as she was dying of AIDS. She experienced a period of homelessness and suffered from bouts of depression. Her teachers, she says, failed her when she needed them most.
“Everyone knew my mom was sick, but my teachers never acknowledged that,” she says. “I think they didn’t know how to react, but it was hurtful. There were times I would have to stay up all night and then go to school the next day, and they would get angry when I was late.”
That treatment fueled her desire to be a teacher – a teacher who would create a safe haven for students who may be coping with hardships at home or elsewhere.
“School is not just a place to learn, it’s a place of safety, a place of love,” Brown says. “You can see the nurse when you come to school, or get your clothes washed. And you can get fed.”
Even teaching from home during the COVID crisis, Brown, who has taught for 16 years, has conveyed that love to her students.
She reads them familiar, comforting books. She draws pictures and writes “I miss you” cards and sends them to her students’ homes.
Thursdays are one-on-one time, when she meets individually with students and talks about what they are doing and how they are feeling.
“And that keeps us close and lets them know I’m still here for them,” she says. “These are kindergarten students. They need to know you care about them, even when they’re not in the classroom with you.”
A hug is the first thing my kids get in the morning. “I want them to know when they’re in my class – room they are safe and loved.
While Brown, who is the mother of a four-year-old son, hopes to return to classroom teaching and learning as soon as possible, she is skeptical of how it might work.
“I wonder about recess and lunch time,” she says. “I have 26 students in my class, and we can have a maximum of 10 people in a room. That means we can’t all be together. I’m sure we’ll find a way to keep teaching and learning, I just don’t know that anyone has a clear picture what that will look like.”
Classroom hugs might be on hold for a while, but Brown remains committed to teaching and loving her students.
“I just want them to know I’m there for them, whether it’s in the classroom or from our homes,” she says. “That’s the most important thing.”
– Susan Shelly