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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.

Faith Looks Ahead

Oh, how Sundays have changed the last couple of weeks, eh?

We, along with probably millions of people around the world, turned in online to hear this morning’s sermon.

Actually, the Mr. and I listened to two of them. Sinners be needing the preaching, let me tell you (spoken in my Southern drawl).

First, we turned to our home church’s message, and y’all, I took notes (even as I knitted on a long-suffering shawl).

I think a common theme of sermons of late is fear.

We watched online church with the in-laws last weekend when we were visiting, and fear was the topic that day.

Today, our pastor, Craig (such a fabulous speaker, by the way) used the context of Numbers 13, when Moses tasked twelve spies with scouting out the Promised Land and the report they carried back, for this morning’s message.

When the spies went out, they saw lots of good things – a land “flowing with milk and honey,” but they also saw challenges in their way: “The people who live there are strong, and the cities have walls and are very large.”

Isn’t this what we’re seeing during this pandemic? Sure, we can all identify the silver linings – unexpected free time, job flexibility, the opportunity to learn new things – but we are also facing giant hurdles: the possibility of sickness, financial strain, and social isolation.

Just as ten of the spies focused on the negatives, we too have that tendency. And you know what? That tendency is based on FEAR.

Hello God. I hear you talking to me for the second week in a row.

My pastor advised us to replace feelings (based on fear) with facts.

Y’all, this can be a hard pill for me to swallow. I am a girl who operates under an umbrella of emotions. Sure, reason follows – eventually – but feelings . . . well, they kind of rule my life.

Here’s a bullet list I made of some of the main points that followed (the stuff in parentheses reflects my personal thoughts – not the pastor’s words):

  • Fear distorts reality.
  • Fear is contagious (hello hoarders).
  • Fear always leads to poor choices (hello immature Spring Break boy who declared that he only cared about living his best life).
  • Fear tempts us to focus on ourselves and our own inadequacies.
  • Fear tends to paralyze us (hello anxiety).
  • Fear causes us to question God and His motives.
  • Fear causes us to abandon our faith and give up on God.

Anyone hearing this song in their heads?

As my pastor began wrapping up, he said something to the effect that our fears aren’t conquered by looking at what’s ahead but by looking back at what God has done for us in the past.

Y’all, in 2018, we were hit by Hurricane Michael. In case you don’t follow all things hurricane-related, it was a Cat 5 storm. It destroyed the landscape around us, our homes, businesses, and most of our churches.

Eighteen months later, we are not back to normal. We are better than we were though, thanks to God’s grace and provision.

We can look back and see where we were October 10, 2018, and where we are now.

God is raising us from the ashes, and He will do it again.

I love what my pastor ended with.

Faith.

Looks.

Ahead.

Ok, so maybe he didn’t punctuate it that way, but as the author of this blog, I can take such liberties.

God gives us seasons of grace for so many reasons. I believe one of them is to sustain us through the tough times when His presence seems somewhat sketchy.

He is with us during the easy times, and He is with us now.

I keep hearing Donald Trump mention the “invisible enemy” during his press conferences.

Well y’all, we have a (somewhat) invisible hero – God.

I say somewhat because we can see Him reflected in nature and in other ways, but you know what I mean.

We need to focus on Him, not the one who wants to steal our souls because you know that this is exactly what he’s going to do. He will try to use this to turn people’s hearts away from Jesus.

I pray that during the toughest of days, we keep looking ahead to the One who will light our way out of this present darkness to, ultimately, the Promised Land.

Lemonade from Lemons

Well hello there! Did you miss me?

I came to my blog this morning thinking that I’d last posted during Christmas.

Shock of all shocks – it’s been since August 17th!

What the heck?

All I can say is that this school year was nuts BEFORE the virus hit.

I kept wanting to write – had a need to write – but life, y’all.

Just so much life.

Meanwhile, my friends, Rebecca and Jo, kept on keeeping on – one a bit more regularly than the other – but both were still writing.

My inspirations.

So today is happening.

In case you don’t know me, I am a high school English and Reading teacher in Florida. We are currently on Spring Break. Shortly after we left school on Friday, we got the news that school would be out the week after the break. A few days later, we learned that we will be out until April 15th. Who knows. The virus – this world – so crazy.

You might remember that my sweet little town was hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018. The damage that Cat 5 hurricane did to us had us living in a very surreal world for months and months. We woke up every single day asking ourselves if the whole thing was a dream.

Well, folks, here we go again.

Since I haven’t woken from that dream yet, I am starting to settle into a routine.

I decided to make a list of some things I wanted to do while social distancing. Top of the list was blogging.

So here we are!

I am trying to make lemonade from lemons.

This is going to involve more walking and blogging (not at the same time), a lot of knitting, a little bit of gardening, some reading, cooking, and Netflixing (because we’ve made that a word).

I’m also working on my lesson plans. We had to write a week’s worth of virtual lesson plans in case the unthinkable happened.

Well, it did, so we will teach those lessons. In my case, I’m tweaking what I’d planned for my English 4 classes. I’m also learning how to use Zoom, have set up my Google Classroom, and am working on adding some videos to my YouTube channel. Kids can’t object too much if they’re getting to watch YouTube, right?

I can’t help but be struck with the irony of this entire situation. We always say that we want more time to do things. Well, folks, be careful what you wish for. We have that in abundance now. The caveat is that we have to do them without many people, which, truth be told, isn’t all that bad to my introverted self. However, not being able to go to the store without the concern of contracting the virus is very disconcerting, to say the least.

I think that, besides social distancing, our attitudes are going to determine how we come out on the other side.

We can either chew on the lemons we’ve been given, pursing our lips in the process, or juice the heck out of those suckers, add some sugar, and savor the sweet taste.

Yes, life certainly hasn’t served up the most palatable of dishes; however, it’s our choice how we take in what we’ve been given.

So, let’s chat! What are some things you haven’t had time for in recent days, weeks, or months that you’re going to work on now? How are you making lemonade from lemons?

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