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Week 2 of Distance Teaching

It’s Monday, just past 6am, and I’ve been awake, off and on, since 3.

I finally threw off the illusion of sleeping and gave up at 5.

Foremost on my mind has been school.

Today marks the beginning of Week 2 of distance teaching.

Unlike last Monday, when nerves were on edge because of the unknown, this morning feels a little different.

Although I don’t exactly have a daily routine in place, I do have a better feel for what my weekdays will encompass.

There will be phone calls to check up on students I haven’t “seen” online.

There will be the usual flurry of emails – mostly from administrators reminding us of all of the behind-the-scenes minutia that must be done. There’s a lot more of that these days since everything we are doing is “behind the scenes” now.

In fact, even as I sit here composing this post, I can hear the sound of my email notification going off on my phone.

I dare not check . . . just yet.

There will be the inputting of grades – lots of them in my case because the online program my English 4 students are using has a lot of activities.

There will be exactly 5,794 Remind101 messages exchanged back and forth – my primary means of communicating with my students and answering their panicked requests for assistance.

I’ve always wanted to teach from home, but last week taught me a few things.

Lesson #1: It’s a little harder to unplug when your office happens to be the place where you live.

The overachiever in me has a hard time looking at my makeshift desk next to the TV and not thinking about the to-do list written in the notebook that sits beside my laptop.

That list is a siren beckoning me to do more.

And I did . . . do more . . on Sunday . . . because my face had makeup on it (I “dressed up” for online church), and I wanted to go ahead and make my weekly videos for my students while I was looking my best.

Lesson #2: Last week taught me that parents also have a hard time unplugging. They, like us, seem to be struggling with separating out school hours from home hours, as evidenced by the emails I received Friday night after 9pm and Sunday evening.

I chat frequently with my friend, Megan (I’ve mentioned her a time or two or a hundred on this here blog). We teach together, and she literally saves my brain from the stresses of the job because of the way we talk things out.

I love something she told me last week. She said that the sheer magnitude of dealing with craptons of messages didn’t allow her to instantly respond to her kids’ requests for help and, guess what?

The kids started figuring things out on their own.

Y’all, that’s not to say that we aren’t supposed to help, but why jump immediately?

I’m the kind of gal who likes to deal with things instantly. I do not have 500 unread texts and emails.

I just cannot live that way.

BUT, and that’s a huge BUT, I learned, like Megan, that because I cannot jump immediately due to being on long phone calls with parents, the kids DO figure things out.

Heck, four of my classes are reading classes. The kids are learning to read directions – to take advantage of the resources I’ve included with their assignments (lots of instructions and homemade videos) – to navigate real websites.

My kids are finally starting to take ownership of their learning. It’s hard for them – figuring out how to pace themselves in seven classes – but they are beginning to do it (not very well, in some cases, but the attempt is applauded).

Last week taught me some other things.

I have always been known as a teacher who calls home. A lot. These phone calls have usually been about behavior issues because when you teach the preps I do, less-than-stellar behaviors accompany the children.

But you guys, I’ve been making at least twenty phone calls a day just to connect with parents – to check that phone numbers work (most do not) and to grab good email addresses.

I’ve added more parents to my Remind101 rosters than I’ve ever had in the ten years I’ve been teaching, and the parents are loving it!

Last week taught me to go the extra mile for my ELL parents – those precious people whose first language isn’t English.

I remember getting a hold of one mom who, I quickly discerned, spoke NO English.

Talk about an awkward conversation!

Because I finally had her on the phone, my mind raced with what to do.

I tried using Google Translate’s audio feature to play my translation over my computer where the mom could hear.

That didn’t work.

She hung up on me.

Ha!

Then, I noticed a handy feature in Google Voice, which I’ve been using so I don’t give out my cell phone number. There was a text option.

So, I plugged in what I wanted to say in Google Translate, copied and pasted the text from Translate to Google Voice’s texting option, and voila!

The mom TEXTED ME BACK!!

Google Voice translated her words to English for me.

It was absolutely the most incredible thing ever!

That moment right there humbled me.

These sweet ELL parents love their children as much as everyone else, but they are stymied by many things – primarily language barriers.

In that moment of connecting with this mom, I had to ask myself how hard had I really tried, for all of these years, to reach ALL of my parents?

I was able to reach out to several of my ELL parents in this manner, and let me tell you that the feeling of amazement was incredible each and every time.

I know this post is long, and if you’ve read all the way through it, you have my thanks.

This pandemic, as awful as it is, truly does have some blessings.

One of them is the opportunity to grow as a person as I continue to hone my craft.

Please continue to pray for teachers as we start to settle in. Please pray for wisdom as we address ongoing technical issues. One of my students emailed me last night because she has been going to a friend’s house to try to get online since the at-home wifi connection the school provided hasn’t been working very well (how many of our students are having the same issues?).

Most of all, pray for our world and that this virus will be eradicated sooner rather than later.

Learning new things is fine; however, the context in which we are being forced to do so isn’t okay.

Have a great week, y’all!

Back to School 2.0

Today is our first day back to school since March 13th, the Friday before Spring Break. That afternoon, after we’d left school, we received notification that we would be out an extra week after Spring Break and that when we “returned,” it would be for online classes until at least April 15th.

So, today is Back to School Day.

I really should have titled this post Back to School 5.0 because y’all, we here in the Florida Panhandle have had to go through the Back to School experience five times since 2018 (the year we got hit by Hurricane Michael).

I went to my classroom last Monday to grab a few things I thought I would need to work from home, and let me tell you that walking up to the school on what should have been a loud, busy morning, was weird.

There weren’t many people on campus. In fact, we weren’t allowed to visit without permission from an administrator. I wound up seeing two people that day – all from afar.

The only gate that was unlocked was the one past our cafeteria, so I had a bit of a hike.

I walked through the courtyard where students are usually occupying tables – either eating breakfast or visiting with their friends.

I saw a random pencil on the ground and exhaled a deep sigh of sadness. It’s funny how a small object like this can bring about a strong feeling of wistfulness for what was, once upon a time, normalcy.

As I entered my building, I first noticed the stale smell of unmoved air.

We had, after all, been on Spring Break.

It was also dark. We usually have both sets of lights turned on.

Walking into my room reminded me of the first time I got to visit it after Hurricane Michael.

I saw the things that had been left sitting out before the world as we knew it changed so completely . . . the game of Uno that my students had played on the rare free day I’d gifted them with . . .

The thing that got my heart so much was seeing the calendar that hangs from the bulletin board beside my desk.

I always have the days crossed off in anticipation of when I’ll be entering my room again, and seeing March 23 all ready for me was so sad. It reminded me of the date that was hanging there when we got back from our hurricane “vacation.”

PTSD y’all.

It is a real thing.

Oh the feelings of deja vu from that 2018 post-hurricane return to school . . . such as the agenda on my whiteboard . . .

The saying on my letter board (unchanged from the first day of school, I’m afraid) . . .

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Teachers live for their routines. Truth be told, so do students.

I gathered what I knew I needed – the stuff I’d already added to my “pick-up-from-school” list on my phone – and what I thought I might need (not stuff on my list).

I know I took stuff I probably wouldn’t need, such as the boxes of yarn and knitting needles under my cabinet. They’re specifically for kids (I used to have students who knit during lunch), so I’m going to offer them up for grabs in my neighborhood’s Facebook group.

My take-home pile included some of the lesson packets I’d copied before Spring Break. Of course, my district is having us follow their own scripted curriculum, so most of my plans are out the window now, but last Monday, everything was still fluid.

I stayed about thirty minutes before deciding to leave.

Y’all, this is my home away from home, so it was bittersweet. As much as I love being home, I’ve created a space that is comfortable to work in, and the knowledge that I wouldn’t be in it for who knows how long was hard in that moment.

See you laters are never easy.

On the wall in the hallway outside of my room, I noticed the list of test dates I’d taped up – dates that no longer mattered (do I hear clapping?).

I also saw the prom poster I’d hung up, and oh word, but I felt so badly for my students.

As of this writing, the prom is still up in the air. Honestly, nobody is holding their breaths, but our kiddos – especially this class of seniors – has been through SO MUCH since Hurricane Michael, so they’re not giving up hope just yet.

One could say that this doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and you’d be right; however, it’s one more thing for our kiddos to deal with, and I think it’s okay to admit that it’s hard.

And so we move on to the next chapter – one that will be fraught with more highs and lows as we begin the process of educating our children virtually.

I’m a bit anxious because I like to anticipate issues that might crop up, but I’m also smart enough to know that no matter how much I plan, this will ultimately be a learning process for all of us.

I pray that we would all be mindful of this, and that we will be quick to grant grace to one another as we will surely make some mistakes along the way.

Please pray for those of us in education as we begin to establish a new normal for ourselves and the students we serve.

Begin With the End in Mind

Today is Saturday, and my goal for the day is to do as little as possible.

Why?

Well, because I just finished my first week of the new school year, and this teacher is dog tired.

But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s back up to last Thursday.

When I got home from my pre-planning day, I called my friend, Megan, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for seven years. As we were chatting, I mentioned something about going to school the next day, and she asked me why?

You see, we didn’t have to work! The school district was still on the four-day work week schedule it follows during the summer. Someone I work with had told me that we did have to work. Good gravy!

It was a good thing that I’m an overachiever! I’d left my classroom near-ready when I’d left on Thursday.

Thank heavens!

I spent the weekend working hard around the house. I also prepped food for the week.

That’s Soul-Warming Stew and Dumplings from A Virtual Vegan’s new cookbook. It is absolutely divine!!!

The recipe makes a TON of food and, hence, lots of leftovers.

I also made a batch of Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars.

Oh, and this Vegan Chocolate Tart begged to be made.

It has an Oreo cookie crust which, surprisingly, is vegan.

I sliced the tart up into sixteen pieces because it was so rich.

I also texted two of my teacher friends who love my vegan cooking and offered to take slices of chocolate heaven to them for the first day of school. I didn’t exactly have to twist their arms to say yes. Ha!

Sunday night, I watched Big Brother and set my weights out for the next morning.

Then, I set all five of my alarms – thirty minutes apart – and headed off to Dreamland.

And then this happened . . .

If you’ve ever been a teacher or are one currently, you’ve experienced the fear of oversleeping on the first day.

I gave up the fight around 3:45am, got up, and worked out.

Because I’d gotten up so early, I was ready to go by 7:10. My goal had been 7:00, so I was doing okay.

Here’s my back-to-school picture.

That’s a dress I’d bought in Atlanta, and I’d been saving it ever since our trip because I knew I wanted to wear it for the first day. It was light, airy, professional, and so comfortable!

Poor Gambit. He wasn’t thrilled to see me head out. I felt a little badly because this would be his first go-round of long days without his brother by his side. 😦

I grabbed my cup of London Fog (Tea Latte) and said see you later to my fur baby.

Can I just tell you that it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been teaching. You still get nervous.

When I walked into my classroom, I saw my letter board at the front of my room, and my nerves settled down.

Y’all, that’s how I run my life. It’s especially true of my teaching.

We had homeroom, and then the gauntlet began.

My schedule this year begins with a senior reading class. It’s a small class since most of my juniors passed their reading test last year. This class is comprised of mostly students I taught last year. It was so comforting to me and to them, quite honestly.

Class flew by.

My next two classes were junior reading classes. I knew none of them, so there was a flurry of new faces and names.

Fortunately, I’d created an alphabetical seating chart and had posted instructions on my Smartboard. The kids were surprised to learn that they had to turn their phones off and put them in corresponding pouches in my cell phone holder.

Amazon for the win!

That’s not the one I have, but I am going to order it because it’s more durable than the one I currently have.

This was a system that served me well last year, so I’m continuing it again this year. Everyone complied, though, so I didn’t have any issues.

Y’all, the first day of school is tremendously crazy. There’s attendance to take for faces and names you don’t know. There are new kiddos constantly coming in because they got lost trying to find your room or had impromptu schedule changes.

It was nuts.

There are questions about what the class is about, why the heck am I in here (not me but them), and can I go to the bathroom (maybe this is me as well as them).

Nutso.

But wonderful because this teacher had a plan.

I have first lunch, which was ridiculously early and a first for me.

Then, fourth period came in – my English 4 class. These are seniors – about 3/4 of whom I taught last year.

Another comfort, let me tell you.

Then came my 5th period class – comprised of mostly boys.

Very active and loud boys.

I knew, instantly, that this would be my “spirited” group.

Oh y’all. Most kids are very well behaved the first couple of days of school.

Not this crew.

So, I had to put on my non-smiling face and cut to the chase.

Yep. It’s sad to say, but I immediately knew that if I didn’t set the standard immediately, they’d be running my class.

After five days with them, I can honestly say that though they will take a lot of my energy because of the constant attention they’ll require, I’m pretty certain that they are going to be among my favorite kiddos.

Their personalities are big, and they are so funny (although I can’t let them think that quite yet).

Sixth period, I had planning.

This was a reminder that God certainly is in the details. He knew that I’d need a break after my 5th period class.

I had earned my chocolate tart snack.

Now, let’s talk about seventh period. That’s another English 4 class. Most of the seniors were kids I’d taught last year. There’s a sprinkling of some who’d had another teacher, so I didn’t know them.

I’d been a bit concerned when I’d previewed the roster. They were a loud group last year.

Let me tell you that this combination of kids, slightly different from my sixth period last year, is going to mesh together so well.

There’s a young lady in there who loves me. I didn’t realize just how strong of a bond we’d developed last year until I’d seen her in Guidance during my planning, and she was yelling at the people in there – demanding that she be placed in my class. She’s sassy but she’s had a hard life and clings tight to those she trusts.

My heart, y’all. THIS is why I teach.

Seriously though.

The day ended, and I was actually smiling.

The rest of the week went by pretty smoothly.

I slowly introduced classroom procedures and began conveying my expectations.

I even took up my first pair of slides for the year. The kiddo had a pair of sneakers in his bag, so he knew what he was doing. Sheesh.

I discovered my new favorite pens because y’all, writing utensils are important things for teachers.

Office Depot for the win!

We did a book speed dating activity on Tuesday, and my kids were reading self-selected novels by Wednesday.

Don’t those pictures put a smile on your face?

My kids were so happy when I told them that I’d be giving them twenty minutes a day for reading. One even said that NOBODY does that.

Well, kiddo, I do because I know how important it is and that you’ll have no time to do it outside of class.

I also modeled reading by opening up this brand new book and reading along with my kids.

Late in the week, I showed my reading classes their test scores from the spring. They hadn’t seen them since the scores hadn’t come back until the summer (the state of Florida is ridiculously slow in EVERYTHING they do).

Several years ago, I created this form, which I hand out to students so they can record their scores and write some reflections about them.

I tell the kids that knowledge is power, and they have to know what they’re facing if they’re going to improve. I liken it to a game against an opponent, which is certainly true with this thing we call testing. They were immensely grateful for the real talk we had and the time I allowed for this activity.

I have to tell you that this was the first year that I can remember starting school on a Monday. We usually don’t get started until a Wednesday.

I was soooo happy when Friday rolled around. Although we were encouraged to wear red for school spirit, I wanted to wear a new t-shirt I’d bought a week ago.

By the time my last class rolled around on Friday, we were exhausted.

One of my girls – the one I wrote about earlier in this post – broke down in tears as she was reading the book she’d selected.

Something she read had hit her hard, and we stepped into the hallway to talk about it. Poor girl. I saw such a different side of her in that moment. It solidified our bond. The power of books, y’all. Just wow!

When I left for home on Friday, I was pleased but tired.

After letting Gambit out to potty, we settled in for a short nap. He was so happy to have me home.

This had been the best first week of school that I can remember having in a long time. I don’t exactly know why.

Maybe it was because I’m teaching a lot of the same kids I taught last year.

Maybe it’s because I like my preps.

Maybe it’s because I saw the hope on the faces of the juniors who suddenly realized how important my course is and why they need to be on their game.

Maybe it’s because I have my eyes on the prize – the end that we are aiming for – and I can’t wait to see my kiddos reach their goals.

Year 10 had started off quite well, and this teacher just couldn’t ask for more (except maybe winning the lottery, which would be perfectly acceptable). 🙂

Worn Out Wednesday

It is Wednesday, and I am tired.

I am sitting at four days until the first day of the school year, and I am completely worn out already.

There have been days upon days of meetings.

There have been hours upon hours of lesson planning.

There have been pages upon pages of course descriptions, data tracking sheets, and lesson plan materials copied.

The only time I am a list person is the week before school.

Truth be told, I could probably teach tomorrow if I had to.

No, things wouldn’t be up to my standards, but I could do it.

But I’m not because my schedule may be changing, last-minute, so there may be many tweaks that need to be done . . . lesson plans to be adjusted, class folder buckets to be relabeled, binders to reorganize, and rosters to reprint . . . to name a few.

There isn’t an Easy Button when it comes to teaching.

Heaven help this over-planning, overachieving girl.

That was last night’s photo. I’m currently up to 59 pages in my Smartboard file.

Please say a prayer for all of us education folks.

The excitement of a new school year is there, for sure, but it comes with a price – lost sleep, sore muscles from moving rearranging furniture fifty times, and headaches from looking at our computers too long each day.

Four days, y’all.

I’ve got this!

You Say

Dear Heavenly Father,

I have to tell you a little something.

You really got me in my feelings this morning.

Oh, I know that You know this, but it’s still something that I need to acknowledge.

Despite my stubborn heart, which has been extremely resistant to the training I’m being required to sit through these past few days, You have been speaking to my heart in the tenderest of ways.

Yesterday, when in-service began, it quickly became apparent that I had sat through this training before, several years ago, only branded with a different name.

I reacted the same way many of my students do when I require them to get out of their chairs and talk to each other.

I balked.

I complained.

No, I was not the model teacher yesterday.

My introverted, stubborn self took over despite the fact that I was among friends.

The training involved various activities to help engage our students.

I was having none of it, let me tell you.

Then came the structure that began the shift in my heart.

It happened when we were tasked with finding a partner, responding to three questions, and then reversing roles.

I can’t remember what the first question was, but I sure do remember the second one:

“What do you like about me or our community?”

We had to do this activity THREE times.

Ugh.

My first partner was a new-to-us teacher. He couldn’t really answer what he liked about me. I wasn’t offended.

The second teacher’s response started melting my heart.

She told me that she liked that during meetings, I contributed helpful things I’d done in my classroom.

Although she’s a young teacher, I’d call her a veteran. Her mama has been in the education system for many years as well.

She knows her stuff.

I may have cracked a real smile.

But then . . . my third partner . . oh my heart.

When he answered the question about me, my jaw dropped to the floor. He said,

“What I like about you is that your students like you.”

I looked at him in confusion and even asked if he was sure he was talking about the correct teacher.

He assured me that he was and that his students had, indeed, repeated that statement.

This was a bit of a shock to me because I am a strict teacher. I value structure in my classroom and hold my students to very high expectations. I have a reputation among students, and it’s not always in the affirmative.

I’m not what I would consider one of the “popular” teachers. My introverted nature means I’m often more serious, and I’m cautious of people after being burned in the past. I tend to stay in my own lane. Sure, I am silly in my room, but I’m also tough on my kids. I hold their feet to the fire, and that is not always received well.

You see, God, while I’d like to believe that I don’t really care what people think of me, the truth is that I want to be liked.

More than that, my heart longs to be accepted.

Those words lifted my spirits, improved my mood, and helped me go home in a better mood than when I’d arrived.

And then, Lord, as if I hadn’t heard Your message enough, You spoke to me during my devotion this morning when You inspired the writer to explain that the Hebrew meaning of the word “breath” is literally “breath of God.” The devotion went on to explain that we should use our words to breathe life into others.

Powerful.

And then, as if yesterday’s training and this morning’s devotion weren’t enough, You spoke to me through the music I played as I got ready for work.

“You Say” reminded me that I’m enough.

“Speak Life” instructed me to go out and breathe life into others, whether it is the adults I work with or the students who will soon enter my classroom.

Just as I gained confidence and was inspired and motivated by the words that were spoken to me yesterday, through an activity that I didn’t want to participate in, so I must turn around and do the same for others.

I hear you, Lord, and I thank you for Your grace, forgiveness, and attention to my heart’s longings.

I thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to be me – that I don’t have to be like the “popular” teachers to positively impact lives.

Truly, You are a good God.

Another Day, Another Training

Welcome to Day 2 in the calendar year of a teacher’s life.

I started off my morning with a workout. Since it was my active recovery day from Beachbody’s LIIFT4 program (I’m on Week 4), I had carefully weighed my options.

I had found a sample workout from the Meltdown 100 program, but when I previewed it last night, I saw that it involved weights. Knowing that I would have a shoulder workout tomorrow, I decided to forgo it. Instead, I surprised Gambit with a pre-dawn walk.

Gambit had the absolute BEST time and managed to pull me at a fairly brisk pace for the first mile and a half. He started losing steam around the midway point but seemed content when we finished.

Just look at the gorgeous sunrise we were treated to when we finished.

Notice our lack of trees and the ones that are slanted – evidence that a Cat 5 hurricane came through last October

Gambit was worn slap out when we got home but his smile – oh my heart!

After living in running shoes and workout clothes all summer, I had trouble deciding between two different shoes – hello Megan for fashion advice.

For the record, I went with the sandals.

Onward to training!

The training was Kagan – rebranded – which I had many days of several years ago.

Sigh.

I did enjoy the company of my fellow teachers, so there was that.

The good thing was that we got out at 2:30 – thirty minutes earlier than expected.

Gambit was thrilled when I walked into the house. He gave me the major sniff-over to find out where I’d been before promptly going outside and sunning himself.

Oh y’all, all I want is to be in my classroom prepping for the actual classes I’m teaching.

Sigh.

Wishes and reality are two very different things, though, so I’ll be heading into Day 3 tomorrow.

Say a prayer for all of us teachers as we sit through another day of meetings.

Back to the Grind

Summers are like weekends – time accelerates, and before you know it, they are over, and you’re bemoaning the fact that work is calling you back to the office.

Well, folks, the office has called, and it wants its teachers back. That is why I, along with several hundred of my fellow education professionals, found ourselves scattered across the district sitting through the first of several days of in-service.

Although seeing my friends is always fun, and teaching truly is my calling, my heart longs for home.

Home is my safe place – my place where I create all of the fun dishes, where I maintain all of the green stuff (hello yard, I’m talking about you), and where I knit all the things.

Spicy Chili With Cornbread Topping
Brownie Batter Ice Cream (vegan)

It’s also where I can pee whenever I want instead of when the bells allow.

Yeah, I’d say that letting go of summer is difficult for me each year.

But my calling – to teach high school kids who struggle with their reading – well, it’s something I can’t ignore and not just because my bills remind me but because God led me on this path several years ago.

As I craft this post, schedules are being ironed out for children who are either already enrolled or are in the process of moving and will be enrolled soon.

I’m not quite sure what my personal schedule will look like, but I believe that I will be teaching juniors and seniors again. That makes me happy because these kiddos are one step away from their first big milestone – graduation.

And so it is that I got up to a 4am alarm, had my workout finished by 5:30, fed the dog by 6:30, and was out the door by 7:15.

Back to the grind, y’all.

I am on a mission – to bring home the vegan bacon and change young lives in the process.

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