Posted in Teaching

Flattening the Learning Curve: The Challenges of Online Learning

I am a middle school teacher. This means I’m on my feet 6+ hours a day teaching, talking, demonstrating, modeling, interacting, performing, and making grocery lists in my head as I repeat the same thing I’ve said five times already. It means I am managing the attention, behavior, understanding, and personally-accommodated academic and emotional needs of 128 students every day, and I’m doing it in 46-minute increments while guided by bells like a Pavlovian trained monkey.

At least, that’s what it used to mean. Now, I’m sitting in front of my computer for hours a day, responding to emails, creating online lessons, participating in Zoom faculty meetings, and trying to remember if I left anything perishable in my desk at school.

IMG_20200402_213336

There are positives and negatives to this new life. On the plus side, I take about 1,000 breaks a day to kiss my dog. On the down side, it’s a little hard to keep up with the ever-changing, ever-evolving requirements and tools that are coming our way.

Monday: “Here is an amazing new platform that will help you serve your students online! Hooray! Our company is your hero!”

Tuesday: “Due to the fact that you are actually using this amazing new platform, it is now being overloaded and doesn’t work. Therefore, please wait patiently while we try to figure it out, or upgrade to the paid version of our service which your district hasn’t given you money to purchase.”

Wednesday: “Teachers, your students miss you! They need to see your face and know you care about them! Set up online video conferences with your classes to enrich, engage, and promote social emotional learning with your students!” (Insert lots of hearts and thumbs up emojis here.)

Thursday: “Attention Teachers: Do not, we repeat DO NOT hold video conferences with your students unless you are following the 74 guidelines listed below.”

    1. Always wear pants.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

IMG_20181015_073638113
Me waiting for students to participate in my online office hours…

Not to mention the fact that many teachers are also parents. The only dependents I have to keep track of are my husband, my dog, my two cats, and my Roomba (who, I’ll admit, has been acting out lately), but many of my coworkers have young children at home, which means they are trying to work and parent at the same time. I can only imagine how impossible that is. Actually, I don’t have to imagine it. I’ve seen toddlers interrupt video conferences like adorable little tornados.

Then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room. Elephant, thy name is coronavirus. We all go about our days holding our heads high, trying to pretend that everything is fine while our world gets smaller and smaller and the elephant gets larger and larger. The truth is, we’re scared of the long-term effects of this pandemic. We’re worried about the health of our friends and loved ones. And we—the teachers, the educators, the adults that kids are told to turn to in times of crisis—don’t have any more answers than anyone else.

I think that might be the hardest part of all this. The helplessness. Most of us feel like we’re falling short in so many ways right now.

IMG_20200317_094037
Me pretending everything is fine and that I’m not freaking out and going stir crazy…

So let’s all take a deep breath and admit that we don’t have it all figured out yet.

Let’s take another deep breath and allow that the people around us aren’t perfect either.

Let’s take a third deep breath and remember that we’re in this together.

(Oh, whoops. I hope you were exhaling after each of those breaths. Otherwise you’re probably a bit red in the face by this point. Sorry if that was unclear. I’m not a yoga teacher and should obviously leave this stuff to the professionals. Just breathe. In, out. You get it.)

The thing is, we all need a little breathing room right now. So let’s give each other some space, not just physically, but emotionally too. Let’s allow some failure and understand that everything comes with a learning curve. Even learning.

And if the homeschooling just doesn’t work because you have no time or the internet is down or your student is being a bit of a pill today (trust me, he never acts that way at school), DON’T STRESS. Even though I’m a teacher who’s currently in the process of creating online learning opportunities for my students, I still believe this message I posted on Twitter last week.

ETxGau9XYAAoF-_

To sum up:
* Always wear pants during video conferences.
* Allow yourself not to be perfect.
* Allow others not to be perfect.
* Make space for the elephant in the room.
* Worry less about your kids’ academics and more about their health.
* Remember that we’re all in this together.

So long for now. Stay home, stay safe, stay sane, and send me a message if you’re bored or want to say hello or have a question that I can’t answer.

Posted in Life, Teaching

You’re Going to Be Disappointed

New Year means new goals, new promises, new challenges, new you.

Some people like to choose a single word for the new year, something that embodies their focus or intention for the next twelve months. I think this is a cool thing to do, but it’s not for me. I’m a resolutions girl through and through. I like a list, even if it’s a short one. My 2020 resolutions page includes a concise seven items.

IMG_20200108_220437
Here are two of my resolutions. The rest are for me to know and you to wonder about.

The first is a return to an old favorite. Monitoring my “Have to’s,” “Need to’s,” and “Want to’s” is one of the best resolutions I’ve ever made and one I recommend for anyone to work on. The second is a familiar goal with a small twist. I love reading and often finish 40-60 books a year, but this year I don’t want all my reading to be for pleasure. I want to read at least a couple of books that push me in some way.  Maybe it’s a difficult text that requires constant use of a dictionary. Maybe I’ll try to learn a new skill or subject and read something that requires study and memorization. Or maybe I’ll read something that challenges my political beliefs or worldview. I don’t know how I’ll go about it yet, but I’m determined to work for at least two titles.

I like my method of goal-setting. It works for me. This year, though, it’s like the universe is trying to force the one-word trend on me.

On Saturday, all Facebook wanted to do was show me people’s 2020 words. PERSEVERANCE. PEACE. OPENHEARTED. CREATRIX (<– I love that one). These are all very cool, and there’s nothing wrong with this way of embracing the new year. It’s just not something I want to do. But, inundated with these terms—STRENGTH, PRESENCE, TRUTH– I found my mind begin to wander… “IF I were to choose a word…” until, in a spectacular bout of stubbornness, I went old school Ghostbusters on myself. “No! Don’t think! Clear your mind! Clear your mind!” I don’t know why I’m so determined NOT to have a 2020 word. I just am.

I thought I had successfully cleared my head of this parasitic inspirational intrusion. Then my metaphorical Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men started showing up.

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to my dad– a thank you note for a Christmas gift and a copy of something he asked me to send him. When I pulled a plain white envelope out of my stationery box and opened it to insert his letter, I realized the envelope was full of words cut out of magazines.

Now, this isn’t strange in itself. I like cutting words out of magazines for found poetry and art and decorating journals, and when I have words left over (you should always have words left over– never use all your words) I often keep them in an envelope. But how an unlabeled envelope of unused words got put back into my box of brand new stationery is beyond me. At the time, I pondered it for a moment, shrugged, and then sent the letter to my dad, leaving the extra words inside. (I figured he could use them for something.) It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized the implications of my discovery and, literally, gasped. The universe was trying to TRICK ME into choosing a 2020 word! Well, it didn’t work! Ha! My dad can choose one if he wants, but I deftly averted the universe’s clever ploy.

So… the universe chose a word for me.

Monday, I went back to work. [Insert sad violin music here.] The first thing I saw when I walked into my classroom on Monday morning was a small rectangle on the floor. I picked it up and turned it over. This is what I found:

IMG_20200106_084551

Before you start spinning myths about how that word got there, NO, I don’t possess a set of magnetic poetry in my classroom (want to buy me one?), and YES, I’m sure that magnet did not exist in my room in 2019. (I’ve been in this classroom for four years, and I am very organized.) I truly have no idea where it came from. I only know that it was sitting there, on the carpet, waiting to mock me the day I returned to work: DISAPPOINTED.

Well, the joke’s on you, Universe, because I refuse to accept your word. I am my own person! I shall not be owned by a word! I am free! FREE, I tell you!!! (But that’s not my word either. I don’t have a word.)

In conclusion, embrace the new year however you want, and don’t let anyone force any particular inspirational method on you. You be you.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here hiding from the universe and trying not to be disappointed. Don’t mind me.

Posted in Poetry, Teaching, Writing

Why I Love Writing Club

IMG_20190915_105521600

Two years ago, I began assisting with my middle school’s Writing Club, and last year I took over as sponsor. It makes for a long Friday afternoon, and sometimes I need to just sit in the silence of my car for a few minutes before I drive home so I can get the ringing in my ears to stop*, but overall it’s been a very pleasurable experience.

* Ringing in your ears? It’s a Writing Club. Doesn’t that mean you spend the hour listening to the peaceful scratching of pen on paper? Um, no.

At my school’s Writing Club, the focus is on the word Club more than on the word Writing. The hour after school is as much about students gushing over their latest literary crush, arguing over which fandom is better: Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, and complaining about the perils of writer’s block, as it is about writing the great teen novel. We do eventually put gel pen to journal most days, but first there are beach ball ice breaker games and a general LOUD decompressing after a long day/week. Some students come to the club with works in progress—comics, sci-fi novels, poetry—that they add to or work on. Others sit down with a blank page and see what happens. Some just come for the company. Because, most importantly, Writing Club is a place where these young writers can be among their own kind and let their inner selves out to play without judgment.

IMG_20190915_105033146
Random gift from a Writing Club kid. It hangs on my fridge.

My favorite part is when we end with sharing time because these kids, silly or not, are killing it with their poems and stories, and they’re not afraid to put themselves on paper or take their fiction to dark, shadowy places. Last week at our first meeting of the year (yes, we started Writing Club on a full moon Friday the 13th) one girl shared a heart-wrenchingly honest poem written to her math class crush, another read a haunting piece full of dramatic imagery, and another shared a witty, rhyming poem about the latest trends that had both me and our principal in stitches, even though we didn’t get all the references. These kids always inspire me. Which brings me to my other favorite thing about Writing Club… It often gets me writing.

WritingClubPoem
Poem I wrote during Writing Club

I’ve drafted unexpected blog posts in Writing Club and written poems based on prompts, and even wrote the first page of a story about a zombie crocodile that I later turned into something I really like. The ideas that come to me in this setting are things that probably would never cross my mind elsewhere, as if I, too, can channel my inner “young writer” around all this creative youth.

I’m grateful for Writing Club, and I’m looking forward to more meetings with this year’s bunch of unique little oddballs. They are my people.