Teacher Spotlight: Garrick Adams

Garrick Adams teaches daily living skills to students in Grafton’s Transitions Class. He’s been working at the Richmond campus for two years, but the events of 2020 forced him to reinvent how he does his job. We spoke to Garrick about his approach to virtual learning during Covid-19 and what he’s learned along the way.

What made you want to work with children with special needs?

Growing up, I had a cousin that had Autism. We were really close, so it has always been second nature working with children with special needs.

What’s your educational background?

I actually earned my undergraduate degree in hospitality management and worked in the restaurant field for a few years. I went back to school to earn a graduate degree in guidance counseling, but I had to take a hiatus when my son was born. I was still determined to start working in the field, so I became a one-to-one aide in Richmond’s public schools.

I started at Grafton as an instructional assistant in 2019, and they paid for me to take a 6-week course to earn a provisional license to become a full teacher here. I’m currently working towards my master’s in secondary education, and Grafton is helping pay for half of my tuition.

What was your job like before the pandemic?

As a Transitions teacher, I’m responsible for teaching middle-school-aged students daily living skills, like how to do laundry, clean up after themselves, and maintain their personal hygiene.

Before the pandemic, we were free to take the kids out into the community; we would go to the movies, out to eat, or on volunteer outings to local restaurants like CiCi’s Pizza, where the students would practice skills like sweeping and wiping down tables. When we were on campus, the students would interact with other classes and go to the gym, playground, or cafeteria. We did a lot before the pandemic.

What was the transition to teaching online like?

I had just gotten my provisional license when we shut down, so I was still new to teaching in general—and then I had to adjust to online teaching. I was totally new to the concept, and it was tough. But all the teachers were going through this experience together, so I had lots of support and understanding from my colleagues.

I was also fortunate to have a strong rapport with the parents of my students. Sometimes a parent, sibling, or an in-home ABA counselor would assist me during the Zoom lessons. I would send homework packets and tasks for them to do, like folding clothes with a folding jig. With the population we serve, I had to do each lesson one-on-one. Normally, in the classroom, I would be working with seven or eight kids at a time.

How have your students reacted to online learning?

Honestly, in the beginning they didn’t like it at all. They’re used to receiving instruction at school and relaxing at home, so asking them to pay attention and learn from home was an adjustment. There were many times when I had to cut sessions short because they understandably got frustrated. When that happens, it’s nice to have the parents involved, because they can help teach the material after the Zoom session has ended.

What are some of your favorite activities to do in the virtual classroom?

I’ve been using interactive websites to keep the students engaged. One of my favorites is a learning game that teaches them how to bake. They can pretend to make a cake, gather the ingredients, set up a virtual dinner table—things like that. Being able to click and drag items makes it feel like a game, and the students really enjoy it.

Do you have a favorite story from your time online teaching?

One day my coworker was teaching, and one of my former students was in her online class. I hadn’t seen him months, and I happened to walk by in the background, and he saw me on the screen. When he recognized me, he just stopped and started screaming my name. That was pretty cool. Then I came over and got to catch up with him and his mom. It’s a special feeling when a student is so excited to see you.

What advice would you give to another teacher who may be struggling to engage students online?

I would tell them to build a rapport with the parents or guardians. Also, don’t be afraid to utilize your coworkers. They gave me a lot of advice and tips on alternative methods of instruction. Most teachers are more than willing to share what they know, so don’t be too proud to ask for help.