🎤…. is this thing still on?
I took a step back from blogging and engaging in Twitter PD back in 2019 after the birth of my second daughter. There was a lot going on – I had two girls under the age of 2, I was finishing up my 1st year at a new school, and preparing for yet another brand new prep in 8 years of teaching. Plus, I was just majorly burned out. I had recently completed a Master’s of Education in World Language Instruction, an endorsement program for teaching talented and gifted students, and countless other PD type opportunities because that’s just what I did back then. Instead of finding joy in connecting with other WL teachers, I began feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Two years later, I am finally feeling refreshed and hoping to begin sharing a glimpse of my classroom with others again.
I’m jumping back in by documenting what my “pandemic teaching” experience was/is like.
My last week before the pandemic hit Iowa my classes were participating in Wooly Week. I was teaching mostly Spanish 2 and one section of Spanish 1 at the time. I remember my students telling me that the hand sanitizer that had been sitting on the table would sell for a LOT of money on Amazon. I remember the school kept running out of soap which felt odd. Were other people not normally washing their hands? I remember telling my students that we might not be back after spring break. I was following posts in world language teacher groups on Facebook and after seeing what was happening there I felt what was coming. There was concern in their eyes and many didn’t believe me. Even today, many remind me that it was I who foretold of what was to come. My last day teaching we had parent teacher conferences. I remember feeling apprehension at shaking hands with parents. I remember there being very few families there. I remember constantly checking the news sites to see other states closing schools down. My boss told me to bring home anything I might need. It was so eerie. My governor finally closed schools sometime in the middle of my spring break. It still felt surreal despite seeing it happen to countless other states, and my own recognition of how important this all was.
There was a lot of uncertainty here in Iowa. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but my school district chose an optional learning method for the remainder of Spring 2020. We didn’t have to hold online class, we didn’t have to grade work that students completed at home, and we didn’t have to switch gears as hard as some of my colleagues elsewhere. To be truthful, I feel really blessed about it when I think back on it. However, I did have to have lessons available for each week for kids who wanted to engage in learning (which quickly went from ~15 of my 150+ kids in the beginning to 1 the very last week) and I had to allow any kid the opportunity to retake whatever they wanted. We didn’t have to log our hours and we didn’t even necessarily need to be available during traditional hours, but we were told we should be working our 40 hours and to request time off if we couldn’t fulfill that each week. My schedule QUICKLY filled with retake requests. This part was extremely challenging because I had to take care of my girls. It was HARD to take care of two girls age 2 and under and accommodate all of my students, but we managed.
During the summer, schools were asked to pick a model (100% remote, a hybrid option, or full face-to-face), and then after everything was turned in to the state Iowa’s governor came out and changed the rules – making in person learning pretty much the only acceptable option. My school decided they would be face-to-face sometime in August, but would allow students and families to opt in to online learning. Luckily, mine was one of the few (according to colleagues I spoke with across Iowa) that required masks.
There were a lot of emotions coming back. I was SO anxious being required to attend a training before school started. We had to wear masks, but were given mask breaks outside every so often. Then the superintendent came out and said we had to wear a mask whenever on school grounds – even outside. I remember feeling afraid but eager to see my colleagues. My district (& governor, pretty much) decided school would be 100% face-to-face unless families chose they wanted a remote option. I was allowed to teach classes of 28-30 students, but I wasn’t allowed to be in the same room as my colleagues. Anything staff related had to be a Google Meet even though we were in the same building.
The actual teaching back in August 2020 was definitely NOT my best work. I had my in-class students at the same time as remote and I was asked to help pilot Canvas (instead of Google Classroom). Since I had Canvas available and other departments recommended letting students work at their own pace, I did not co-host in person class with remote at the same time. I defaulted and made everything digital for a while. Then my eyeballs would hurt after staring at the computer. I could see the ache and sorrow in my in-class students’ eyes. So at some point I decided to focus on being a good in-person teacher. My remote students suffered for this, because I wasn’t 100% available and sitting at a computer for them. I felt overwhelmed, stressed, and like I wasn’t doing even half the job I saw online colleagues doing. I felt like a failure.
Now, as I round up the second semester, things are much better. For this semester, the high school did all they could to have dedicated sections for remote students. I was fortunate to receive a dedicated section to teach my upper level Spanish courses. This has been the biggest transformation to lead to a better experience. I feel much better in my Canvas skills and even received a compliment from a colleague in another department.
I can say I am SO grateful to be teaching through a pandemic in my current district. My district has been extremely gracious and conscious of teachers. We were gifted one work day a month to work on whatever we needed (meeting free!), our Parent-Teacher Conferences were revamped to be digital and we were allowed to hold them in our own home, they provided up with appropriate PPE (masks, sprays, you name it!), required masks from the beginning, separate MTSS time (reaching, which is normally an additional prep) was canceled for this year, they upped sub pay (for both subs and those of us that fill in for others), and so much more. I have felt listened to and supported when I’ve expressed my feelings.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! I hope to be sharing a few of the things I’ve created and learned in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned!