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.)