05/08/2020|Inside Verizon

Missing hugs and humor from her students.

By: Rebecca Nicole Laming

VIL educator Nneka Williams shares how COVID-19 has pushed her to get creative in her virtual classroom.

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Nneka Williams believes that to be a great teacher, you must go beyond academics by providing support to the whole child, not just the student.

An 8th-grade math teacher at Sevilla West middle school in Phoenix, AZ, Nneka now relies on technology to reinforce her connection with students. She credits the Verizon Innovative Learning program with helping her shake off “tech tension” and build vital skills to bring lessons to life. Through a variety of apps and programs (V Team parents: Take a look!), Nneka’s classroom is still as vibrant as ever, just missing the end-of-day hugs from her students.

Do you want to help teachers like Nneka? There are over 150 virtual opportunities on our Volunteer Portal, including the ability to tutor and mentor under-resourced students. Check out Upchieve, Nepris and INCO. Without further adieu, meet Nneka!

Q: What motivated you to become a teacher?

A: I wanted to make a contribution to society in a meaningful way, and teaching is one of the most direct ways to have an impact. Being a teacher is an invaluable contribution because I know each day, I am helping to shape the next generation.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the way you engage your students?

A: Since we are no longer in a traditional classroom setting, COVID-19 has pushed me to be creative in how I engage my students. To mix it up, I am using a combination of programs (Google Classroom), websites (Virtual Nerd, Khan Academy) and apps (BrainPOP, Kahoot!) that challenge students to learn no matter their location. I strongly believe that school goes beyond teaching academics, so I have introduced a Wellness Wednesday and a Fun Day Friday activity to connect with each student as a “whole” child.

Q: In a time of social distancing, what do you miss most as a teacher?

A: Social distancing was challenging in the beginning because I was unable to “see” my students each day. Daily human interaction is one of the key perks of this profession. Seeing your students smile when they learn how to solve a math problem without your assistance, laughing at your teacher humor even when you know your joke wasn’t that funny, or missing that hug when they say goodbye for the day, you cannot replicate these moments virtually.

Q: What’s one of your favorite memories or stories as a Verizon Innovative Learning educator?

A: The professional development opportunities offered through Verizon Innovative Learning have been invaluable. With my technology knowledge at a 5 (on a scale of 1-10), VIL on-site training helped ease my tech tension and allowed me to release my creativity. During these sessions, I developed new ideas to incorporate technology into my math classroom.


There are many educators out there like Nneka, who are going above and beyond during this challenging time. Even though their classrooms are empty, teachers are providing a sense of normalcy and connection to students. While Teacher Appreciation Week may be coming to a close, we will continue to share profiles of our Verizon Innovative Learning educators doing amazing things to keep their kids engaged. You can help by volunteering and providing much-needed support to students in under-resourced communities. Check it out and give back.

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