It Will Get Better, Right? Takeaways from In-Service

Day One: Nerves Drive Me to Reminisce

Today is the first day of in-service. I think I am prepared, but I am also very nervous. As always, when I am anxious, I write. Here we are. 

This post may not make it to the blog, and that’s all right. It is an exercise in self-care. Teachers need to practice self-care in any situation. How many of us grade papers late into the night, on weekends, and over vacation? Too many, I’m afraid. Do we make time for ourselves, walk or ride, read for pleasure, or listen to music? Many of us don’t. We hear the call to teaching, day and night. We shoulder the burden of our students’ progress. We think their lack of success is our failure, and their success is their achievement. 

Those feelings do not emerge without reason. We are trained to feel this way, to think that we need to assume so much responsibility. Just like managers who consider themselves servant-leaders, we are trained to ensure our students experience success. Is the effort appreciated? I hear that it is, based on conversations with a handful of students and parents. Other students and parents may not express it. They may not know their feelings would be appreciated. 

When I was in high school, I was trained not to say anything to a teacher, good or bad. When given feedback, I took it and processed it, but did not question the teacher’s opinion. I was lousy at math, and there was no hope for me, so why was she going to waste her time? I was destined to be a historian, so she expected more of me, but she never said so. I just knew. I didn’t ask her because that would be a mistake. I was failing chemistry, so the teacher ordered me to join her for lunch and let her help me, as my performance was so different from 9th grade that she was concerned. I appreciated it and never even thought to question the edict. 

I wonder if my teachers felt as I do or thought a student’s failure was theirs alone? That is how it appeared, but since we never had a real conversation about academic progress, how would I really know? 

Day Two: Solid Takeaways from Day One

I have no idea why I ended up writing what I wrote yesterday. Perhaps it was my way of calming my nerves a bit.  I am curious as to what your thoughts are, dear reader. That’s a nod to Charlotte Bronte, by the way. Please feel free to comment.

Yesterday, I made my room ready to receive students. The seats are labeled so that students are distanced six feet apart each period and that odd-period students sit at odd-numbered seats and even-period students sit at the even-numbered seats. This gives me a chance to clean and disinfect desks before they arrive and finish up while they are getting settled. Books and paper are out of the way, to protect them from the misting machines. My room looks a lot better, in my opinion. 

My Newly Arranged Room

Perhaps that is a useful takeaway from our preparations for the students’ return: We get to start over with a clean slate, almost literally. We are embarking on new teaching and learning methods, reflected in room arrangements and health-and-safety procedures. Our physical world reflects our intellectual world. Yes, that is a positive and hopeful takeaway. It calms the nerves a bit.

Before the end of the week, I have to create a “Meet the Teacher” night video that will replace the usual face-to-face meeting. Parents are not allowed to come into the building, except to pick up students, so the typical meet-the-teacher night will not happen. I have to create a video for each prep, so what I am thinking of is creating one with a table of contents that will guide them to their student’s class information. What I have now works for all classes; I have to add class-specific details. 

There’s so much to do! Time to get to it!

The Days Flew By…

Days three through five are a blur, even now, after I have had some time to review. I can’t remember what happened on Wednesday. I can remember what happened on Thursday and don’t want to. Friday passed so quickly because I was obsessed with creating that video I mentioned earlier. Instead of creating a video for each prep, I added one slide to the end for each class and called it a day. I also struggled with the right platform to produce and publish the video. It was a mess.

Even using the microphone from the robotic camera, my videos are not as good acoustically as I would prefer them to be.  The HVAC system is to blame for that, but I would rather have it circulating air constantly. Wouldn’t you? Besides, students and parents need to understand how the physical environment is going to function.  Advice from teachers in other districts is to have everyone bring headsets or wireless ear buds and use them to hear me and each other better while everyone is logged into the conference. This makes sense. I will try connecting my wired headset that claims to be noise-canceling and see if that works. That’s another cord…

I’m Not Going to Look Like a Duck.

There is an old saying about a duck looking calm and peaceful above the surface, but furiously paddling beneath the surface. I’m not going to look like a duck. My feelings are written all over my face. They always have been. Perhaps that is what terrifies me. I doubt that any advice I receive is going to help that, I’m afraid. 

I’m also trying to ignore the fact that parents are going to see me in real-time. What if I break down in front of them and they call to complain? What if I do something wrong? I’m going to push that thought from my mind. 

Final Thoughts

I want to wish everyone in the learning community the best as we embark on this journey together. Please give yourself and your teachers grace while they become accustomed to this new situation. We can get through this together.

2 Ways That Waiting for the First Day of School Is Nerve-Wracking

Some Advice to Help Calm Your Nervous Mind

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

I was recently honored by a request to do an interview as a teacher representative of my district regarding school reopening. It was a surprise for many reasons: receiving the invitation the day before; receiving the invitation at all; having only an hour to get my disaster, otherwise known as my classroom, into shape before the reporter arrived; and having to demonstrate a lesson among them. Fortunately, it was a relatively painless process. During the interview, Alyssa Kratz asked me if I was nervous about coming back to school.

“I’m nervous, I am,” I said. “I would hate to think that anyone would get sick on my watch.” I have said this numerous times before. It’s just the first reason why waiting for the first day is so nerve-wracking.

1: We Don’t Know What Is Going to Happen

As I have been running through the scenarios in my mind, the only conclusion I can come to is: We don’t know what is going to happen. That said, I have also decided that I am going to have faith in the learning community. After the interview, I said I have faith in everyone.

“I’m going to believe that everybody is going to do their part and we’re going to get through it. Because we’re going to take care of each other, and we’re going to take care of ourselves,” added Edick.

To have that faith is the only way I know to quell the fears I have about something going horribly wrong. 

Therefore, my advice is to have faith. Be kind and patient. Give grace. Additionally, you can be kind and patient while also being firm and consistent with rules that protect everyone’s health and safety.

2: Teachers Aren’t Counselors, So How Do We Address Our Students’ Trauma?

Over the summer – indeed, even before the last marking period of 2019–2020 ended – numerous members of the education community sounded the alarm about student trauma. We heard some terrible stories, including those about domestic violence increasing during the “stay-at-home” period. We heard stories about parents losing their jobs. We heard stories about older siblings caring for younger siblings, having to sacrifice their learning to support the younger children. We heard stories about students’ frustration with a new learning model thrust upon them. 

Then, we heard about the inequities of education in this country. So many children and teachers did not have the tools to transition to virtual teaching and learning. They had to make do with what they had, and everyone suffered. I hope the education community will address these inequities, as they have been a problem in education for too long. Funding disparities should be eradicated. Everyone should have equal access to the excellent tools available, not just the fortunate districts who can afford them. 

The most heartbreaking news focused on food insecurity. My district and many, many others provided lunches to families each day during the last marking period. They will continue to distribute lunches to those who chose virtual learning this fall. I am so proud to be part of a district that considers addressing food insecurity to be a priority.

When I told my son about the lunch program in our district, he said, “How is it that in this rich country we have so many hungry people and so much money in so few pockets?” 

As Cassandra Fox said in her brilliant article: “You’ve got to Maslow before you Bloom.” A learning team cannot work on teaching and learning until all members feel physically and psychologically secure.

Teachers were traumatized too. Many teachers have young children they needed to teach while also teaching their students. Teachers struggled with the new instruction model. We were working with changes to policy daily. Some teachers, I think, also had to deal with domestic troubles, and may have partners who lost their jobs. It was difficult all around.

How do we deal with all the trauma then, while also staying in our lane? We are not licensed counselors. Before I was a teacher in traditional K-12, I taught at a residential facility for those in the juvenile justice system and with an alternative education program. One of the first things I learned was to report observable facts, not try to diagnose the person, and never dispense advice. As a teacher, it was my job to report what I could see to the appropriate personnel. 

My advice on this is simple. Prepare the tools and develop the routines you will use to demonstrate compassion and caring. Ask the students every day how they are doing, but teach them not to share too much personal information. Deal in adverbs and adjectives, rather than details. For example, they can share they are feeling down, and request to see the guidance counselor (which should be arranged immediately). Alternatively, they could share they are feeling hopeful today, or they are feeling better than yesterday. Perhaps create a form with suggested “feeling words.” At the end of the form, ask them if they would like to get an appointment with the guidance counselor. Make sure the form is private, so other students cannot see the responses. 

You can also integrate some Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) activities into your curriculum, but I advise that you are very careful and use activities from reputable sources. There are many such sources out there. Don’t try to create activities unless you are experienced with SEL. In fact, I would look to your district for guidance on SEL activities.

Show you care about them by being you. Teachers enter the profession to help others. You are a wonderful person: caring, kind, generous, thankful, and loving. Show them yourself, gain their trust, and develop solid relationships with your “kids.” 

If you have these tools and routines in place for the first day of school, you will feel more secure.

Final Thoughts

I would like to thank everyone in the education community for their response to the crisis and their continued efforts to, essentially, reinvent education as we have known it. There are so many brilliant minds involved. We can make this work and we will if we take care of each other and ourselves.

Best wishes to everyone for the best school year ever. 


The 2020-2021 School Year Will Be One for the Books

School districts across the country are scrambling to define what school is going to look like this year. Meanwhile, teachers seem to be exhausted, confused, and – in some cases – angry. All the stakeholders in education are on edge: students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, and school boards. Powder kegs, also known as school board meetings, are blowing up, lit by the tension in the virtual meeting. Everyone has an opinion. In any other year, under any other circumstances, that would be fine.

This year and under these circumstances, however, we need to be more united than ever in our approach. This is truly a life or death conundrum, not a philosophical debate. People have genuine concerns that need to be addressed.

Health and Safety

The concern that draws that most comment is that masks are not mandatory in schools. If a student or parent of a student says that the child cannot wear a mask for health reasons, that student is exempt and we cannot ask for documentation as to the student’s condition. While I appreciate the regulation, as it protects a person’s privacy, it puts everyone at risk, including that student.

There are students who cannot wear masks for legitimate reasons. Those are not the students of whom I am speaking.

In addition to masks, we have questions about sanitation/disinfection procedures. For example: What are they? (That was not meant to get a chuckle.) Who does what? Will we have enough time to clean surfaces between bells?

Social distancing issues are also a high priority. How are we going to maintain social distancing? There simply isn’t enough room in most school hallways, for example, to maintain social distancing and get students to their classes in a timely manner. The solutions include uni-directional hallways, prohibitions against locker use, extra lunch periods, staggered start and stop times, keeping students in “cohorts,” and teachers traveling from room to room instead of students, among others. Because it seems like it could quickly get “messy,” many school districts are providing an online-only option because there isn’t enough room and because people are genuinely terrified.

The Online-Only Option

Schools had to pivot to virtual (remote/online… just please don’t say distance or e-learning) teaching and learning, starting in March. We learned many lessons during that time about how to teach and learn entirely online. It makes sense to make those lessons learned work for us in the future to keep our students safe.

Asynchronous learning created a feeling of isolation amongst many students. It’s difficult to keep oneself engaged, interested, and resilient if you don’t feel like anyone cares or if you cannot navigate the content and activities well. That has led numerous school districts to embrace synchronous learning.

As an online learner for many years, I immediately thought of us all on the same platform, but not in the same place. In this case, many students would be in the classroom with the teacher and others would watch a broadcast to feel more included in what is happening at school while they are working from home.

That sounds like fun at first. However, there are privacy concerns.

Privacy Concerns

Because necessity is the mother of invention, schools are reinventing public education in real-time. Some schools feel they are competing with the cyber schools and need to provide similar options to their student population to retain those students in their district. Solutions such as robotic cameras have been proposed; online students could then have a view into the classroom, thereby mitigating some of the social isolation that is part of online learning. (I have three degrees from online programs and can say that the feeling of social isolation is difficult. I understand.)

Parents and teachers immediately asked about privacy concerns related to the robotic cameras. Both groups say that they don’t want the kids on video, broadcast into someone’s home. This is a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed. Having this technology in the classroom also creates cyberbullying opportunities. We all have cameras that can capture broadcasts well, and editing software on those phones that can, potentially, ruin someone’s life. Now, take a look at the picture I added to the top of this post. Suppose I were to make a face like that in the classroom? That’s an instant meme. It still could be, but I contributed the picture and it’s not that bad, so I am inclined to shrug off that possibility.

One thing I noticed during crisis teaching is that my students did not want to be on video. Teens are often keen on taking selfies and creating videos, but on their terms. I would say most humans are. We don’t notice the cameras in stores anymore, but I’m old enough to remember being uncomfortable around them when I was younger. For those who say that the kids will get used to it and no one likes change, I agree, but need to ask: Do the kids really need yet one more thing to adapt to at this time?

In the next post, I will address curriculum and instruction concerns. This post addressed what is most important at this time – the health and safety of all stakeholders in education.