When COVID-19 gave him lemons, Brandon Hinson started making a lot of lemonade in his preschool classroom. A 2018 Mercer College of Education graduate with dual certification in early childhood and special education, he has not only adapted but is thriving in the online teaching environment.
Hinson, a teacher at Northwoods Academy in Bibb County since 2019, is the primary virtual teacher for preschool students at the school. Here are five things to know about him:
1. He changed careers from theater to teaching.
Before becoming a teacher, Hinson was a stage technician at the Grand Opera House in Macon. After he and his wife had their two kids (now ages 11 and 5), he got really invested in their education and learning abilities.
“I decided that I wanted to go into the field to help other children as best as I could,” said Hinson, who has lived in Macon all his life. “I went to Mercer and had a lot of great professors there. They helped me ignite that passion about teaching.
“My professors were really great about trying to invigorate that creativity that you can use in a classroom environment, and I’ve used all of that to make the school year a success for my students.”
Hinson said his Mercer professors taught him many strategies for thinking outside the box, and online teaching this year has required a lot of that.
2. He loves virtual teaching.
The Bibb County School District started out the 2020-21 school year with all students attending virtually, moved to a hybrid model, and now most students attend classes in-person. Hinson has been teaching online all year and now exclusively teaches the 22 preschoolers, ages 4 and 5, who opted to continue school virtually.
He said he’s like the Macon “Blippi,” referring to the popular children’s show, and keeps his students engaged through a mix of entertainment and education, or what he calls “edu-tainment.” He and his paraprofessional, Danielle Lawson, use a mixture of technology, like smart panels, and old-school props, like puppets.
The kids can’t interact with the videos they watch on YouTube on their own time at home, but in Hinson’s class, they get called on to participate and get to be a part of the show.
“We want to get them learning their lessons, but they have to be engaged in the activity first. You really have to turn it into an interactive television show for them,” he said. “I really do enjoy it. A lot of the teachers have said teaching virtually has been a nightmare.”
Hinson’s innovative methods were highlighted in a story by local news station WMAZ in October.
3. He keeps his students active and engaged.
Hinson said a lot of logistics were involved in scheduling the day so students stayed active and interested. One of the biggest challenges of online teaching is getting the kids signed in on time. Hinson solved that problem by playing cartoons 10-15 minutes before class begins at 8:30 a.m. The students are eager to watch the cartoons and log in early.
Students start out in one large group before rotating through small groups and having individual sessions with Hinson and Lawson. In the afternoon, they do assignments at home with their parents and independently, as well as outside and family activities.
Getting parents involved has been important to the success of this online classroom. Parents have to understand the technology and assignments in order for their children to be able to participate, and Hinson wants them to enjoy the school day, too. The morning lessons always wrap up with a music and movement exercise, and parents often dance right along with their kids.
4. He loves “the little ones.”
Hinson has had students log in from the dentist and the grocery store and during family trips.
“Seeing them learn in this capacity has been really great,” he said. “What’s been most rewarding has been seeing them really participate and focus in this environment. I can’t make it work on my own. They’re really invested and dedicated to getting in the classroom and participating.”
Hinson said he loves pre-K and hopes to continue teaching at that level in the future, but he wouldn’t mind teaching other elementary grades if need be. This summer, he will start working toward his master’s degree in elementary education at Mercer.
“I enjoyed being there and ‘Being the Bear,’ and I plan on going back and ‘Being the Bear’ again,” he said.
5. He urges future teachers to be prepared for anything.
Teaching amid COVID-19 has been a crash course for everyone and an example of why future teachers need to be ready to take on whatever comes their way.
“I think that you need to have a very open mind,” Hinson said. “You need to be ready to be very creative. You need to be very understanding, and you need to have a true pure love for children and their education. It’s work. Every day you go in, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. You want to make sure that they get the very most out of the education that you can give them and that they enjoy themselves.”