If there was any year that will be the most memorable year in any educators’ careers, I’m guessing that this will be the year. 2020 going into 2021 was/has been a challenge for any teacher. When Covid shut down school back in March of 2020, most teachers thought it would last about 2 weeks. Little did we know that this would be the way.
And here we are a year later. Teacher had to make a major pivot to the online world. We learned new platforms like Google Classroom, Canvas, and Microsoft Teams. “Zoom” became a verb! Asynchronous and synchronous became part of our every day vocabulary. There was a part of us that loved having mute buttons for our students. There was also a part of us that liked the challenge of a new platform. No matter how you felt about this change, one thing was for sure…we missed our students.
In realizing that educators have been maneuvering this Covid year in numerous ways, I wanted to reflect what I have learning from my little corner of the educator world.
Lesson 1 – Kids are desperate to connect. In teaching in a self contained 6th grade, I made sure that my students had the chance to talk, joke around, and connect. Yes we were all separated physically, but it was important for their mental well being (and my own) that conversations were happening. And we talked about the most mundane topics. For instance, would you rather have cake or pie at your birthday party? I love my desserts and this was a very important conversation. We are humans and connecting is just a part of who we are. It was important for all of us to have some socialization.
Lesson 2 – Be flexible about tech issues. Because we all had varying Internet/wifi plans, you never knew what to expect. Kids would drop in and out constantly. And as the year wore on, we learned to go with the flow. Patience was the key. It was all about flexibility. Heck.. my electricity was unexpectedly completely shut down at my house. And of course my wifi shut off on more than one occasion. Glitches happen and I learned to expect the unexpected. As the year wore on, we didn’t even notice it.
Lesson 3 – Navigating politics is tricky. This was a very heavy year (or more) when it comes to politics. I don’t talk about my political views to my students because I don’t believe it belongs in the classroom. When Election Day happened, some of the students were pining for a conversation. I was willing to discuss the process of the election, but not the candidates themselves. Come January 6, the Capitol insurrection happened and I was really unsure if I should discuss it with my class. I couldn’t figure out what angle to discuss with them. However, this has been such a year of uncertainty that maybe I should reassure them that they are ok. In addition, here was a chance to instill a life lesson in them. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity because of my cowardice. January 7, we did have a really in-depth conversation and it turned out to be ok. Heck..come January 20…we watched the Inauguration due to the historic nature of the whole day. The only assignment I gave them was to write down 5 things they noticed and 5 things they wondered.
Lesson 4 – Who doesn’t love a good story? Because I teach in a self-contained classroom, I have to teach all the subjects. My planning partner and I figured we would focus much more on novels than in years past. And our hunch was correct. I had students waiting with baited breath for the next chapters.
Lesson 5 – Work at your own pace – I found that by teaching online, it took students 2-3 times the amount of time I allowed to get their assignments done. It’s not that they weren’t working, but had to navigate tabs, learn to type in text boxes, and scroll through pages of info. As the year progressed, they got better. It made me realize that I could only plan so far ahead because it was difficult to gauge how long my students would do an assignment.
Lesson 6 – Students love choice – My students were amazed that I would give them this element of choice when it came to projects and assignments. I am a believer that there are many ways to “show me what you know” rather than paper/pencil assessments. In addition, there were many times where I asked for their opinions about the next book to read or the next game to play. They were involved in “certain” decisions and they took pride in that.
Lesson 7 – Teachers helping teachers – In this crisis of a year, I discovered that it was teachers helping each other that made the biggest impact. For once, we could say that principals, coaches, TOSAs, and any admin truly had no idea how to help us. They could train us on all the gadgets and programs, but we were on our own as to how to convert our curriculum into online learning. And it was teachers learning from other teachers that made it all work.
Lesson 8 – Wellness over academics – As everyone in this country was noting, childrens’ mental well-being was a top concern. Too much screen time, isolation, and lack of social contact really took it’s toll on the students and ourselves. And rather than keeping to the grind, it helped to socialize with the students. Let’s play a game, do a scavenger hunt, or talk about random things.
Lesson 9 – Breathes and patience – these were the 2 elements that helped me get through the day. Being synchronous for close to 5 hours a day can take a toll on your mind and body. There were days that felt like I was living “Groundhog Day”….over and over…repeat and rinse….same day, different activities. Lots of deep breathes and a resounding patience helped me tremendously. You just go with the flow and try to get through hour by hour.
Lesson 10 – I’m doing the best that I can – This was my mantra throughout the whole year. Every time I panicked about not covering all my standards or hearing about state testing….I kept repeating this to myself every time. If I’m doing the best I can, then I’m giving it my all. This whole stressful year will pass. We will survive.
Bonus Lesson–You gotta laugh. Keep smiling throughout this absurd year. Let me share with you how I got ready for virtual staff meetings.
This is how I attended my virtual staff meetings. I would scour Amazon for the most ridiculous things I could find. It’s all for the laugh.
(And for real…I borrowed my son’s Boba Fett helmet.)
Yep–no shame to my game. My principal was somewhat amused.
Until next time….