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.

Posted in Life, Random

Conquering New Year’s Eve

When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve was spent at home hanging out with my family, playing games or watching TV. At midnight, we’d go out in the backyard, and my dad would set off the cannon. It was a real cannon, but was only about the size of a desktop tape dispenser. He’d pack it with a small amount of gun powder and light the fuse, and we’d all stand back and cringe in anticipation. Some years it wasn’t much more than a loud pop. Other years, depending on how much powder he used, there’d be quite a little explosion, and the next day the paving stone where it sat would be scorched black. If I remember correctly, once the blast sent the cannon flying several feet and it took us a couple of minutes to find it.

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This year, the long-retired cannon has been passed down to me, but my father refused to give me any gunpowder and forbade me from actually using it. I will honor his wishes. For now.

This might be one of those “only in Texas” stories. I don’t know because I’m from Texas and have always lived in Texas and people sometimes roll their eyes and say “only in Texas” about things that seem completely normal to me. Then again, it could also be one of those “only in my family” things as well, like the stocking tree or calling the things you use to cut up small limbs “jaloppers” instead of “loppers.” (You haven’t been embarrassed until you’ve been corrected by a Home Depot employee half your age on the pronunciation of a garden tool. Thanks, Dad.) Perhaps I should collect some data on the subject. If you or anyone you know ever had a tradition of setting off a small but mighty cannon in the backyard on New Year’s Eve, please weigh in with a comment. Thanks.

Anyway, that was how we did things.

When I was in junior high and high school, our house was the place to hang out, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. If you’re picturing a wild party and a keg, you’re way off. If you’re picturing a six pack of beer and a football game, you’re still way off. If you’re picturing Dr. Peppers and non-alcoholic sparkling cider and loud games of dominoes and cards, then you’re welcome at our kitchen table any time. Even in college, I spent most of my New Year’s Eves at home with my family, so it wasn’t until I was an adult (a real one with an apartment and a job) that I realized New Year’s Eve was a THING, and there was a certain way you were supposed to celebrate it, and it didn’t involve miniature cannons and Dr. Pepper. Thus began my complicated, often disappointing relationship with the holiday.

I don’t know if there’s any other holiday with more pressure placed upon it than New Year’s Eve. (Ok, maybe Valentine’s Day, but I don’t celebrate that one, therefore it causes me no stress.) Society tells you that in order to have a successful December 31st, you must do at least 6 of the 7 following things:

  • Go to a fun party with more than 12 people.
  • Look great no matter the weather.
  • Drink a lot but not enough to embarrass yourself.
  • Kiss someone at midnight.
  • Set inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.
  • Leave the party at just the right time (neither too early or too late).
  • Wake up on New Year’s Day either A) Really hungover with a great story to tell or B) Refreshed and energetic and ready to tackle all your inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.

That’s a pretty tall order.

I did okay for a couple of years. The year of Y2K, my boyfriend and I went to a party at a friend’s house and had a good time. A few years later, I rang in the new year with some friends at the Carousel Lounge, where the seventy-five-year-old legendary “dancing waitress” Stella Boes, a longtime fixture at the Carousel, served us drinks with a smile. That was a good year.

But there were plenty of years where plans fell flat or parties petered out or the party itself was fine, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. There were years when I had someone to kiss and years when I didn’t and years when I told myself I didn’t want to go out only to change my mind at the last minute and not be able to find anywhere to go. I think those were the most disappointing because I wasn’t being true to myself, wasn’t able to accept that what I wanted was different than what other people wanted and that was ok.

Marrying my homebody husband in 2010 should have made things simpler, but somehow it didn’t. I had someone to be with, and neither of us really wanted to go out, so the choice to stay in on the 31st was easy, but even when we decided to stay home, I still placed expectations on how the evening should go. We’ll ring in the new year watching a marathon of scary movies. Or… We’ll camp out in the backyard and sleep under the stars. Or… We’ll drink a bunch of wine and play board games all night. Those are not such tall orders, but sometimes they still fell flat. We got bored of the movies before midnight or the weather wasn’t right for camping or we just weren’t in the mood to play games.

Some years, we’d put off the festive activities until later, so as to experience them at the correct hour of celebration. Around 11pm when I was happily writing in my journal and listening to a horror podcast and hubby was happily playing a computer game, I’d suddenly look at the clock and realize we were running late for our planned night of fun, at which point I’d stop us from doing the things that made us happy, and force us to do something that I deemed an “appropriate” homebody NYE activity.

Yes, I’m weird. I know it. But that’s what I did, year after year, until finally, FINALLY, I got it. There wasn’t a specific moment that changed me. I don’t remember a conversation or event that drove this message home. It just came to me spontaneously in that “You’ve had the power all along, my dear” sort of way, like a lightning strike to my brain. I just got it. And what I got was this:

I can celebrate or not celebrate the new year ANY WAY I WANT. (Cue light bulbs, sparkly music, and one small firework.) So, the big question is… what do I want?

For me, the passing from one year to the next is about reflection and contemplation. It’s about setting up for the new year in whatever way feels right, whether that’s cleaning my house, writing resolutions, or planning a cool lesson for my students. Sometimes it’s about being around friends, but more often than not, it’s about enjoying some relaxation and me time after a week of family visits and traveling. It’s about thinking about who I am and who I want to be, without judgment (if possible).

Ever since this epiphany, I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves doing things like walking the dog and writing in my journal and watching movies and playing games. Yes, a lot of those are the same things that were on my list before, but the difference is the lack of expectation, the forced “meaning” in them. Sometimes I nerd out and spend the whole night making a new planner. Sometimes I do an elaborate tarot card reading for myself. Sometimes I read and nap and do a whole lot of nothing.

Whatever we’re doing, a few minutes before twelve, hubby and I get together and step out onto the back porch with a beverage, and we kiss at midnight while listening to our crazy Texas neighbors set off their crazy Texas fireworks. And then we begin the new year by going to sleep or going back to whatever we were doing before. The transition is a smooth one, marked by very little pomp, and we’re more than ok with that.

So what does this year have in store? It’s 6:37PM and I’m writing this from the hammock in my backyard. A little while ago, I decided it was a nice night for a campfire, so I made one. I’m currently on my second glass of prosecco. The temperature is dropping, and the illegal fireworks are already starting. I have a new game I want to play tonight and some leftover pasta I want to eat. There’s an owl hooting somewhere and a dog barking somewhere else, and about six hours to go until midnight. How will I spend them? Any way I want.

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Happy New Year.

 

Posted in Teaching

Mid-Year Crisis

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Thanks, Pixabay, for illustrating my internal stress and providing all images for this post.

Teachers, listen to me. No, seriously, pick your head up off that desk or out of that bucket of wine, and LISTEN. I get it. I really, really do.

It’s the end of February, which means…

  • You have six weeks until the STAAR test and eight weeks of lessons that you need to teach before the STAAR test.
  • Your TELPAS samples, NJHS applications, progress reports, and 504 data are all due at the exact same minute, but all of your conference periods are taken up with team meetings, parent meetings, and intervention meetings, so you barely have enough time to eat twelve Girl Scout Cookies (I’m pretty sure that’s the recommended dosage) much less get your paperwork done.
  • A quarter of your students have been absent for four days in a row (but not the same four days in a row because that would be too convenient), and you can’t figure out which ones have the flu and which ones are on a mid-month non-spring-break family ski trip, so you’re just Cloroxing everything and giving everyone the stink eye when they return to cover all your bases.
  • You have 47 more book projects to grade, which you should have handed back last week, and two days from now you’ll have 139 journals to grade, which are a lot more difficult to carry on field trips. (Not actual field trips. You know when you take papers back and forth from school to home and back again without ever actually grading them? I call those field trips.)
  • Oh yeah, and it’s about time for someone to bring up the fact that no one’s planned the field trip yet and for someone else to point at you say, “So-and-so is good at organizing things. Remember when she planned that potluck?” and then you will have to close your eyes and take three deep breaths before pointing out that asking ten people to all bring food on a certain day is not the same thing as organizing transportation, activities, insurance, and volunteers for 450 kids, but by the time you open your eyes to say that, everyone will already be voting for you to do it.
  • You are being observed by four different people from four different colleges, universities, internships, and countries, all of whom you are supposed to mentor into being a teacher, but what you really want to do is yell, “Run, run, run! Go get your engineering degree!” Meanwhile, all you can think about is whether or not you should use a personal day to catch up on grading. (Anyone else ever done that? *raises hand*)

I. GET. IT.

To prove that I get it, here’s the truth. That note about the 47 projects left to grade with 139 journals on the way? Those are my current stats. So what did I do tonight? I… ate cheese and Girl Scout Cookies for dinner, watched some old Star Trek episodes, googled lavish vacations to faraway places and then less lavish vacations to not-so-faraway places, then took a bubble bath where I tried to use speech-to-text on my phone for the first time in order to draft this blog post. But instead of actually drafting this blog post, I ended up trying out jokes for the stand-up comedy routine that I like to pretend would make it big if I ever got drunk and wandered in front of a microphone like on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Then, when I read what I recorded, I realized there wasn’t a single period in the whole thing because I didn’t know you had to say the punctuation, which is ironic because all week I’ve been making my students read their commas out loud during warm-ups to prove they’re in the right place. So, now I’m actually typing my blog post, still quite effectively avoiding all my grading.

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“That woman is CRAZZZZZZZY!”

THAT, my friends, is classic end-of-February behavior.

But have no fear. We’ve gotten through this before, and we’ll get through it again.

Those papers will get graded, or they won’t.

That field trip will get planned, or it won’t.

Those TELPAS samples will be turned in, or… well, in the fine print, I think it says you could lose your license or something, but IT’S FINE because those TELPAS samples WILL GET TURNED IN. (Do it tomorrow. During lunch.)

The point is YOU CAN DO THIS. WE can do this. Spring break (the real one) is just around the corner, and vacation or no vacation, you’re finally going to carve out some time for yourself.

Everything will be okay.

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[Insert calming music here.]
Now, take that half-empty box of Girl Scout Cookies to bed with you, and get some sleep. You’ve got kids to teach and papers to grade tomorrow. Maybe.