I used to joke with people about teachers working from home: "I wish I could work from home", I would say, laughing at what a ridiculous notion that was - a teacher, working from home? Ha!
Then COVID-19 happened.
Who knew that teachers would be trying out all kinds of engaging new tricks, expanding their knowledge of tech tools and attending online PD about distance teaching?
I wasn't surprised when we closed, and I soon realized that it would probably be for the rest of the school year. Recently, I went into school (as many teachers are doing) at a pre-designated 2.5 hour slot to clean up my room for the summer. Being in a quiet, dark middle school with no signs of life was a surreal experience. And, packing up my room for the summer in late May was, as well. My teacher brain got mixed signals from this - only May and my room is ready for summer, yet we still have a month of distance teaching left? I didn't know what to leave and what to take home, since we don't even know what the fall will look like yet.
There is nothing quite like distance teaching ELLs to make one feel like a failure at teaching. Beginner English Learners are often timid about speaking English already; put them in from of a camera and microphone for a Google Meet and they revert to the shy kids on they were on the first day of school. Often, they don't want to show their faces on camera, some preferring to write in the chat instead. Using Spanish and Portuguese to communicate with some of them doesn't really work while they are all in a Meet together. If they show up, that is. Many kids are, naturally, sleeping really late (12, 1, 2 PM) and miss the Google Meets. I can't reach them or engage them in the same way, even with multiple emails and texts and phone calls home, please for help to their interpreters, and messages on Google Classroom or via email directly to them. It is definitely frustrating.
I have had luck with one class - my class of 7th grade academic language students, which is tiny. 3 out of 4 have been showing up weekly to check in and share their writing from a writing prompt slide show I made for them based on prompts from the New York Times Learning section. Each week's prompt has a model prompt by me. Then they respond to the prompts in writing and we share when we meet.
One prompt was to recount your life, currently, in numbers. One of my students gave me permission to share her answer, which I thought was profound:
"Your life in numbers. What does your life right now look like if you used numbers to describe it?"
12 - the number of hours I’m bored each day.
6 - the number of hours of sleep I’m getting each day.
4 - the number of hours I spend on homework each day.
3 - the number of Netflix shows I am currently bingeing.
2- the number of days I’ve been outside in the past week.
1- the number of hours I spend on my phone each day.
0 - the amount of times I’ve seen and talked to my friends outside a screen.
(by Ivanilse Varela Vaz, with her permission)
I miss my students every day. It feels wrong that I cannot be with them to break down the events of the last 2 weeks, the savage murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests, as I would be doing if we were face to face, physically in the same room. I imagine we would have watched videos to help their understanding, and read articles or slide shows to explain the contest of Black people in the United states. We could have taken small actions to create awareness. Maybe our school would have had a sit in or a walk out.
Now, we are talking about possibilities for the fall, and frankly it is not looking great. School will not look the same. All I can hope is that my students and I can make the best of it, build our relationship in new and creative ways, and help each other get through these dark times. And, I hope that the last sentence in my student's writing: "0- the amount of times I've seen and talked to my friends outside a screen", is less true.
And I REALLY hope that 2020 gets better from here on out.