Don’t get me wrong, pandemic teaching is rough, an understatement, but my teacher life got a gazillion times easier last week.
My school had its fifth first day of school last week. What a weird thing to type, but it’s 2020. Here are the five first days we’ve had:
The first day for Group One students.
The first day for Group Two students.
The first day teaching in-person and at-home learners.
The first day with both Groups One and Two on campus.
The first day for previously at-home learners.
At the first nine weeks’ end, our Home Based Virtual Learners (HBVLs) had the option to come back to physical school, and so many did. And while it’s fantastic to finally meet them IRL–cue me squealing in excitement through my mask while taking a HBVL’s temperature last Wednesday Jayda!!!!! It’s so nice to meet you in real life! Look at you!–It. Was. So. Strange.
I’d just been teaching heads and necks, sometimes just eyebrows and foreheads, and instead of floating heads eerily levitating through the hallways on Wednesday morning like a Disney Channel show’s terrible Halloween episode, those heads were connected to BODIES. Some of my HBVL boys are GIANT, and it completely caught me off guard.
And something that didn’t catch me off guard–the freedom afforded by being unchained to my computer screen for four blocks. Because with more HBVLs on campus, administration gave us the go-ahead to create a virtual school schedule, so I only teach virtually during third block now.
I can stand up if I want. I can move around more, even though I’m still keeping my distance. I don’t have to constantly monitor the Google Meet chat, my email, and Impero (our student technology monitoring software) every single class. I don’t have to shut down a Meet at the end of every class and start a new one while trying to make sure the in-person students are social distancing, know what’s due the following day, and are walking into the hallway on time. There’s more normalcy, but I know it’s possibly short-lived with fall’s onset and increasing numbers of COVID-19 throughout the country.
And while those students returning to school has made teaching a gazillion times easier, other aspects of more students on campus are troublesome:
More students means less space for social distancing in the hallways and in the classrooms.
More students aren’t wearing their masks properly.
More students are sharing supplies and food when they aren’t supposed to.
More students are sitting in cramped classrooms without their masks on eating lunch.
More students means going through more sanitizing wipes, and who knows if and when we will run out.
More students means more are showing up to school sick even though they should stay home.
More students is harder to manage than fewer students.
More students makes it appear like the coronavirus is disappearing when it’s not.
And like I said, I’m ecstatic more students are back and actual teaching is easier, but we can’t forget that this isn’t over yet. Please do your part to help keep all students, teachers, and everyone else safe.
We teachers are more than happy to answer your questions and concerns via email, but before you hit send, could you ask yourself a couple of questions first?
Before you send that email to your child’s teacher, is it kind?
We are working our educator booties off this year.
A mean email can derail our entire day and even week. We cry over these emails. We lose sleep over these emails. We have panic attacks over these emails. We might even turn a little mean ourselves when we get these emails and lash out at our own loved ones in misdirected anger.
We then have to respond to an unkind email, try to turn the situation around, and wait on pins and needles for another response, which again, could be an angry one.
It’s a vicious cycle.
And before you send that email to your child’s teacher, can you find the information somewhere else?
We are working our educator booties off this year, and parent emails create more work for teachers.
Often times when you email us, the answers to the questions you’re asking have already been given to you. If you look on PowerSchool you can see the answer to why Johnny has an F. He didn’t complete three test grade assignments, and there’s a note for every single missed assignment. If you’re questioning our late work policies, the answer might be on the syllabus, which you actually signed off on, stating that you read and understood the policies laid out on it.
And before you send that email to your child’s teacher, consider if it might be better to come in for a face to face (or a Zoom) conference with all your child’s teachers.
We are working our educator booties off this year, and parent emails create more work for teachers.
It takes a lot less time for us to talk about your concerns versus us writing an email back.
An email that you wrote that maybe took you two minutes to compose can devour our entire 75 minute planning period. Yes, it can really take that long to reacquaint ourselves with your child’s work, write a thoughtful detailed response, and proofread until we go cross eyed–because heaven forbid an unsightly typo exists in it that you could use against us, to further prove your point that we’re incompetent.
And before you send that email to your child’s teacher, and this one is going to be hard to swallow folks so prepare yourselves, ask yourself, could your child be lying to you?
Children lie. All. Of. The. Time.
They cheat. They plagiarize. They fib about why work isn’t done and tell tall tales about their assignments being done when they’re not.
They’ll claim that teachers aren’t helping them and that teachers don’t like them and that teachers are mean and and and and and and and.
And while occasionally these claims might be true, more often than not, they aren’t.
And then when we point out these things are untrue, we still aren’t believed sometimes.
And before you send that email to your child’s teacher, are you a teacher too?
These are the worst emails, emails from parents who are teachers too.
Have I sent a snooty, condescending email to one of Little Thing’s teachers?
And I’m terribly sorry. I don’t know everything, I’ve never been in your classroom, and it was a really shitty thing to do.
I’m trying to be better because I know how terrible parent emails can be.
So before you email your child’s teacher ask yourself:
September wasn’t a great reading month for me. Don’t get me wrong, I read some pretty great books, but I didn’t read very many books.
I read three books that were over 400 pages. Long books means less books read.
I discovered TikTok.
Hybrid teaching leaves me brainless by the time I get home.
I am doing more work at home than I usually do–because hybrid teaching leaves less time to get lessons made and papers graded at work.
Did I mention TikTok?
I quit reading two books: The Guest List by Lucy Foley and The Dragonette Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland.
Tokking of the Tik.
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson–published 2020–romance–two stars: Jesse’s foster mother, who owned a knitting shop, passes away, leaving the shop to not just him, but his three foster brothers too. They’re all dangerously sexy, but Kerry, a woman who worked in the store and looked to Mama Joy as a mother as well, has always had a thing for Jesse, a bit of a fuck-up. She’s finally finished with school and looking to make her way in the city, but she agrees to help Jesse tackle running the store. Maybe I’m too critical of this genre, but it was just so bland.
Making Faces by Amy Harmon–published 2013–YAL romance–three stars: When the small-town golden boy Ambrose convinces his buddies to join him in the military after the September 11th attacks, Fern Taylor, a small, nondescript redhead who is the preacher’s daughter, pines for him. She’s been in love with him for years. When he returns from war drastically changed, she and her cousin Bailey, who has muscular dystrophy, convince Ambrose to ease back into life in the small town. There’s something very wholesome and innocent about this book, but this book didn’t age well. Be prepared for a tearjerking ending.
Afterlandby Lauren Beukes–published 2020–dystopian fiction–four stars: A virus plagues the world, killing off most of the men. After her sister betrays her, Cole tries to keep her son, one of the few remaining males in the world, safe from the government by dressing him as a girl and joining a traveling nun cult. Totally Atwoodian but with song lyrics and less serious. It’s refreshing to find a contemporary novel that isn’t completely beholden to some rigorous genre-specific plot line. I totally dug Beukes’s writing style.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip–published 1974 –YAL fantasy–four stars: Beautiful. I had a hard time keeping the beasts’ names straight until halfway through the book, but it was a nice change of pace in comparison to the contemporary YAL that gets published anymore. I’ve been slowly making my way through some older fantasy books, and I’m really enjoying them.
Bitten (Otherworld #1) by Kelley Armstrong–published 2001–urban fantasy–three stars: And then I read something like this and am proven wrong by the last sentence of the last review I wrote. I don’t think urban fantasies age very well, and I know to keep in mind the time period in which they are written, but I didn’t much enjoy The Mortal Instruments series either . . . and it could have had something to do with the fact that I read them wayyyyyyy after they’d originally been published. I was totally into Bitten, but parts of it weren’t very fleshed out and it was pretty predictable. I thought maybe Elena lacked a female protagonist’s depth because the book was written by a male author, but nope. Totally penned by a woman. I guess I was expecting a bit more of a badass female werewolf? And it had a totally sexist storyline and it is part romance novel, but . . . Give me Vampire Academy instead?
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid–published 2015–contemporary fiction/romance–three stars: Hannah moves back home to L.A. from New York to be closer to her best friend and to distance herself from a bad relationship. She has high hopes of rekindling a love affair with her old high school flame Ethan. But on the evening of her welcome back party, she has to make a decision to go home with Ethan or not, and the audience gets to see how her life plays out if she makes either choice. You can tell that this is an early novel from Reid. It’s not as well done as Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and there’s way too much emphasis placed on Hannah’s high bun and cinnamon roll obsession.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones–published 2019–YAL fantasy–four stars: A zombie fairytale? Lovely and a bit scary. A great October read.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism–published 2019–nonfiction–four stars: If you are a white person and haven’t read this book yet, you should do so. It’s an uncomfortable read. But being uncomfortable is key to growth. I still have so much work to do in identifying and correcting my own behaviors, thoughts, and speech when it comes to discussing race in America. And I still have so much work to do in identifying and correcting my own behaviors, thoughts, and speech when it just comes to existing in a racist society. I learned from this book that we need to rethink what it means to be racist. I learned from this book that relying on intelligence and hiding behind the guise of reading certain books has racism behind it. Earlier this year, I made of list of recommended books to read about racism in America and posted it on Facebook. Was that racist? Yes, because I hid behind intellectualism. I learned about how Black people view white women’s tears, and my gut reaction was, tears? Really? This book points out how our emotions are a product of socialization. Did I mention that I have a lot of work to do?
Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles–published 2020–YAL fantasy–four stars: Caravel meets Night Circus, but sexy, in a young adult way, and a bit of Stockholm syndrome? Yes, please! It was bit too long though. This is a great October read too.
Anybody have any great October reading recommendations? I want to read something that will scare the shit out of me. Please!
nobody can hear me
i've been speaking but i'm on mute
caydon let the Zoom
because his Chromebook needed to reboot
amira's not paying attention
because she's choosing a filter to make her look cute
nobody can hear me
i've been speaking but i'm on mute
owen! turn off your camera!
your dad just walked by in his birthday suit!
mj's Google Doc won't load
so he can't do the lesson on greek and latin roots
i forgot to click record at the beginning of class
hope i'm not slapped with a lawsuit
Nobody can hear me.
I've been speaking, but I'm on mute.
We're in trouble, trouble, trouble. Shoot!
Nobody can hear us.
We've been speaking, but we're on mute.
trouble shots fired!
all the teachers are tired
trouble shots fired!
am i too young to retire?
We're in trouble, trouble, trouble, shoot!
Nobody can hear teachers.
They've been speaking, but they're on mute.
We're in trouble!
We're in trouble!
Don't shoot the messenger!
The traditional classroom is dead.
It isn't funny.
Time of death: 2020.
We're in trouble, trouble, trouble.
She fought for justice
for all, against mustaches.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Dissent collars and statement
earrings and glasses.
The right in the world
feels so very wrong today.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Thank you for all you have done.
We'll be persistent.
I shut your bedroom door, as quietly as I could, to keep the cat out, but you woke up anyway, a full hour earlier than normal. Sleep still in your eyes and with your over-sized pink nightgown, a shoulder peeping out playing peek-a-boo. I wished you a happy birthday and ensconced you in a too-tight hug before you plopped yourself on the sectional and watched YouTube Kids videos until it was time to get ready for school.
When we walked out to my blue Buick, I told you to look in the front yard for a surprise. Granny had the yard Sign Gypsy-ed, and it shouted “Happy 8th Birthday Little Thing” to the entire neighborhood for the whole day. We requested a cat theme, but they gave you a purple, pink, gold, and gray girly display instead. It featured a present-laden birthday llama; I promise I didn’t request it. Your eyes widened in delight at the surprise, and your grin, oh that grin baby girl, it was so wide that you would have thought that we surprised you with a trip to Disney World.
I jammed to Taylor Swift’s Red album while driving, and you, as always, continued to watch YouTube Kids, a video about fairy circles. You chimed in with “I knew you were trouble when you walked in” in all the right places like you were a tiny background singer on autopilot. Nana and Papa Blob called to sing you happy birthday. Papa Blob butchered “Happy Birthday” even worse than he did when you turned seven. When we stopped at the last, long red light before reaching our destination, you said your throat hurt a little. I told you to grab your water bottle, which I normally wouldn’t send with you but the school’s water fountains are turned off because of coronavirus, but you informed me that I didn’t pack it. Then I realized that I didn’t pack you a snack either. Momentarily, horrible mother guilt mindset kicked in, how dare I not pack my baby girl water and snack on her birthday, but then I remembered the glove department emergency snacks and figured I’d steal a coworker’s extra bottle of water for you. At least I managed to tuck some birthday Oreos into your lunchbox, I thought.
You pulled on your favorite, pink kitty mask, adjusting it over your ears and moving its llama lanyard out of your face, after you climbed out of the backseat. I’m always afraid you’re going to tumble out and break your femur or your head wide open because the backseat isn’t roomy and your backpack is heavier than you are. Your gold headband with the beaded bow twinkled in the early morning light. The sky is pink you said. Half a moon hung in it too. You seemed droopy, but I chalked it up to your early morning wake up.
In the library, your friends surprised you with a card. One of your friends, the librarian’s daughter, tried to gift you the library’s copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
When you climbed into my car after school, you were wearing a different mask, the backup one covered in conversation candy hearts. I asked How was your day?Did you have a good birthday at school? You huffed, Yes, but I had TWO nosebleeds AND I’m getting da bad sneezes. I heard the congestion, phlegmy and liquid, in your normally chirpy voice. I made sure a tissue box was in arm’s reach of your seat and passed back the only pair of sunglasses, a cheap promotion from a college bar–fire engine red with Captain Morgan written on the side, in the car to help combat your sneezes. After you let down your wildly long hair from its daily ponytail, you sighed in relief. You looked too grown and cool, like a snuffly badass.
I offered you birthday dinner from anywhere, but you just wanted noodles, edamame, strawberries, and chocolate milk. You worked on your homework while I was in the kitchen, but before I could finish dinner, you escaped into your room’s darkness, hiding from the sunlight like a vampire. Da bad sneezes lived up to their name.
Granny came over for cake, ice cream, and “Happy Birthday.” We couldn’t find a candle. The week before, you declared you wanted a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, complete with a Hermione Granger Halloween costume to wear while scavenging. So even though I’d already spent the money I had set aside for your birthday, I made it happen because COVID-19 sucks and you couldn’t have a party. I spent an hour writing clues and wrapped your presents the night before. The scavenger hunt was so worth it. You looked exactly like a tiny Hermione Granger/Emma Watson when you donned your Gryffindor robes. The clues lead you to Hermione’s wand, some LOL Surprise Dolls, Floop, a glittery pink phone stand, the Knight Bus LEGO set, and a build your own robot set. You loved all the gifts. Your eyes sparkled and you twirled and magic-spelled your way through the clues, but I could tell that you were feeling puny.
You played with your Floop and then tried to build the robot with Daddy, which was a silly idea because Daddy was broken. He was having surgery the next morning to repair a ruptured biceps tendon and had been sporting a sling for two weeks. I had been outside walking and would have argued against even opening its box. Luckily, your aunt, uncle, and cousin in Illinois Facetimed you, and I put the robot away. You talked with them for quite a while, showing off your completed LEGO sets and your rainbow artwork displayed on the refrigerator, and all of a sudden, you got that I-can’t-function-any-longer-look-in-your-eye, and asked your aunt, Is it okay if I go to bed now? And you abruptly ended the conversation–because you were done with the day, even though it was your birthday.
You met Buckbeak before you went to bed because you insisted that I read to you despite your yawns and your sneezes. We listened to Lady Gaga’s and Ariana Grande’s Rain on Me, for the millionth time, while I braided your hair. I turned the lights off, put the cat away, brought you some water, and turned on your nightlight. You climbed out of bed, no longer able to form words, and tried to turn your night light off, too bright for your sneezy eyes. You accidentally looked directly into it, starting an uncontrollable sneezing fit. I turned it off. You climbed back in bed and closed your eyes.
You were snuffly and ethereal.
And I tucked you in, my little tuckered-out birthday girl.
Approach my August mini book reviews with caution. Here’s what you shouldn’t read (and four books you should)!
Anna K: A Love Story (Anna K #1) by Jenny Lee–published 2020–YAL romance/retellings–three stars: I never read book blurbs fully before diving into a book, and sometimes it backfires worse than taking a sip of Coke when you’re expecting unsweet tea but occasionally I’m rewarded with an unforeseen, delicious book flavor. Anna K is room temperature water. Parts were witty and then others were listy. It’s Crazy Rich Asians plus Gossip Girl, butit lacks the glamorous good fun the characters in those series have so it’s hard to get past the entitlement here. I liked Dustin (because he isn’t entitled), but he’s choppy.
The Strangerby Albert Camus–published 1942–classics–three stars: I’m not exactly sure what I just read here. Mind you, the writing is startlingly clear, but . . . I’m confused as to why the protagonist killed another person. And just who is “the stranger”? The protagonist? The guy who the protagonist kills? Imma just back away from this one slowly like Homer Simpson disappearing into the bushes.
Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta’s Academy #1) by Sandhya Menon–published 2020–YAL romance/retellings–two stars: For the love of books, y’all! When am I going to learn my lesson? Once again, I walked into a book without reading the blurb and ended up with another retelling–this time a Beautyand the Beast varietal. This is the most unimaginative, repetitive retelling I’ve ever read. There’s a bunch of bratty rich kids sent to a boarding school in the middle of Colorado. Woohoo, another story featuring children of the one percent! Jaya and her sister, Indian princesses, enroll there after a scandal at home. Jaya finds out that her family’s nemeses–the Emersons–have a son that attends St. Rosetta’s too, and she plots to use her feminine wiles to seduce him into destroying his family’s good name as revenge for destroying her family’s good name. She’s beauty. He’s beast. There’s nothing original here, and it gets too teach-y. However, Menon can rock a metaphor; that’s the only reason I finished reading this. Read A Curse So Dark and Lonely instead.
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner–published 2020–LQBT romance–one star: I don’t often distribute one-star ratings, but there’s nothing that makes this read stand out. Jo, a Hollywood producer, invites her assistant Emma to accompany her to an awards show, not as a date, but as a buffer between Jo and the paparazzi. Rumors swirl anyway, and the two deny that they have feelings for one another. Zero character development? Check. Generic, boring writing? Check check.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig–published 2019–YAL fantasy/retellings–two stars: Another freaking retelling???? I’m smarter than my August book choices, promise. A reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Again, no character development. Book lovers, throw a four or five star read my way soon like a life preserver. I’m drowning in a salty sea of terrible writing and its sorrows.
The City We Became (Great Cities #1) by N.K. Jemisin–published 2020–fantasy–four stars: Thank. God. Leave it to Jemisin to rescue me. I loved this more than Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Each borough of NYC manifests as a person, and those people must find each other in order to save the city from alternate universes. While the writing glows, the judgments and themes further illuminate Jemisin’s voice. Take a look: Innocence is nothing but a ceremony, after all. So strange that you people venerate it the way you do. What other world celebrates not knowing anything about how life really works? And But these people are always gonna tell themselves that a little fascism is okay as long as they can still get unlimited drinks with brunch! Don’t get me wrong, the novel is slow at first because it focuses on establishing the different characters and what they are doing when outside forces attack the city. It gets explain-y too at times when I didn’t think that certain plot points needed further clarification; I mean, it is a fantasy. Reading funk–officially over!
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens–published 2007–nonfiction–three stars: He fails to outline any new arguments in his position, and his tone is just so damn disdainful of believers.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson–published 2020–YAL LGBT romance–three stars: Moment of honesty: I can see the appeal to teenage readers here, and that’s why I rounded up. Liz, a band nerd, has gotten into the school of her dreams but didn’t get a much-needed scholarship. At her rich, suburban Indiana high school, prom is a big deal, and king and queen win not just crowns, but big buck scholarships as well. So, she decides to run for prom queen despite the odds against her. At the first meeting, she meets Mack, a new girl also running for court, and Liz is smitten-smacked. So where do I start? This high school is ridiculous. What high school makes prom a scholarship pageant? At one point, Guy Fieri caters an event (maybe prom itself? I can’t remember) . . . I mean, come on! The school has its own social media app, lording over Snapchat and TikTok and the like, just like in Tweet Cute. Also, is this a thing now? Where individual high schools have their own apps that trump mainstream social media? Also, Mack just so happens to be cousins with a member of Liz’s favorite band. And they just so happen to go on their first date to that favorite band’s show and then later on in the novel the lead singer surprises Liz at school. And all that just fits too nicely. And, what new girl runs for prom court? The people who run the school are idiots, and I hate seeing that repeatedly in YAL. And it took me forever to read this book because I just wasn’t that invested in it. The writing is cute-ish though, and Liz and Mack’s relationship will be relatable to high schoolers. And this cover? Swoon!
Brunch and Other Obligations by Suzanne Nugent–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: The title had me at brunch despite the fact I’m not a huge fan of that whole let’s-combine-two-meals-into-one-on-the-weekends-meal vibe. Stop your gasping. If you had the stomach problems I do, you’d feel the same way. Brunch menus are limited and often revolve around gluten, making it damn near impossible for me to find a meal that I can actually eat AND fill me up, and Bloody Marys are the worst (fighting words I know) and mimosas give me heartburn to rival a pregnant woman’s who’s carrying a baby with a headful of hair. Anyway, when their mutual friend Molly dies, three women who grew up together but barely tolerate each other respect their friend’s last wishes and eat brunch together once a month. Because it’s light-hearted and funny, I’ll overlook its predictability. It gets a bottomless-beer cheers from me.
The Pull of the Starsby Emma Donoghue–published 2020–historical fiction–three stars: In Ireland during the 1918 flu outbreak, Julia works as a nurse in a large hospital in a small unit where pregnant women with the flu are treated. The first day takes up around 50 percent of the book and moves at a glacier’s pace. I might be mistaken, but the novel doesn’t possess a plot. However, it’s so very readable, and the last 30 percent makes up for a draggy first half. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate dialogue. Vomit emoji.
Want by Lynn Steger Strong–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: Despite having rich parents and being Ivy League-educated, Elizabeth and her husband struggle to make ends meet for their family while living in New York City. I loved how deep this novel dived into Elizabeth’s mind and how it explored her complicated friendship with her best friend from home Sasha. It felt like it needed more editing, and then on closer inspection, I liked its rambly stream of consciousness. Strong did a nice job portraying the ins and outs of charter school teaching in a big city (not that I’ve ever worked in one, but it’s how I envision it). I don’t know if I would recommend this to everyone, but if you err more on the side of literary, it’s worth the read.
Pericles by William Shakespeare–drama/classics–three stars: Not his best? Pericles, a king, thinks his wife dies during childbirth, so she receives a pirate’s burial. She washes ashore on a distant land still alive. After his wife’s supposed death, Pericles leaves his newborn daughter with a trusting family in a different foreign land. After the girl grows up, the family tries to have her murdered, but pirates kidnap her instead. When Pericles returns to check on her, he’s told she’s dead. Then at the end, they’re all reunited like the whole thing isn’t completely implausible anyway . . .
The Bird and the Sword (The Bird and the Sword Chronicles #1) by Amy Harmon–fantasy–published 2016–four stars: Because of a curse before her mother’s murder, Lark can’t speak, but with her inner voice, she can bend animals, nature, and inanimate objects to her will. Living in a world where magic is banned, her silence keeps her safe. When the king absconds with her to ensure her father’s fealty against battling unnatural magical creatures that threaten the kingdom, she must find her voice to keep the realm safe. My friend from high school pointed me in Harmon’s direction, and I must say, Harmon’s writing is magic and a welcome reprieve. What prevented this from five-star status? A predictable storyline.
Like any teacher who has started the 2020-2021 school year, I am trudging uphill to get a handle on teaching my curriculum in a digital world. Who am I kidding? We’ve been “in” school for three weeks, and I still won’t even get to the state-mandated curriculum until Tuesday. Like I said in a previous post, “I feel more like tech support than an actual English teacher” at this point. And in this new realm of almost fully digital teaching (I’ve gotten rid of all paper including books this year), these are the key factors that I’m worried about.
Cheating and plagiarism. With the interwebs at their fingertips and teachers’ minimal capabilities of monitoring students learning at home, cheating and plagiarism, already an epidemic in middle and high schools, will be more rampant. Yes, there are programs to help catch plagiarism. Yes, there are programs where teachers can monitor what students are doing on their screens. Yes, there are programs where students can take tests in locked browsers. But. There’s no way for teachers to know that students at home don’t have their phones out or even another computer out googling answers while testing. Granted, the way that most English tests are set up anymore makes it hard to cheat, but that isn’t the case with math or social studies tests. And there’s no good way to prove that a student cheated with this setup. I also already had a student plagiarize an exit ticket, on a question that wasn’t even really plagiarize-able. Last year during digital learning, I had gobs of students put straight up the first thing they found in Google as their answers to a test grade assignment about “The Cask of Amontillado.” It’s loads easier to prove plagiarism, but students will deny it even with the proof in their face (and don’t get me started on the parent denial of their perfect student committing fraud). I’m enforcing a strict plagiarism policy this year to make it hit home to students that cheating in any form is not cool.
Being recorded. There. I said it. We’re required to record our Google Meets. I’m being recorded all the time and so are the students. No thank you. First of all, I don’t understand how legally this can be a thing. I’m recording minors. Everyday. Secondly, the students don’t want to talk, whether it’s because of the fact they’re being recorded or you know they’re just middle schoolers who don’t want to talk. Thirdly, it’s a can of worms. It makes it awkward to correct a student’s behavior. My tone is forever documented on that recording, so are the students’. It’s going to make organic conversations around literature die, and these complex texts that we read at the middle school level discuss adult situations. You never know what kids are going to ask. Romeo and Juliet have a wedding night. They commit suicide. Odysseus cheats on his wife. Men rape women. While I’ve always handled the questions the kids ask about these texts professionally, I would hate to think what an outsider listening to these conversations might think about my classroom. I can’t skip over these parts; the kids are smart, they get it, and they ask questions about it. (Now granted, if students are doing independent work or testing, I don’t make them stay in the Meet the whole time because their technology doesn’t work properly if they’re running the Meet and trying to do work at the same time, but I run the Meet the whole time so they can pop in and out to ask questions.)
Parent criticism. Listen, I’ve always dealt with this, lost sleep over it, had panic attacks about it, thought I’d quit my job over it, etc. But parents now can literally hear what’s going on in my classroom and your classroom if the students aren’t plugged into a headset. My students are on silent to get rid of background noise for the whole meeting, but I have no idea what’s going on in their houses or who is listening in because I can’t hear them and I can’t see them either. It’s eerie to know that people are listening who shouldn’t be. Not that parents aren’t welcome. Or that their input isn’t valuable. Or that they shouldn’t advocate for their children if they believe their children have been unjustly treated . . . but still. I’m human. Sometimes my tone comes out wrong, or I’m being sarcastic, or the parents have missed what’s happened before with their students, or– All. Of. The. Other. Possibilities. Parents are being eavesdroppers. And that’s creepy. Sorry not sorry.
Shift in teacher and student work expectations. I refuse to be available 24/7 to students and parents because of digital learning. I refuse to bend over backward to meet unreasonable digital learning expectations. I refuse to run myself ragged just because society demands it so. I can still be a good teacher even while saying no. I’ve already shifted my paper-based lessons to be fully digital. Do you know how many hours of work that took? I now don’t get my own lunch break because the students have to eat in our rooms. Heck, I have to clock into work at 7:05 and I’m now with students until 1:15 every day, except for SWIFT runs to the restroom in between classes. I’m now chained to my desk in front of three computers instead of up and interacting with kids during lessons. When students are quizzing, testing, or writing, that’s my time to grade in class. That goes out the window with virtual learning because I’m troubleshooting device issues with kids and monitoring their screens constantly instead. I’ve got even less time to grade at work than I did previously. And the poor kids. No recess. No true group work. Also tied to their device, or devices if they’re at home. Often their technology doesn’t work. Lots of students can’t manage their time in class without a teacher directly in front of them. Their technology is a distraction. And I could go on and on. But mainly, I’m distressed at how we’re expecting students to be miniature corporate business people who can toggle among Google Meets, a lesson, and four other tabs when there are kids out there who can’t even get logged into a website they use every day. They’re just missing business suits and MBA’s. Pretty soon they’ll be telling their coworkers, I mean fellow students, to “lean in” and be “team players” and throwing “synergy” around like confetti.
Is virtual learning our new forever? Once the pandemic gets under control, is virtual learning going to be a permanent part of brick and mortar schools? If I have students who get sick or have to have surgery requiring them to miss a week or two or seven of school, am I going to be expected to teach them while they’re at home if the parents want that for their children? Am I going to have to be prepared on any given day from this point forward to teach students at home too while most students will be physically present? If I have to have surgery that requires me to be out but I’m able to teach from home, will I be allowed to do it? Should I be allowed to do it? Is it one of those just because we can doesn’t mean we should scenarios for both students and teachers? Also, just an FYI, it takes three to four times as long to cover material virtually than it does in person. Students will get less done and learn less if this set-up is now part of our new forever.
I’ve got all kinds of other things on my mind, and I know the above is all rambly and gluey and incoherent in places, but at this point, I’m not worried about being eloquent.
And I’d love for all those Higher Ups in education, whether at the school level, district level, state level, or national level, to be alright with their workdays being recorded and listened into by whoever just so happens to walk by while they’re being live-streamed into people’s houses. Just saying.
cameras clicked off and microphones muted
can't even mark them truant
because i'm teaching invisible students
masks hiding their faces
making them feel stupid and like mutants
because i'm teaching invisible students
who don't want to talk
because nothing is normal
the People in Charge
have stopped offering improvements
because we're teaching
living in the paranormal
the People in Charge
are being imprudent
don't care that we're teaching
If you’re not a teacher, have you checked in with your teacher friends who went back into the classroom this week?
Sent them a silly gif of encouragement via text message?
Venmo-ed them twenty bucks towards a splurge-y bottle of Pinot Noir for them to unwind with over the weekend?
Offered your ear for them to vent their frustration?
Or at least liked their end-of-the-first-week-with-students-during-a-pandemic Facebook post?
Because it was probably rough on them. It definitely was overwhelming over here in Mrs. Ram Jam land.
I made it through the first two days of only in-person learners just fine, but by day two’s end, my throat was on fire. From lack of use due to a five-month hiatus or just the normal back-to-school-first-week-malaise–or so I thought.
Where I teach in Louisana, educators are teaching in-person learners and virtual learners simultaneously, and the first day with both, our third day, was particularly chaotic. Because the district’s network broke. I didn’t have high expectations to make it through much, but the whole experience was frustrating for learners and teachers both.
I woke up Thursday morning with a cough and a headache on top of my sore throat. I made the responsible choice and stayed home for the day, and my awesome principal let me teach from home. Google Meet didn’t work during first block nor second block, so I didn’t get much done with those students, but my last two classes went much more smoothly. Individual students kept having issues with their devices, Google Docs and websites lagging or failing to load, and Google Meet crashing.
I felt even worse by the end of my last class. My doctor squeezed me in for a quick phone visit and ordered a COVID test for me, telling me to stay home for a week even if I tested negative because I have no immune system with all the medicine I’m on for my ulcerative colitis.
So I taught from home again yesterday, and while it went a million times better than the previous day, it was still glitchy and slow and crashy and frustrating for students experiencing tech issues.
And it’s really hard to figure out how to help them when you’re not IRL in front of them.
I also don’t have a good gauge of how engaged they are or even how much work they’re completing while they’re logged into virtual class, if they can even get logged in, because it’s impossible to run a Google Meet, answer their questions, help students troubleshoot tech problems, check my email for other issues, AND log into 20 different individual students’ Google Docs at the same time to check their progress.
Here are my takeaways from week one:
Always take your technology home. When I left school on Wednesday, I left my three work devices on my desk because I didn’t want to detach the chargers from the powerstrip, ruining my complicated teacher desk set-up. I’m lucky that I’m married to the network administrator for the district, and we have 105 different devices floating around at home, so I was able to teach from home on an extra device and my personal Chromebook. You never know when you or someone in your family will get sick, and you too might have to teach from home.
Keep it simple stupid (The KISS Rule). Don’t make your lessons complicated. Don’t make lessons that require students to have ten other tabs running at once besides their Google Meet too. I had to spend ten minutes teaching students how to split their screens on Wednesday because they didn’t know how, and I couldn’t even show them how to do it right because it wouldn’t work properly on my laptop hooked up to my SMART Board. Try to keep websites that require students to log in to a minimum. Most of my Wednesday was spent trying to get students logged into CommonLit and Newsela, two websites that the students will be using all year. It’s hard enough to get students logged into programs IRL and trying to do it virtually was ridiculously hard–even though to log into both of those programs they use the same login credentials to log into their Chromebooks every day, so you’d think it would be super easy. I still have students who can’t get logged in. Then once students get logged into new websites you have to teach them how to use them too. This goes without saying for any program you want the kids to use throughout the year. You will have to teach them how to use the programs first before you can expect them to do any lesson. I’m sticking to just Google Docs and Kami aside from CommonLit and Newsela, so I can teach content instead of having to teach kids how to use a different program every single day. Remember to KISS it.
Closed captioning is not your friend. In each class, I had a couple of students who couldn’t hear in Google Meets, so I turned closed captioning on to help them out, but can we talk about major backfire? Yesterday, I started going over Greek and Latin roots and how to break down words for parts. I modeled using the word “abhorrent” and then tried to work through the process with the word “acerbic.” In one class, I asked my eighth graders “How many parts does acerbic have?” I looked at my Google Meet screen and glanced at the closed captioning real quick and saw that it translated that to “How many parts does a cervix have?” My mouth dropped open briefly in surprise, and I recovered quickly and just ignored it, but how mortifying. I have no idea who actually saw that roll across the screen. Needless to say, I won’t be using closed captioning again.
Be flexible and realistic. Guess what? I’m already a couple of days behind where I’d like to be content-wise, and imma be real honest, I probably won’t get to my curriculum until Wednesday. Am I stressed about that? Nope. Am I stressed that my lessons are going to take longer to execute and that I have to streamline them? Nope. I’ll go with the flow and adapt. I am more worried about the students themselves and how they’re adapting to online learning and their frustration with technology that doesn’t want to work.
Don’t be chin surprised. With all of the everything going on this week, I forgot that my students had chins. And smiles. The students who I teach at fourth block eat lunch in my room every day, and when they whipped off their masks to chow down on their Lunchables on that very first day. I. Could. Not. Stop. Staring. At. The. Bottom. Of. Their. Faces. They looked like completely different human beings with their masks off, and this made me unbearably despondent. It just made everything hit home that this school year is so different and that I’m going to be denied their full range of facial expressions while they’re in my room.
As of right now, I feel more like tech support than an actual English teacher. And while I’m hopeful that this will pass and I’ll get into my groove, my Ram jam, of teaching poems, The Odyssey, the Hero’s Journey, symbolism, allegories, words, and writing, I’ve come to terms with our new teacher reality and I’m going to remain dedicated to not sugarcoating what we do to the general public (even though I approach it through the veil of humor sometimes).
Unrealistic expectations have been placed on teachers and students during this pandemic, and teachers need to speak out about it.
I encourage every single educator out there to share their bad and their ugly just as much as they’re sharing their good.
(Good news: I don’t have the coronavirus! I got my results yesterday afternoon.)