It has definitely been a while since I posted. Since the pandemic hit and we closed school on March 13, 2020 it was all I could do to keep my job going. Everything that we knew has changed and is different. Teachers had to reinvent themselves immediately. And now still exhausted from last spring, teachers have to reinvent ourselves again.
I teach in a Connecticut, a state, which thankfully has a low number of cases of COVID-19. In CT, all towns can choose their method of going back to school. In my case, our town felt that hybrid was the safest for kids. What that means is that the school system was basically split in two. Half was last names A – Kl and the other half was Ko-Z; more or less. There were changes made based on childcare. But you get the idea. Cohort A comes on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday everyone is home. Cohort B comes on Thursday and Friday. Families could also choose complete Distance Learning. In that case, those students would just be with the “at home” cohort every day. Children from home would be expected to log into the computer and learn right along with the students in school. My school has done an incredible job of getting computer and internet to everyone, so that part is not an issue.
Teachers started on August 24th with a week of professional development. During this week, we learned about new regulations in regards to COVID-19. Students would stay as close to 6 feet apart from each other. Everyone would be wearing masks all the time. There would be mask breaks, whole class bathroom breaks (where students would enter the bathrooms one at a time), one way hallways and lots of sanitizing. All flexible seating is gone. Desks are in rows and facing forward. Specials like art and music would be in the classrooms. (During this week, I also tripped and completely sprained my ankle)
Students came on Monday the 31st; cohort A. We were graced with early released time and we only taught the in person learners. This was not your typical back to school, get to know you, team building. Instead, we did lots of social emotional work with picture books. We did tons of computer work. Third grade is a big grade for beginning to use computers. We usually spend the month of September practicing and getting better and by the end of September, we have created our first Google Slide. We did not have the luxury of time this year. Cohort B, I would only see for two days before they had log on from home. So, that first week, there was much work to be done.
So, we got to work. We practiced logging in to the computer. We found Google Classroom. We sent emails. We typed in Google Slides. Then we shut down and did it all again. But, you know what else we did, we smiled and we laughed. And the children, they were happy. They just wanted to be at school. And I didn’t want them to feel any of my stress, we laughed some more. And we did masks breaks and listened to music when we worked. We did the best we could to make it feel normal and the best we could to learn Google Apps. We also learned Flipgrid (a place where students can create and share videos with each other) as I know that magic it creates for students. The hardest part for us was in saying goodbye for almost a week each time.
This week started our hybrid for real. What that looks like is I have a Cohort A in class. Cohort B at home. Complete distance learners are also at home. I create a lesson like I did during Distance Learning in the spring. For me, that looks like a Google Slideshow where all the lessons are attached or linked to it. Some lessons I have prerecorded and the link is in the slideshow. Everything the child needs in the slideshow.
Those lessons drop into the child’s Google Classroom at 8:30. Kids at home log on and check the lessons out. Students at school log in and check their emails and get ready for the day. At 8:45 I have a whole class Google Meet. That means that students at home join via video. We go over the the day together as a class and do a lesson. We then sign off. Students at home work on their work (which is all in the Google Slides, with prerecorded lessons) Students in class are with me and we are doing more or less the same thing. We all meet back up at 12:45 for another Google Meet. This one is to go over the morning work and for a read aloud.
Students at home are asked to write down questions and email me or ask during one of the Google Meet. The problem is that I cannot help like I did during full Distance Learning, because I have students in front of me. (I am thinking about checking my email more throughout the day, which is something I don’t normally do) This week I saw a need to leave a little bit of time at the end of each day to help the cohort in front of me with some of the trouble they had when they were at home.
The planning takes an exorbitant amount of time. The teachers I know work a lot anyways, but this is more than that. I cannot speak for anyone else but I am averaging about 11 hour days and my brain is not turning off ever. Last spring, planning and answering questions was all I did. Now I am teaching during that time. Our classrooms are being used for specials and lunch, so there is no quiet time after school.
However, as hard as I am working, I am TRYING to keep perspective. I told the kids we were on a great adventure where we get to make the rules. We get to decide what we like because this has never been done before. They liked that. Also, in a twitter chat one of colleagues had said he is looking at it like a problem and finding ways to solve it. That really spoke to me. I also know that at the end of the day, we are talking about children. Eight year old children. When my daughter’s were 8, what kind of classroom would I want them in? What kind of teacher would I want leading them?
I also know how stressful this must be on parents, especially parents of multiple children. I could not imagine what I would have done if my children were younger. I want to keep that grace and understanding.
Right now, our district has said by the end of September, the decision will be made whether we will go back to school fully on October 13th. I have learned through this pandemic that no one even knows what tomorrow brings