My blog has been put on the back burner, but not forgotten. This year, it is all I can do to just make it through the days, and the days are A LOT. There is preparing and teaching, working with my student teacher, completing my work for the graduate course in my PhD program, my family, not to mention keeping up with healthy life habits and so on.
I had been lucky in my life to not experience too much grief until December of 2021, when my father died. The pain I felt was unlike anything I have ever felt. It was searing, painful, brutal, huge. My tears were endless, my heart physically ached. Almost 5 months later, it feels a little duller – but by no means is it gone. I realize that it will, in fact, always be present, surging at unexpected moments, taking over when I think everything is fine.
In school, it has been interesting to deal with my grief. Like most teachers, I have gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing my life. Home things stay in one section so that I can focus on school. When I came back to school after my dad’s death, the sadness was such a part of me that I found I couldn’t separate it in the same way I had separated my emotions in the past. I couldn’t even imagine having to face my students and engage in the day to day of school. I knew that I had adults I could rely on if I needed to cry, get a hug, or take a break, and that helped. I thought I didn’t want to talk about my dad, but it turned out that’s exactly what I did want and what was helpful for me.
I decided to be upfront with my students, who are in 7th and 8th grade. They knew that my dad was sick, because I had told them. A lot of them knew that he had died, since I asked some of my colleagues who covered my classes to tell them. At the beginning of each class, I told them that, as they knew, my dad had been sick all fall, and that he died on December 18. I decided not to use the term “passed away” because as beginner English learners, that might not be a familiar term, and in any case, I prefer to say it plainly as well. I worried about how they would take it, but I shouldn’t have. They looked sad for me, and some even said “Sorry.” And then, in typical middle school fashion, they moved on to asking me about a completely different topic. I let my more advanced English learners know that I was sad, and that my father and I were very close, and I gave them a few minutes to ask questions if they wanted to. I can’t remember what they asked, but I felt good about starting class by acknowledging and normalizing my grief. Once that was out of the way, I could move on with the business of teaching and being present for my students.
Our society does not allow for the time or space needed to grieve. In New England’s protestant-influenced society, grief is best expressed in private, and publicly people are expected to “get over it” quickly. In my district, we are allowed 4 bereavement days. 4 days? It will take me a lifetime to work through this deep grief.
My school is very close to the cemetery where my father is buried in his plain pine coffin that is biodegradable (a natural burial). It is a beautiful, park-like place with paths, woods, natural stone headstones, and hills. I can walk there in 6 minutes, and once in a while during my prep period, I go visit. It feels comforting that my dad is close by. His birthday was 2 days ago; the grass is starting to grow on the earth that is over him, and my family and I spread flowers around his grave.
Though I know that compartmentalizing is essential for me to do my job, I have also learned that sometimes, I can’t keep my two worlds completely apart, and that is also okay. It's also okay to rely on my friends and colleagues for support. It's okay to allow my students to see a more authentic me. When it comes to grief, I am learning, it's all okay.
Sometimes a student asks you for help putting his unruly curls in an elastic because he doesn't know how. So you do it. And then you give the kid a packet of natural hair conditioner from your classroom toiletry station to help with the dryness.
Sometimes a student tells you that they want to "fail" their yearly ELL test so they can stay in your class.
Sometimes a student says "Can you adopt me?", and even though you know they're joking, it touches your heart.
Sometimes you are sad to have a student teacher only because it means you will be teaching less and you love that part of your day.
Sometimes your students make you laugh even though you know you shouldn't laugh.
Sometimes you connect with colleagues in the parking lot of your school and laugh a lot, and it's just what you needed that day.
Sometimes your student hand crafts tiny paper baskets and fills them with candy, one for each student in the class, for Valentine's Day.
Sometimes a student says to you, "You look great! Really great!" and makes you smile. That same student, who cried every day for the first week of school in a country new to him, now says "This is the BEST school."
Sometimes your work spouse gives you a stuffed Snoopy that you put by your desk and smile every time you look at it.
Most of the time, your students make you forget your deep sadness with their all-consuming energy, and you are grateful for them.
I’ve sat down at least 6 times in the last month to write this blog. For some reason, I never get past the first paragraph. The urge to write is there, but the focus is absent, as is the ability to organize my thoughts and feelings about teaching in September and October. A lot of this has to do with my father’s declining health (he was diagnosed with congestive heart disease over the summer) and different events in my childrens’ lives, but it is also related to school.
Statements I keep hearing and reading from teachers this fall:
“It’s only October and I feel like it’s May”
“I’ve never been so tired in my life”
“I’m more tired this year than any other year”
“I go home and collapse on the couch/bed”
“I can’t read anymore, I just zone out watching stupid tv/videos”
We know many students are not okay, but many teachers are also not okay. What is happening this year that makes it feel unlike any other? I can’t quite put my finger on one cause but I can speak about some of what I am experiencing.
Teaching with a mask on
I fully support mask mandates to keep us all safe. However, having a mask on all day while teaching English to new English speakers is exhausting. It’s hard for them to hear me, so I have to speak louder than usual. It’s hard for me to hear them, so I strain to listen or ask them to repeat often. It doesn’t help that the radiator in my room makes a loud and annoying rat-tat-tat sound (still waiting for someone to come look at it).
Lack of community
At my school, we have traditionally been a friendly and open staff. This year, a number of factors have interfered with that. We can’t meet in person yet; most of our meetings, unless they are small, are virtual. We have a bunch of new staff, too, so this means that many teachers don’t really know each other yet. Teaching is already somewhat isolating, and for me, as an ELL teacher not attached to any of our teams, I rarely interact with other teachers unless they come into my classroom. There is also a fear of sharing common spaces still, which with lower COVID numbers will probably improve.
Because we can’t meet in person, communication happens online, and there is definitely not enough of it. A new administration that began during remote teaching and then came back to full in person this fall has not quite adjusted to the challenges of having students in the building again. Guidelines, protocols and systems we have had in the past are slow to roll out this year, meaning there is a disconnect between our expectations of students and their behavior in school. This creates friction between students, teachers, and paras; students take it personally when asked to pull their mask up or to not run in the hallway because the directives are coming from teachers and not from a set of stated expectations.
I have seen references made to this all over the country: the shortage of substitute teachers. It is a low pay/high stress job that goes unappreciated. On a daily basis, we read or hear our administrative assistant’s pleas for people to cover classes, but many teachers are already feeling overwhelmed and have little time to prepare or grade. Even though it’s not my responsibility to find coverage for classes, for some reason hearing the pleas for help really stresses me out - I can’t imagine how the administrative assistant feels every day.
The outside world
The continuing racial strife, coverage of the capital riot, COVID news, the different crises around the world all creep into our lives even if we try to avoid watching or listening to the news. It’s good to be aware, but it does add a level of anxiety for a lot of people - including our students.
I’m not going to lie, my students are amazing this year. I am grateful for my small classes and being able to foster relationships with them and hopefully create a safe space in my classroom for some. However, I am alarmed at some of the behaviors I see in the hallway - pushing, mean behaviors, congregating in bathrooms (and the TikTok trend of vandalizing bathrooms), disregard of adults, and also just a lack of awareness. I also see less focus and behaviors I would attribute to younger students in class sometimes. I know students have not had a “normal” year in a while so it shouldn't be surprising. The "learning loss" we keep hearing about to me is manifesting itself this way - the gap in a routine, a schedule, meaningful learning, and connections.
While I find a lot of things challenging and exhausting about this school year, I look to my students for moments of hope and happiness. Little things such as watching 7th and 8th grade students play on a playground with abandon during a field trip; seeing them engage in a lesson with focus and willingness; hearing their shouts of joy when they get ahead during a game of Kahoot; taking mask breaks outside, and playing ball or picking up gorgeous fallen leaves as we walk around the school; teaching about el Dia de los Muertos. And thankfully there are people and moments that help. Laughing with my “work wife” as we glued smarties to scrubs for our “Smarty-pants” Halloween outfits; knowing I can rely on the para that works in my classroom to ably assist students; a teacher friend who kindly subs for me when I need to take sick time to help my parents; teacher friends checking in with me about my dad’s health and letting me know they are there to support me. I let everything else fall away, and stick with these people and moments to help me keep going. This is also a form of the “self-care” teachers continuously hear about (but are waiting to really see in some concrete form).
I feel better already having written this. It’s my 27th year of teaching, and I still love what I do. There is a lot I don’t love about it, but it’s never the students. Teacher friends who have retired can confirm that the only thing they miss about it is the students (and their teacher friends).
Hang in there, my teacher friends and community. Let’s support each other and hold on to the joy from our practice and our students as much as we can.
As summers always do, this one sped by. On the positive side, I had more of a chance to rest and recuperate than last summer because of all the meetings and planning we had. In fact, I made a wise decision this summer and backed out of a few committees I thought I would work with on different projects, and I am so glad I did so. More than any other year, I needed to forget about school for a while.
In our house, lots has been happening, making it a busy summer in other ways. Helping 2 of my 3 kids prepare to leave home (one for a Coloradan adventure, the other for college) has been very bittersweet for me. Of course I want my kids to fly and to flourish, be happy and independent, have adventures and experience life. At the same time, we are a close-knit family, and I have to admit that my heart hurt saying goodbye to them. We still have one amazing kid at home who will get so much attention, she won't know where to escape to!
We've also had a trying time as a family as my dad suffers from old and new health challenges. We are rallying together to support him and each other, and trying to stay positive while managing our anxiety and stress. At the same time, I'm trying to adjust to a new school year, and teaching graduate students, and my PhD program. "One day at a time" is becoming my new mantra.
I remember thinking in June, maybe we can go back without masks? But in my district, we are masked again, and I find myself grateful for that as I read and hear about other districts that are leaving masking up to individuals and families while kids and teachers continue to get sick. Teaching English learners with a mask on definitely is challenging because my students can't see my mouth and hear my words muffled, but I would much rather that than compromise the safety of anyone in my school. And with the ever-evolving new strains of COVID, things seem more unsure than ever.
As far as COVID learning loss goes, I think that more than the actual learning, a lot of the loss occurred in other areas. Students are learning to be together again in class, to work together in groups, to socialize at lunch, to walk down hallways, to use paper and pencil, and be fully engaged in class because their teachers can see their faces and whole bodies now. I heard somewhere that rather than "learning loss", it was more of a "learning slowdown", and that makes a lot more sense to me. Any day they were online with their teachers and somewhat engaged was a day of learning. Did they forget some information? Or not make as much progress as if they were in the school building? Maybe. But I think we have to give our students more credit, at the same time as we help those who need an extra boost to get them back in the flow.
This year, I have two students who are brand new to this country from vastly different places: one from a family of professors from a central European country who are here visiting or doing research, and one who was born, grew up, and was educated in a large refugee camp in a southeastern African country. I don't speak either of their languages at all, so I will have to rely on a lot of gestures, Google translate, pictures, and videos. Two students who are from Central America have been here 2 years but at least one is still in what is called the "silent period". And three students have been here for 3 or so years but still tested at a beginner level in ELL. There is a broad range of educational backgrounds and English levels in my class, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Unfortunately, I don't have a student teacher this year, but in at least one class I have an amazing para to help with the diversity of levels and learning styles. In my ELL advanced language classes, I also have diverse groups in terms of home languages, personalities, and areas they need to work on in their "school English."
Here is wishing all my fellow educators a positive start to the new year. Take care of yourselves, too, because we have been known to overdo it, caring for and teaching our students.
On the longest day of the year, I'm counting the days of the longest school year in history. I have written about how well my students have done this year, and it's true - they have. They have been amazingly resilient, they've grown, they've learned, they've adapted, and they've kept me going. At the same time, I know we are all reaching our limits. The monotony and chaos of teaching remotely and navigating an in person group and a remote group are starting to get to me; the students are definitely getting antsy as well.
Teaching this year has confirmed a lot of things I already knew about teaching. For example, a daily routine is just as important online as it is in person. A daily warm-up helps settle the students in and gives my student teacher and me a chance to gauge how the students are that day, and get ourselves ready for the lesson. Using Google classroom where you can see kids while they work on an assignment is really helpful, and I think it helped students improve their writing maybe even more than in the physical classroom. And, a good game of Kahoot or something else is always a good way to break up class and let the kids have some fun.
And, teaching remotely through a pandemic has taught me a lot as well. I've learned that I can adapt a lot of things for online learning, but not all. I learned that putting kids into breakout rooms without an adult present doesn't usually go that well, at least not for middle schoolers. Not having a physical globe or map, we had to devise different ways to teach geography, and that wasn't always easy. I learned that, not being able to move around as much as in the classroom, we all needed a stretch break every day. And most importantly, I learned that you can make warm, strong connections with students even in a virtual format.
However....I'm ready for it to end. Ready for summer, for time away from computers, sitting in the sun, without a schedule. I'm ready for a mental break. I'm ready to ease back into "normal" post-COVID life, slowly. Finally, I'm ready to reset at the end of the summer, and start the year fresh - in person, in my classroom, maybe still masked, but there, to share the daily ups and downs of teaching with my colleagues, and to create community with my new students.
My friend and fellow educator Sharri Conklin recently posted this on Facebook and I invited her to post it here as a guest blogger.
One year ago, I was going to school each day, worry growing as the news updated us each day with what was coming. One year ago this Friday, our school sent us home. I held it together all day to support my students, but the pit in my stomach knew this was different than anything we had ever experienced before. I have held my students through the death of a beloved staff member, 9/11, school shootings and the daily crises that come with living. This felt different. This felt heavy in a way I had never experienced.
As I walked my students to the buses, carrying everything we could think to send home, I began to lose it. I smiled and waved to them as they drove off. When I turned around to head back in the building, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I went into a room and couldn’t stop crying.
Since then, I, along with my colleagues, have learned how to teach through the computer. We took everything we knew about how to teach and adapted it, with no training, to engage students, to keep learning moving forward and to hold social emotional lives during a global pandemic in our hands.
Each time we needed to, we recreated what we do to adapt to this new situation, all while trying to run our own households, keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy and moving forward. We bought monitors and computers and upgraded our WIFI and watched videos on how to take everything we did in person and make it accessible through the computer. We connected with families to make sure they were fed and had access to technology and WIFI. We taught students and families how to access learning without being in person with them to do so.
Some of our colleagues have since returned to their in person classrooms, some have stayed remote and some have done a combination. Some of us have been heralded, some of us vilified and all of us have felt a combination of all those feelings for ourselves at one time or another.
Good teaching is adapting. It’s what we do. Adapt to the unique learners, the new standards, the new methods, the new rules that change overnight. And we do this because we love our kids and our community.
We really don’t ask for a lot. We spend our own money, spend our own time and lose our own sleep over our jobs. We are, at once, not important enough because families can teach their own kids at home without us and so important that families can’t function if their children aren’t in school.
We get it. Life is messy and hard and changes on a dime. We get it. It’s what happens in a day, in an instant, in schools all the time when there’s a shooting or a death or a job loss of a parent or a deportation or a jailing or DCF report of abuse or systemic racism or a global pandemic. It’s emotional and it’s draining.
We are sorry this school year has been unlike any other. We are anguished that students and families are suffering. But it’s not all on us. We are fighting to keep ourselves and our families safe and sane and healthy, too.
We are sorry we can’t ignore everything in our own lives to come in person to help your family who is also suffering. Just like you, we have personal experiences and unique family situations that force us to make hard decisions. But none of us have not been working. None of us are lazy. None of us are looking for the easy way out. We are all just trying to make it through this global pandemic the best we can.
So as things in our communities change in the next months as the state forces all schools to open buildings no matter what to any families who want their children to come back, please remember we are all doing the best we can. We will remember you are, too.
Sharri Conklin has been an educator for more than 25 years. She is currently a 5th grade teacher in Amherst, MA.
We've passed the one year mark of the first COVID case in Massachusetts, and it's been more than a year since the first cases were reported in the U.S. March 13 will make a year that I haven't taught inside my school building. We left school that day thinking we'd be gone for 2 weeks, but by the beginning of the second week, I had a feeling it would be much longer.
I've been teaching remotely for a year. Teaching is an exhausting profession in normal times, but I find myself tired in a way I didn't know before. It's not the same tired as when I was the new mom of 3 kids under the age of 3 - a physically exhausting kind of tired. It's different from the tired I felt of working full time and getting my Master's, when my kids were 7, 5 and 4. This is different. I've read a lot about stress and how it manifests, and the stress people are feeling during the pandemic, and I recognize it. The foggy-brain, the lack of motivation, the sheer exhaustion. I'm usually a motivated, organized person who structures all of her time, so when I feel this lack of energy and focus, I have a hard time understanding what's happening. I am learning to have compassion for myself and be more forgiving of others, too.
Teaching remotely, or online, should be easier, or so people think. The fact is that I put so much energy and thought into every single lesson that it leaves me spent at the end of each day. Teaching online leaves no room for winging it. Once I have my students with me, I need to keep them with me. I want to engage them, give them work, hold them to high expectations - but not too high, because I don't want them to check out. I have a student teacher, which is amazing, because she's great and there are two of us to put our heads together to plan and create activities. And yet, I am still exhausted in this new way I hadn't known before. So, no - teaching online is not easier just because I'm home. Sure, I can take care of some household tasks, enjoy a quiet cup of tea for a few minutes, or pet my dogs, and all of that makes teaching remotely feel more humane - but not easier.
I know I'm luckier than many teachers: my kids are in their late teens and don't need much supervision; I like my family and we get along well; we each have a dedicated space from which to "do school" (though mine is my bedroom, I don't have to share it with anyone); my union is strong and supportive of all teachers; I was granted the right to stay remote because of health (unlike in some districts, mine has been great about this); my kids' mental health is pretty intact; I'm in a two parent household and I have job security.
I know people are struggling. People all over the country are going through an extremely challenging time. The consequences of the pandemic are far-reaching and staggeringly tragic. But - teachers are being blamed for things that are beyond our control. We are being blamed for being fearful, not listening to science, only caring about ourselves. We are being blamed for hiding behind our unions, and they are being blamed for fear-mongering. We are being blamed for the state of the mental health of students, for the inequities that are finally coming to light but which we were seeing every day in our schools, and for kids falling behind this year. Yet, teachers in my state are not eligible to be vaccinated yet, schools have windows that don't work or that you wouldn't want to open when it's 12 degrees out like today, and not all of our schools are physically ready to reopen.
The pandemic has only made things that I knew much more clear to me. Injustices and inequities in our schools are urgent matters that needed our attention before, and need it even more now. Standardized tests were inequitable before, and will be even more so this year if schools administer them, like Governor Baker in MA wants to do. My union is here to support me; I AM the union. My fellow teachers and I are a community. My students know I care for them and they matter to me. Teacher voices need to be heard, amplified, and included in conversations, especially about policy and funding. And on a personal level, my well-being and health come first. Self-care has a new meaning for me. I still love my profession. And - my family is everything.
Our relationship began 6 years ago, when I wanted a way to celebrate my 20th year of teaching. Like most relationships, we started out strong and consistent. I wrote you every day for a month! Hard to believe that, looking back. Gradually, as my kids got older and responsibilities piled on, my posts went weekly, then biweekly, then, sadly, monthly. Now, I have abandoned you since October 2020! We're in a new year, and I haven't even given you a glance. But, let me explain myself.
Maestrateacher, a lot has happened! You already know about this distance teaching thing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, guess what? We are STILL in a raging pandemic, we've had at least 2 big surges since Thanksgiving, and daily cases are at an all-time high. Most of the world is experiencing a similar situation (except maybe New Zealand, and parts of the African continent). Thankfully, there are now 2 vaccines that have been approved, and the first group of people is getting it (my sister, as a healthcare worker, was immunized yesterday). But in the meantime, people keep doing dumb ass things and spreading the coronavirus.
A new year started since we spoke last, and boy did it start with a bang. Yesterday, January 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters stormed and attacked the Capitol building in DC, infiltrating it, breaking windows, occupying offices, and taking selfies with statues of Reagan and Nixon. I'm being completely serious. This HAPPENED. We were at home, because for the first time in my teaching career, I had the day officially off for Three Kings Day. Unfortunately, after getting an urgent text from a friend in a group chat - Turn on the news! - we did not feel like celebrating anymore. Today, my students stepped up with great questions, concerns, and thoughts about what had happened. One brought up the fact that in last summer's BLM protests, the police reacted VERY differently, with rubber bullets and tear gas, and yesterday, we observed police officers politely escorting the infiltrators down the Capitol steps. No one can try to claim this was a calm protest, as many of the BLM protests were. People in this crowd were scaling walls! With weapons! They brought the Confederate flag INTO the building! As my daughter said, that is actually very un-American.
So, Maestrateacher, how do we keep our heads up in these crazy times? Like I've told you before, my students are resilient and amazing, I love them, and they inspire me every day. They have been doing great despite all the challenges. They keep me going. My own kids also keep me going, I see them, heads down, doing their work, trying their hardest, and they make me want to do better for my students. Family is everything. My parents are also a constant source of inspiration and motivation; you never stop wanting to make them proud, even at 51. And, my dogs. I am sure that thousands of other dogs, like mine, have begrudgingly become therapy dogs.
Maestrateacher - this is NOT a breakup letter. I want to come back to you and make this work. I did consider leaving you, I'm not going to lie; you were becoming a burden. Our yearly subscription payment was due in October and I seriously thought about making that a clean break from you. Then, I realized that I still love you. You make me continue writing, which helps me process everything happening. Maybe I just needed a break. I can't promise to write every week, but I can be here more often. Will you take me back?
"This is going so great!" said one of my ELL students last week. Surprised by her comment, I responded, "That's awesome! I'm so happy to hear this. Can you tell me why?" The student, who arrived almost 2 years ago after having grown up on a refugee camp, told me that at first, distance learning was hard because of all the technology, but then, she got used to it, and it was going great. A few other students nodded in agreement with her, and said "yeah, me too."
ELL students tend to be a more vulnerable group, and as students at the beginning stages of learning English, my students have a myriad of challenges and traumatic events in their lives. Thus, in my town, the decision was made to bring beginner ELLs back in Phase 1 of our plan (along with some special education groups). Originally starting at the beginning of October, phase 1 had to be postponed because of a surge of Coronavirus cases; now, the cases have stabilized, and phase 1 will begin later this week.
My students' comments are not reflective of the typical narrative we have been seeing and hearing on the news. Yet, here they were, a month into distance learning, with unlikely sunny dispositions. The particular student who told me it was going great lives in an apartment with one parent, 2 baby nephews, and 7 or 8 siblings who are in school too. Another student is in class with me in the same room as her sibling, a high school student, and I can hear everything my high school ELL colleagues say as they teach. As my students smiled through their cameras, I felt lucky and relieved that it seemed to be going well for them. I wondered how much of the success we were having together was due to the fact that I had some of the students last year, and only a few were new to me. I had been able to be in the physical classroom with some of them for a good 7 months, and we had built our small community. They were showing up every day, on time, participating via the chat or by commenting, and doing and turning in their work.
My other classes have been a mixed bag: some very successful days, some mediocre days, some days where I just want to cry after class. But, the resilience in my beginner ELL group has shown me that we can indeed be successful at distance learning. Even when the WIFI goes down or is overloaded, even when I ask for volunteers and the wait time silence is deafening, my spirits are kept up because I know my students are there to keep me going. I learn to interact with them onscreen a little better each day. They make me laugh and smile, and they bring me joy.
Sometimes, when I feel frustrated and find myself staring at a screen of avatars, photos, or names instead of faces, I think of one of my Zumba teachers (I have many! They are amazing! They helped me through the pandemic in the spring!). Stephanie, also a public school teacher, started doing Zumba online soon after everything closed down. Stephanie doesn't worry if she doesn't see our faces onscreen, and frankly, not many people in the class want to have their video on while doing crazy Zumba moves. Stephanie cheers us on from her side, pointing at us and giving thumbs-up signs, encouraging us to enjoy ourselves. She always begins and ends class with a positive message, which lets us know that she is excited to be there and appreciates us. She is consistently smiley and super-energetic, and her positivity is catchy. By the end of class, I always feel happier and am smiling, too. I try to channel Stephanie and bring my best to class, too.
Certainly, remote teaching is not the same as being in the same physical room together, but it is going much better than I anticipated. How's it going for you?
In my years of teaching, I never thought I would start a school year in this way - teaching remote classes, attending meeting by video only, planning with colleagues without being in the same room as them. I'm sure that most teachers feel as bewildered as I do right now - as well as anxious, terrified, stressed, and totally exhausted even before classes have actually begun.
Today, the eve of the start of classes in my district, I am feeling all of the above, as well as feeling totally unprepared. We were so lucky in my district to have 2 weeks to prepare before classes. Some of that time was taken up by taking an teaching online "boot camp". We also had many meetings the first week. The second week, we finally had more time to prepare our own classes. I revised the course maps of some classes, set up a Google site and my Google Classrooms. Finished with all of that, I tried to sit down and actually plan lessons for at least the first two weeks of class. Every time I tried to work on this, I felt totally stuck. I'm usually able to crank out lessons easily (I would hope, with so many years of teaching behind me), but not this time.
I realized the issue was not only me, but the fact that there are so many unknowns still, holding me back from being able to prepare. So on the day before I start teaching, here I am blogging instead.
A lot of blogs and articles have been published over the summer describing teachers' anxieties and stress, and worried about COVID-19 and going back to school. Of course, there are many many sad aspects of not seeing our students in person, for those of us who are teaching remotely. Teaching in person gives you a different energy than teaching online. Body language and facial expressions, especially in teaching ELL, are everything. There is no comparison to working with colleagues in person rather than on video. And, of course, what is a middle school without its building, hallways, cafeteria, and screaming, running, twitching middle school students?
There are a few advantages to teaching from home. The obvious one is not having to travel anywhere, though I really can't complain about my normal 8 minute commute. I enjoyed seeing our yearly convocation on YouTube this morning, rather than seeing it in person in a humid, airless auditorium. And, instead of sitting for 2 hours to watch the death-by-PowerPoint mandatory slides every year, this year we were able to view them on our own and sign off that we completed them - this should always be done like this! What a waste of time it usually is. Our secondary schools' classes have been cut in half in quantity and will be taught in blocks so that kids don't have too many transitions. Finally, rethinking how we are addressing racism in our district has led to many teachers attending workshops, forming book groups, and entirely revamping their curriculum to include more voices of color. Challenges made us think carefully about how we have always done things - just because they have been always done this way doesn't mean it's right or good for kids or teachers. Hopefully some of these positive changes will stick after COVID-19 is a distant threat.
As I come to the end of this blog, I wish all teachers everywhere strength and endurance, and most of all, good health, this year. One consolation for me has been that teachers all over the world are facing the same challenges and hardships this year.
I guess I can't avoid it anymore - it really is time to go prepare now!