When Garrett Talcott, a kindergarten teacher who lives in Seattle, took his class on a virtual field trip to the zoo earlier this month, he never anticipated the lesson would go viral.
In a TikTok video that has racked up more than 800,000 views, Talcott walked around Woodland Park Zoo carrying his computer, as his class of 27 kindergarten students eagerly tagged along.
“I was excited to take them all there,” Talcott told TODAY Parents. “There is a lot we can learn from the zoo. Our school is brand new, we’re in our third year, and we don’t currently do a field trip to the zoo. Myself, living ten minutes away from the zoo, and teaching remotely, I wanted to use those resources.”
In a second video, Talcott points out animals, asks his students about habitat, talks what the animals are eating, and even encourages them to read signs.
“This is a great trip!” one student can be heard exclaiming.
“And we can still see the animals!” another shouted.
Talcott said the class had started learning about habitats that Monday and the idea to visit the zoo was born. He called the zoo ahead of time to make sure the visit was OK and to ensure wireless internet capabilities.
“They were like — come on down!” Talcott said. “The thought was rather than showing videos, let’s bring the zoo to the students. Teachers are the experts in their areas. How great to bring them to the zoo and learn directly from zookeepers.”
Like many schools across the country, Ella Baker Elementary in Redmond, Washington, transitioned to virtual learning last year as the coronavirus pandemic spread and Talcott began streaming lessons from his apartment.
“I hear everything, even with the doors closed. At first I thought — could this be a problem,” Talcott’s partner Michael Rivera-Dirks told TODAY Parents. Instead, Talcott's animated kindergarten lessons had the opposite effect. Rivera-Dirks said hearing Talcott teach the social-emotional components of kindergarten, such as optimism and compassion, left him inspired during a dark period of 2020.
“You hear these kids, (and) they’re not seeing a dark time. They’re kids,” Rivera-Dirks explained. “Knowing they are our future — it’s gonna be OK. I knew I had to put it out to the world.”
So, he began uploading small clips of Talcott’s lessons — everything from science experiments to rule following — to his own social media accounts.
The response to Talcott's infectious teaching style was immediate.
"Just thinking where I would be right now if I had this kind of teacher encouraging me when I was little," one viewer wrote.
"I'm 46 and he's my daily dose of happiness ... so I can only imagine what he does for his students!" another said followed by a heart emoji.
Talcott told TODAY that his goal in teaching is always engagement.
“These students are at home — who knows what’s happening in their lives — positives and challenges,” he said. “The moment I hit that ‘meet live’ button, it’s about the students and making sure they have the best day ever. This classroom call might be their highlight. It’s our classroom family, so as much that they can share with me, I can share with them. Their energy fuels my heart. If I'm not exhausted when I get off that call, I didn't put my all into it.”
In the end, the 32-year-old just wants his students’ learning process to be fun.
“When they’re having fun, they are learning,” Talcott said. “It’s about being that constant for them in their lives. If we’re having fun, we come back to it. You’re going to want to do it again.”
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