Today started out as a disaster. By 8:30AM, I wanted to call in sick for the rest of the day, but that is not an option. Many students were having Internet struggles this morning. Parents were texting out of frustration trying to get their child “to school.” It was a moment when I thought about how ludicrous this entire situation of trying to do school virtually is. There are moments when it comes together, but that is not yet happening the majority of the time. The students who were able to attend class this morning were tired, and so was I.
I am trying to infuse some normalcy into my class for students, and for myself, so that we have a chance to survive this experiment we are calling virtual school. In between all of my frustrations and doubting my abilities, I try to remind myself that I was an incredible teacher in person. I really was. What parts of that can I bring into this virtual world? Is that even possible? By 9:45AM this morning, there would have been very little to convince me that anything positive could come from this way of teaching and being. If something could have gone wrong, it did. Most of the chaos was due to being online, but some of it was, honestly, because I am not yet skilled at planning for virtual teaching. I have advised beginning teachers for years about how critical planning is if you are going to teach well. It can determine defeat or success for you. This new way of planning, I hope, will come with time. I am currently feeling defeated and this morning, I was feeling like I did not really want to wait to find out if time will help or not.
I tried to take some deep breaths, get through our literacy block, which includes reading aloud the book I delivered to every student’s home last week, How tia lola Came to (
Visit) Stay, by Julia Alvarez. So far, so good. It’s a tried and true book for me. After that I had set up small group meetings with students who had not been completing assignments, so I could try to coach them through any problems they might be facing while trying to complete them. These “assignments” for me, have been simple and have been designed by me to give students a chance to practice handing in assignments online, give me a chance to figure out how to assign online assignments, and to try to get a feel for their reading. math, writing and following instructions skills. They are purposely simple, just to get our feet wet. My years of experience may not be helpful in many ways with virtual teaching, but my wisdom does help me to know that if I push these students or myself too hard right now, we will all burn out. In reality, not going full steam ahead is likely a better way to approach this entire situation. Putting the brakes on is not near normal for me though. It also means that I have to reckon with the voice in my head that is telling me that I am incompetent with this virtual teaching task that has been dumped on teachers. I have to convince myself daily (hourly) that I can keep going and that I am not ruining the lives of my students or their families in the meantime. Or myself.
Yesterday after school I delivered another book to five students who will be beginning a weekly lunchtime book club with me. We started today at 12:30pm and it turned my day around. This is me at my best. Reading with students and talking about the book, the characters in the book, and life. These are the moments that I am reminded about my teaching abilities and the importance of this work.
At the end of the day about half of my class returns to me for an end of day meeting. Theoretically, everyone is supposed to attend. Realistically, half of them are spent and likely can’t bear the thought of joining another zoom meeting. Today 13 students joined me. After introducing an “end of day checklist” to them, reminding them about assignments and encouraging them to put all of their learning materials in the bag I gave them last week, I read them a poem. It was titled Belonging, from the book, Dictionary For A Better World. The poem led to a discussion about how hard it is normally at the beginning of the school year to get to know new classmates, but how this pandemic and virtual mess is making it harder. We brainstormed about some possible ways to get to know each other online and then we just kicked off our shoes (well, truth be told, none of us were wearing shoes) and we started to talk and laugh together. Belly laughs. Ten year olds being ten and silly and laughing with one another. It’s going to be hard to top that the rest of this week, but I’m willing to try. One day at a time. Being good enough. Letting children be children. Eight days down, one hundred seventy two to go.