I usually never write about my life as a teacher, so that my personal life doesn’t mix with my professional life. However, since this pandemic begin, it is hard to seperate the two, since I’m now ‘teaching’ from home; the line has blurred.
Honestly, when the word came from our district that our spring break would be extended for two weeks due to this Coronavirus-19, I whooped it up a bit. I’m not an early riser by choice and time to sleep in, stay up watching late night tv, and puttering in the yard sounded like a gift.
My gift lost its shine when the governor extended the school break to May 4th. I thought, like all other educators, that being out of our class that long was going to be too much of a loss of instruction for my students. Thankfully, state testing was canceled for this year. That eased many hearts, but making a plan to keep students learning was a fluid process.
Our school floundered initially between being only hard copy paper/pencil packets sent home for the students to complete, or also being digital in our approach. The problem with digital is it is a pitfall for the families that don’t have the access to internet or devices.
Cell phones are everywhere, but not so computers or tablets. Yes, there are apps for the phones, but completing school work on only an app on the phone can be tedious at best. However, some students make it work.
My school is ninety-six percent economically disadvantaged. With that comes single parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, and two parent families that are both working along with the economics of those situations. Our school cafeteria doesn’t charge any student for breakfast or lunch, so that no child goes hungry. My students come from backgrounds that were familiar to my own, but so different then my own child’s.
It’s been about a month since we’ve been to normal school. Our spring break would have ended March 13th. No returning to our regular classroom yet, and unsure if we’ll return this physical school year. I made a quick trip to my classroom to find the custodians have already started cleaning, so my furniture and room was in disarray. My floors had been beautifully waxed.
Today is Thursday. It is my parent/student day for phone calls. It is also the last week before I put in a ‘P’ for passing or leave the grade comment blank for our 5th Six Weeks. In order for me to put in a ‘passing, ‘ I have to see work made with “good effort.’ I know for the most part, my parents are doing an outstanding job getting their kids (my students) to complete the paper and pencil packet that they recieved or completing the packet digitally on Google Classroom. I know this because we talk every week.
Google Classroom is a wonderful tool. It allows teachers to put in assignments for the students to complete in various forms. I can put videos, digital task cards, worksheets, self-grading quizzes, slides, and documents. I can make it as interative as it allows. Students can write in the ‘stream’ similar to social media and we can leave messages for one another. It is an awsome tool for assignments and communication, but it isn’t a teacher. I miss daily interactions with my students and I know they do also.
We started Google Classroom on our second week of school because it is an awesome organizer for stations. As distance learning has become important, I’m glad my students are proficent using it. Using our Chrome Books in class was a breeze.
Now, step outside the classroom, where we are struggling with devices. It took awhile for students to get their classroom going on their phone, tablet, or computer if they had one. I smile now at how many times I walked or tried to walk students on how to initate it outside of school. A few times, I had to have them call another student to help them ‘log in on our classroom.’ I knew there was a problem when they asked for a ‘code’ because all my students were already in the class.
I’m very proud of our campus leaders. On the Thursday before we had to shelter in place, our school managed to ‘check out’ over one hundred eighty Chrome Books to the parents that needed them with very little notice. In a perfect world, all our children would have access to internet and devices, but it isn’t perfect.
The hard part of teaching from home is I’m not actually teaching. I’m monitoring. I’m gathering. I’m encourging. I can’t look into my students face when he or she is struggling. I know some are because of the grades that are coming in on the work in Google Classroom. I don’t know if they were distracted by televsion, video games, or something going on at home. I know their cues in class when they want to shut down or not try. At home, I can’t see if they are having a problem with computation or comprehension of the problem. I’m not there to help make the work “visual” for them by using manipulatives or explaining step by step. Simply stated; We are missing the being there together.
Proud teacher moments are when papers are being completed with ease and I see students joining and working beyond the packets. Completing activites just because they want to and parents really connecting with work their student is completing. I think it has been insightful for parents to sit with their students to work. Our conversations over the weeks are becoming more indepth about work habits and struggles.
Usually on Thursdays, I only call my homeroom and check in. Today, I made contact with every student who hasn’t been checking in through Google Classroom work and my homeroom. It was five hours on the phone talking with parents, leaving messages, typing emails requesting pictures of work texted or emailed for evidence of work.
My highlights are always talking with the students themselves. I have a few who call me regularly. Yes, I’ve given my cell phone to every students’ parents and the kids have added me to their phones. On Easter, during the evening storm, I had one call me to check to see if I had electricity and to tell me about her day. I did a Google Hangout with a student because she was bored at home while her parent worked. I talked to her as she fixed her hair and visited with her and her little sister as they washed dishes. Doing more hangouts is my goal for the coming month.
As I’m writing I’m hearing my phone beep at incoming texts and a parent is sending pictures of work to me. It’s 11:30 P.M. Yes, I answer his text because my schedule is off of school mode and I have no idea of his work schedule. We end with a smiley face emoji.
Besides Thursday being my parent contact day, I do other meetings. We aren’t gathering at the school, so Zoom video meetings and phone conferences are a regular. We’re doing a professional development book study about Balanced Literacy once a week as a Fourth Grade Team. Our team meets on Zoom or personal phone calls about what was discussed during Lead Team Meetings weekly. We have weekly Lead Teachers meetings and we are completing an IB plan for next year by teams. So overall, I have four meetings a week.
As a lead teacher, my teachers call with questions and I find their answers. I do this sitting at my table or on the couch or porch swing. My line is blurred between work and home as I am doing both in the same place. My cat purrs on my shoulder or lays on top my computer. My dog barks to be let out. I wander to the kitchen for frequent snacks. I stop to call a friend or talk to my mom. I watch the news while adding work to Google Classroom and I don’t make lesson plans. How different life is for us as we wait out this pandemic.
I’m an empty nester, so it’s quiet at my home. I love watching the social media and all the fun going on with families. I watch the news about the deaths brought on by this virus. I’m reminded of John and Vicki, who both were on respirators and died from ARDS. I pray for my son in Brooklyn. Like most people I’m happy and content. I’m working and I’m living. I’m ready for work to return being work and home a place to rest.
I’m looking forward to students learning in our classrooms and halls being filled with students going from one place to another. The flush of toliets and the talking in halls around water fountains will be music to my ears. Running, screaming, and laughter on the playground may even be magical.
Teaching from home is hard because I miss all those things.