Posted in Teaching

The Future of Education Works for Belly Rubs

Dogs are amazing. This is not debatable. Their eyebrow expressions alone earn them a spot in the Best Things About the World Hall of Fame. But dogs are not just adorable pets with droopy jowls and waggy tails and happy paws that tippy-toe when their humans come home from work. They’re intelligent, loyal animals who have been trained to do some very important jobs. More than once, I’ve met a dog whose responsibilities humbled me. Like the black lab who worked at the same elementary school as I did. My job was to shelve library books. Hers was to detect a little girl’s seizures before they happened and alert an adult.

Dogs guide the visually impaired, rescue people buried in avalanches, sniff out illegal substances, provide therapy for children, and calm veterans suffering from PTSD. They. Are. AMAZING. Therefore, I propose one more career option for canines: substitute teaching.

Hear me out.

Schools are currently facing a teacher shortage and a sub shortage. When a teacher is absent and no substitute can be found, other staff members have to give up their conference times to cover classes, or students must be sent to the library or gym to be monitored in large groups, resulting in a more stressful, less effective learning environment.

The best way to solve this problem is to pay teachers a salary that matches the demands of their job, and treat them with the respect they deserve, so that people want to apply to work in education. The second-best way to solve this problem is to compensate teachers for their unused personal days when they resign or retire, so they’ll be less likely to take a bunch of days off at the end of their career.

But, since no one seems to want to do any of those things, I suggest hiring dogs as subs.

Picture this: Your unruly, end-of-the-day advisory class is getting squirrely. Students are kicking the desk of the person next to them for no reason, leaving their assigned seats to roam around the classroom with evil intent, and shouting at people walking past in the hallway. Now imagine that their sub is a 120-pound German shepherd sitting ramrod straight and perfectly still at the front of the room. Every time a student stands up, turns around in their seat, or speaks above a whisper, the dog lets out a deep guttural growl that makes every hair on every middle schooler in the room stand on end.

That’s effective classroom management if you ask me.

I. SAID. SIT. DOWN.

In elementary schools, subs aren’t just required within the classroom. They’re also needed to escort students between spaces. This is an excellent job for border collies. No child will be lost on the way to lunch or wander off during P.E. with a border collie as a substitute. Disobedient kids might come home with a sore ankle or two, but the pack WILL STAY TOGETHER.

Even mature, well-behaved classes can benefit from dog substitutes. Are your choir students nervous about their upcoming competition? Hire a husky that sings along and makes them laugh. Got a stressed out senior AP class cramming for exams? Send in a corgi to offer a soft belly for them to scratch while they study.

My face when students ask, “Is this for a grade?”

From pugs to poodles and beagles to basset hounds, every dog has a special gift to share. So, teachers, the next time you test positive for covid or need a mental health day and can’t find a sub, see if your neighbor’s labradoodle is busy.

What could go wrong?

Posted in Life, Teaching

A Weird Kind of Nostalgia

Ten years ago this May, three days before my husband left home for a week-long business trip to Hungary, I did something incredibly stupid.

I drank after a toddler.

I know, I know. How could I be that dumb? I KNOW little kids are gross. I KNOW they’re little bags of boogers and cooties. But when our friend stopped by with his daughter and she asked for a glass of juice and only took two sips of it before abandoning the rest, I let my “Don’t be wasteful” mindset overcome my “Do not poison thyself with the vile germs of a child” mindset and drank the rest of it.

Two days later, I learned that the child in question had hand-foot-and-mouth disease*. The next day, just as the hubby was leaving for the airport, I woke up with a fever.

I don’t get sick a lot. A cold here, a little food poisoning there, but for the most part, I tend to stay away from illnesses because they’re gross. So this was the first fever I’d had since… I’d become an adult. At least as far as I could remember. And it was NOT FUN. I stayed in bed with a 102° temperature for twenty-four hours. I must have fed my cats at some point, or they probably would have eaten me, and I vaguely remember letting my leashed puppy out the door to run into the waiting arms of my sweet neighbor so she could walk him for me (without actually entering the house of the sick) but that’s it. Otherwise, I slept, moaned, and eventually sweated myself awake, confused, hungry, and REALLY regretting drinking that juice.

When I’d showered and eaten a piece of toast, I Googled hand-foot-and-mouth disease to see what I was in for. The internet told me I would begin seeing symptoms three to five days after exposure (check), have fever for twenty-four hours (check), then a sore throat for one to two days, followed by red sores on my (you guessed it) hands, feet, and/or mouth. As I finished reading the article and swallowed my last bite of toast, I felt the bread crust scrape down the sides of my already tender throat. This is going to be fun, I thought. And it was. (Just kidding. It was not fun.)

A week later, the spots on my hands had almost completely cleared up—thankfully, I didn’t get any on my feet or mouth—and by the time my husband returned to the country, I was pretty much back to normal.

And I never drank after a toddler again.

The end.

But it’s not really the end because today, I found myself looking back on this experience with a touch of nostalgia.

It’s not that I want to shiver, sweat, cringe, and itch my way through a week of hand-foot-and-mouth disease again because I don’t. I really, really don’t. But there was something so satisfying about being told exactly how the virus would run its course and then having the virus do exactly that. Y’all, I’m a teacher. I LOVE it when things follow directions. Lately, that’s the most frustrating thing about covid. It’s not following directions.

Omicron is sweeping through our schools like cedar pollen on a windy day***. So far this week, I’ve had eighteen students absent, and our admin team is spending all their time calling families to let them know their child was exposed to someone who tested positive for covid. We’re supposed to stay home if we’re sick and get tested if we think we might be infected, but Googling omicron symptoms brings up a dozen different articles saying a dozen different things. It feels like allergies, it feels like the flu, it comes with a fever, it doesn’t come with a fever, it starts with a sore throat, it includes an upset stomach, it feels like a cold, it doesn’t feel like anything at all because some people are completely asymptomatic…

This vague advice makes me question every sneeze, sniffle, cough, and eye twitch, but ultimately, I keep going to work and teaching whoever is there and waiting for the email to let us know how many new cases our school has that day.

We are ALL tired of covid. I know that. I feel it. I wish I could snap my fingers and make it all go away. Since I can’t, I have a new wish. I just want it to start following directions. Tell me exactly when I’ll get sick and how and for how long. No more rogue viruses. Make covid follow the rules like everybody else.

That’s all I ask.

Here’s hoping that all of my readers are safe and healthy. I hope none of you have covid (or hand-foot-and-mouth disease either) or that if you do, you have a light case. Get vaccinated, and encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated too, and hang in there with me as we make our way through this mess. We can do it!
*sanitizes hands for fiftieth time today*

* No, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is not something farm animals get**. It’s a virus that is common in human children and less common (but really, really not fun) in human adults.

** Ok, I was wrong. I just looked it up, and foot-and-mouth disease IS, in fact, something that farm animals get. So the people who said to me, “Isn’t that a farm animal disease?” probably didn’t totally deserve the mean looks I gave them. But HAND-foot-and-mouth disease is a human virus. Because humans have hands. #science

*** Coincidentally, cedar fever is also sweeping through our schools like cedar pollen on a windy day, and the fact that its symptoms are so similar to omicron’s nebulous, varied symptoms is not helping anything.

Posted in Teaching

A Year Like No Other

This school year was truly like no other. I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to write about it, what to say. Sometimes I wonder if I need to say anything at all. I mean, we know. We all know what a disaster this year has been. I’m tired of talking about the pandemic. Tired of asking, “Pfizer or Moderna?” Tired of answering, “Yeah, we’re starting to go out again but still taking it slow.” Tired of nodding and agreeing and commiserating and rehashing. We all need some new conversation topics. But I also feel like I have to say something about this school year, reflect on it as a whole, for myself if no one else. But how? How to sum up? It can’t be summed up.

My 2020-2021 Teaching Timeline: (Click to enlarge)

* Note: I just realized I left off the two weeks during the second semester when my coworker had to be out unexpectedly to take care of her sick mother, and I had to take on one of her classes. Those were the weeks when I had over 50 students in my 3rd period Zoom classes.

They say the devil is in the details, and it is true of this year. The hardship wasn’t in the accumulation of months; it was in the weekly changes, the daily obstacles, the nightly eye strain, the hourly stress. It was in every minute spent waiting for an invisible student to respond to me in a Zoom breakout room, every second my eyes flitted between my in-person kids, my Zoom camera, my gradebook, my attendance sheet, my inbox, my audio settings, my online grammar workbook, my online monitoring software, my chat, my other chat, my lesson on the shared screen, and back again. It was in the 19 times a day I sanitized my hands and the 29 times I reminded kids to do so. It was in every moment that I smiled extra big at something a student was saying, in hopes that my encouragement would show in my eyes, beyond my mask, through my screen. It was in the times I had to console a crying student via Zoom while speaking quietly and not saying their name to prevent my in-person kids from overhearing our private conversation.

Instructions for Taking Attendance This Year: (Simple, right?)

Like I said, it can’t really be summed up. I think this school year is best told in moments. Here are a few from the past year.

* Haiku Composed During the STAAR Writing Test on April 27th: *

caged children suffer
from lack of fresh air and sun
the answer is D

As difficult as this year was, and as glad as I am to see it come to an end, there were good things about it too. I learned SO many new skills, both technological and socio-emotional. I loved my students, especially the ones I got to meet and the ones who stayed home all year but allowed me to meet them by showing up on Zoom and engaging with me.

While I dealt with more missing work this year than ever before, some of the work that was turned in was outstanding. We read novels in verse and wrote poetry and essays. We shared our post-pandemic hopes and plans. Around spring break when I suddenly had over a dozen people in my classroom for the first time in a year, I rediscovered the joy of having to ask a class to be quiet. Noise. Beautiful noise. I had been missing it. During the last six weeks, I was able to share S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders with my classes again, and some of the projects they turned in about the book were amazing.

Even though there were days/weeks/months when I felt like a terrible teacher, many of my students didn’t see it that way. They were sweet and complimentary in their end-of-year surveys, acknowledging the challenges teachers faced, appreciating what they learned, and thanking me for my support. Some of their messages brought tears to my eyes.

Comments from my end-of-year survey:

  • “I appreciate how understandable Ms. Juettner is especially with how difficult the last year has been. I also enjoyed Ms. Juettners humor and her funny stories.”
  • “I would like to say thank you for an amazing year. Even with covid and the difficult year, you made it easier for us and you were very empathetic towards us.”
  • “I appreciated that she understood how hard it was to learn on zoom and she was always so helpful.”
  • “I enjoyed just joining zoom and Mrs. Juettner always taking about something. She always was super happy and ready to teach it kind of made me more intrigued on what our lesson would be that day.”
  • “One of the main things that I appreciate about Ms. Juettner is that she is very understanding and she has created a safe and friendly evironment in her classroom. Ms. Juettner is always quick to reply to emails and to help you out and she is extremely patient and empathetic.”
  • “Just that I would like you to know we all respect you and the other teachers for powering through this year and somehow teaching zoom kids and people in person at the same time, I recognize that is very difficult to do and I personally think ya’ll did a marvelous job.”

My End-of-Year Letter to My Students: (Click to enlarge)

This school year cannot be summed up, and this post doesn’t come close to truly describing the highs and lows of the past few months. I don’t even know how many people will read it. It’s ok if you don’t. It’s ok if you’re too tired of talking about the pandemic to read about anyone else’s experience. It’s ok if you’re a teacher whose school year ended a month ago, and you’re deep into summer relaxation and don’t want to have a flashback. And if you’re a teacher whose year has not yet ended, I am sending you a big hug. You can do this. I was where you are last week. I made it, and you will, too. So it’s ok if you don’t read this. The point is, I needed to post it, to document—in some messy, unfinished format—what this year was like for me.

And now, I’m ready to move on from it.

Bring on summer.