Confessions of a Teacher: Pandemic Edition

I AM TIREDDDDDDD!!!!! We are going into week 11 of our Hybrid model of remote learning, and this has been nothing short of tiring, exhausting, stressful, draining, depressing, and frustrating. While we signed up to be educators, which we knew was one of the most taxing jobs with very low pay, we did not sign up for these conditions. But then again who did? 

This pandemic has literally changed everyone’s lives, in the blink of an eye. So what is there to do besides adjust to our, hopefully temporary, new norm? Being open and willing to make changes and adjustments is easy. The challenging part is actually doing the work it takes to make those changes so that they are effectively helpful to our students. That oftentimes takes many revisions, because what we thought would work, simply did not. So it becomes this space of continuous change, and that can definitely take a toll. 

I haven’t talked much about the toll this has all taken on me, and ALL of my fellow educator friends (virtual and real life friends.) I was really in a space where I wanted to, as best as I could, see the bright side of things and find the good in all circumstances. Then I realized that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s okay and actually necessary to share your feelings and get them off your chest. So what better space than here to share some of my thoughts and frustrations about remote learning? After all, I created this site not only to give a space for us all to do just that, but to give others an inside view of the life of a teacher. At the end of each mini section of this blog, I will try and give some type of solution that has helped me navigate through each of the challenges. However for some, I just haven’t figured it out yet. So feel free to leave thoughts, comments, and suggestions in the comments below. Happy reading.

Spotty Wifi

Man Listen. Honey child. This internet connection has literally been the bane of my existence. I always hear students say, “I kept getting kicked out of the class. So I just stopped trying.” Of course my response is always, “You have to just do your best and keep trying to log in. Even if you get kicked out, keep logging in.”

Well, it wasn’t until I was sitting in a PD (Professional Development), on a day that I had spotty wifi, that I was truly able to understand the students’ frustrations. Here I am taking notes and trying to be fully engaged from the confines of my couch, when I get kicked out of zoom in the middle of my principal making a statement. I anxiously wait for zoom to reload and let me back into the session. This session was one of the few I was actually interested in, so naturally I was a little annoyed. I finally get back into the session and not even five minutes pass before I am kicked out again! UGH! This literally went on for the remainder of the session. I, no lie, was kicked out of that zoom session more than 6 times. While I tried to piece the tidbits of information together that I was able to be present for, I really wasn’t able to learn anything because I had missed so much.

Solution: 

This really humbled me and allowed me to see what some of my students were dealing with. It was absolutely infuriating to be kicked out of the session every few minutes. I, as an adult, lost my patience several times. Imagine how my students felt. Then the reality hit. I teach a math course. In a math class, when you miss parts of the lesson, it is extremely hard to put the pieces together and see the big picture. How can I expect my students to walk away with conceptual understanding and do well on an exit slip when many of them can’t even remain logged into the session long enough to learn the information? The reality was, I CAN’T. So what now?  

As a solution, I began to make supplemental videos for each of the lessons we would cover and post them on youtube. Each video went through at least one full example in detail from beginning to end. The videos are posted prior to teaching the lesson so that students can watch and copy the examples down before coming to class. This allowed them not only to come to class with some understanding of the lesson, but also made better use of the class time, as now they can focus on absorbing the material without having to copy it down. For my kids with spotty computer wifi, the videos are accessible from their cellphones, which ideally run on a different network than their home internet. 

To be very transparent, the planning and execution of making these videos and resources can be very time consuming. However, when students are working independently and I check on them, asking what they are working on and hearing them tell me they are re-watching one of the videos, it makes it all worth it.

Low Student Engagement:

The course I am teaching this year is typically an 11th grade course. However, because some students have had to repeat previous math courses, I have a handful of seniors this year. Many of whom have struggled with math all of their educational career. Now add the conditions of being in school during a pandemic to those already lingering struggles and it makes it nearly impossible for some of them to feel motivated enough to even try. 

This year one of my seniors literally came to class 5-6 times in 10 weeks. She is a student that I had previously in other courses so I knew how capable she was. The first year I had her, she shared that although she lived with her mother, her mother wasn’t very active and allowed her to do whatever she wanted. It made me proud at the time to see that even with the dangerous amount of freedom she had, she was still focusing and doing her work in school. And this is why, this year, I was getting so frustrated with her. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she would wait until senior year to drop the ball. She is one of about 7 seniors that I have, many with the same stories. 

Why are so many students disengaged and what can I do if they won’t even log in?

Solution: 

After speaking with several of that student’s friends, all of whom have been trying to help her get it together, I decided to reach out to her myself. I had reached out to the parents but received  no response back. So I asked one of her friends for her number. I called this girl, back to back, about 4 times. Then sent a “Hey this is Ms. Hanif” text. I knew she saw it so called back another few times. I wanted her to see that I would keep calling until she answered. Eventually she did and she shared some of what she was dealing with and how she was having a hard time focusing. I shared some of the things I’ve done and created to make it a little easier for them. But ultimately I put the responsibility on her. I told her all that I can do is be there, support her, and be understanding but I couldn’t  do more than she does. It’s her education and future on the line.

I shared this story to say that all we can do as educators is continue to reach out to the students and their parents. Find out the WHY behind why the student isn’t showing up. I’ve realized that more times than not, it’s because they have things going on outside of school and are just completely overwhelmed. While we can make the work more accessible, we can also add additional scaffolds and resources, and we can give GRACE when it comes to deadlines. Ultimately the responsibility is on them (this totally doesn’t apply for elementary kids). But we can be there to support them and help them navigate through it all until they find that balance.

Unrealistic Expectations:

Mannn Listen. When I first found out that we would be ultimately teaching two classes during the same period at the same time (in person and remote), all I could say was how? I instantly got a headache because I already knew what that meant for my upcoming year. CHAOS AND STRESS. Teachers already have the responsibility of wearing several different hats at the same time. Now to be expected to balance more on top of that seems nearly impossible. 

I was recently asked to be a part of a team to help gather and prepare information for a grant my school wanted to apply for. As soon as I received the email, I laughed to myself and said aloud, “How?” I couldn’t fathom how I would add one more thing onto my already seemingly overfilled plate. As I sat in the initial meeting for the grant, I realized how much work it would be to not only to gather the information needed to apply, but the work it would require to maintain the grant. I said to myself, “Priorities, Elizabeth.”

That moment made me think of the number of emails teachers receive on a daily or weekly basis that add new tasks to the lists of existing “To Dos”. Sometimes it feels as though admin doesn’t consider or care about the load teachers already have. “Good Morning, Mrs. Xavier please send XYZ by the end of the day today.” “Good Afternoon Mr. Jackson, please call all 45 parents of the students who are failing your class because they don’t attend, within the next two days and document it.” “Good Morning Ms. Landry, thank you for submitting your lesson plans on time. However please be advised we decided to test school-wide on Wednesday and Thursday,so you will need to adjust your schedule and resubmit those well documented lessons.” “Good Evening Mr. Pinto, while I understand we have access to what we are about to ask you for, please compile a list of students who have over 10 absences from your class.” 

Solution:

Too often, as educators, we forget what it means to say no or prioritize. While many of the things being asked of us don’t seem to be a “big deal” to some,  when piled on top of our already heavy workload, it seems to be enough to make it all tip over. What I have learned to do is to write down everything that I need to do and prioritize that list from most important and necessary to least. What’s most important to you will differ by the course you teach and the school you work at. But at the end of the day you have to put up boundaries on what you do. 

If you have one more lesson to do but feel like you’re about to fall apart, submit what you have and send the last one the next day. If you have been asked at the last minute for a document or to complete a task but have other things that are more crucial to your day to day to complete, then complete those things first. If you get to the other items on time, great. If you don’t get to the other items, then do so when you can. Be open and honest with your admin about what you are able to do and by when. In a time when it seems admin doesn’t have realistic expectations of us, we must have realistic expectations of ourselves and protect our mental health, and most times that includes prioritizing.

This first quarter of teaching hybrid classes during a pandemic has left many of us feeling overworked and underappreciated. We are tired. I am tired. Nobody has the answers to it all. We all have so much on our plates, and finding solutions to the many issues we are all facing has felt seemingly impossible. Hopefully these few tips have helped in some manner.

Feel free to drop some tips, experiences, or comments in the comment section below.  

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