Not At All Happy

I know it’s been more than a year that we’ve all been living in a global pandemic and I know it has been super hard for some. It hasn’t been super hard for me and I feel very lucky. The really significant challenges and tragedies that many have faced, have not hit our family. The everyday hardships have mostly been avoided too. It hasn’t been fun, but it has been doable for me. I’m grateful for that.

In spite of that, I’m done. I hit the wall this morning and I hate it all.

It started with a student who wasn’t feeling well. She’s a highly dramatic student, but always in the best ways. I knew if she was struggling that it was real. And she tried to keep going but I finally took her down to the clinic (I have a student teacher right now – another thing that has made all of this easier for me). The clinic aide sent me to the ‘sick room’ and had to point me in the right direction as I had no idea where it is. We interacted with a few people as we went from our classroom to our ultimate destination, all of whom were kind and warm. All of whom were also, reasonably, distanced.

It felt so wrong to me. Here was a child struggling and we couldn’t respond as we would have done a year and a half ago. We couldn’t care for her in the way she needed us to do. I understood it and hated it.

In addition, as we made our way through our huge school, we passed many classrooms. I can’t help but peek in as I pass classrooms anytime. Today, it hurt. Kids at desks alone. Kids on computers with headphones on. Teachers standing apart from everyone else. Classrooms that are row after row of desks and almost nothing else. The walls are mostly empty. The furniture is all the same.

This is my classroom about 6 weeks ago. Now it has twice as many of those desks and chairs as all of our in person kiddos are back four days a week.

 

I don’t know all of these teachers (as our grade level moved from the primary school to the upper school on our campus this year) but I do know some of them. I like them and respect them. I know this isn’t what they want. It isn’t what I want either. But my classroom fits right in.

All of these choices, how we handle a sick kid, what our classrooms look like, what the kids are doing all day, they’re all in place to keep everyone physically safe. I know that. I believe that. I don’t think we’d be better off if we’d remained virtual all year either. There are costs to that as well.

There isn’t a good answer. There’s not even a decent answer. All of the answers suck.

And I hate it.

Hard Moments

At about 4:45 this afternoon I saw that the jury was back in the Derek Chauvin trial. Everything I saw suggested that the verdict would be read about 5:00 pm. My Children’s Literature class started at 5:00 pm tonight. Next week is our last week of class and we meet once a week. So tonight was planned to be presentations of text sets they had created in small groups. Each text set had a topic their group chose, immigration, homelessness, racism, sexism, and such.

The class is fully virtual and, as said, meets only once a week. Between those two things, I didn’t feel super confident in the community and level of trust we would all feel. I teach at a public university near my home and the student population is quite diverse. I had no idea how these students, many of them first year college students, would be feeling in this moment. How I could best support them was not clear to me.

As I waited for the verdict I debated how best to proceed with class. I assumed there would be students who would be feeling many emotions no matter what verdict was returned. I also assumed there would be students who feel a lot of anxiety about presenting to their classmates and would like to just get it over with. I’m sure there was some overlap on that Venn diagram. I took a few minutes before class began to think about how to honor whatever my students might need and landed on this statement (that I posted in the chat and talked about):

I recognize that this is a challenging moment for many of us. I want to honor whatever your needs might be right now. If you need space to process the verdict, please take that space. You can present your piece of your Text Set next week. If you worked to prepare for presenting tonight and you need to just go ahead and do so because waiting is more stressful, I understand that too, and you can present tonight.

I put up a poll (that only I could see the results of) asking students for their preference. Seven of the 22 said they wanted to wait. Everyone else wanted to go ahead tonight. Some of those seven left class, as I told them they were welcome to do without any penalty. Others stayed to hear the presentations. One of them changed their mind and opted to present at the end.

My original class plan had included a few light Would You Rather questions as a check in at the start, a reflection on the presentations when they finished, and reading aloud This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (as I try to include read alouds every week and we read I Want My Hat Back recently so this one seemed fun). I dumped all of that.

Some of my students might have preferred a normal class. They might not have been tuned in to this verdict and the check in and read aloud have, throughout this semester, served as bonding experiences and lifted us up together. I’m okay with those students not getting what they needed tonight. They were in a better position to cope than students who were deeply impacted by the verdict.

The students who wanted to present, presented. We wrapped up early.

It is so easy for me to get caught up in what is on the syllabus or what I am required to cover in my classes. Tonight was a reminder to me that I do not want to ever behave as if the content and information I am teaching is more important or valuable than the students I am teaching. The system, in both K-12 and higher ed, has made content king. It’s a lot easier to do that, systemically, because we can standardize that. We can’t standardize our students.

Tonight I knew there was something happening in the world that could be impacting my students. How often do I not know? Probably far more often than I’d like to consider. I work to be aware of what is happening in the world, but I am confident I miss much, much more than I see. And I am sure that my students, both my 3rd graders and my undergrads, are forced to ‘do school’ through challenging times because of my lack of awareness.

In a profession that is overwhelming led by white folks (in administrations and in the classrooms) we have to make the effort to be be aware of and recognize the traumas our society (and we) are placing on students and families. Tonight’s verdict is a relief, but it isn’t a win, it isn’t justice. It is a tiny glimmer of hope. Our BIPOC students and families are not suddenly safer or suddenly free of the ways our schools and society harm them daily.

As a writer, I feel like I should have some ending to wrap this up. As a human being who is struggling with where we are right now, I have nothing.

My Evil Queen

I was going to say that this post wrote itself, but I realized that actually the kids wrote it and that makes me even happier.

Every Friday we wrap up our day with a check in. (We were doing it for a while and then I kind of dropped off of it and one of my kiddos asked if we were going to do it every week. So now we do!)

Last week this was our Friday check in:

In person kiddos shared out loud, virtual kiddos had the option to do that or to put it in the chat. They frequently opt for the chat because they don’t have to wait.

This is what happened.

That kid who wants to annoy her brother is amazing. She has a personality that is about 8 sizes bigger than she is.

The chat continued.

I’m not sure the in person kiddos were really paying attention (even though the virtual classroom and chat are projected) but I was loving it.

ALL CAPS! This kid is making serious writing choices here. And her virtual classmates are loving it. (And I adore the one who ended this screenshot.)

Someday this kid is going to rock a comedy career and I am going to take a tiny bit of credit for it because I crack up all the time and encourage her.

Hitting the A-Ha

I think most teachers will tell you that one of the best moments is when kids get something. That a-ha moment when the lightbulb goes off. You can see it on their face as something clicks.

In our virtual environment I haven’t been able to see their faces. At least not all of them. Or not well. Depending on the platform and other factors. So that a-ha moment hasn’t always been as clear.

In a recent morning meeting we were exploring vowels and consonants as an introduction to closed and open syllables. I had asked them, in our interactive slides that morning, to sort their names by how many vowels they have. They did awesome. I was especially impressed by the several students who have the letter y in their names because for some of them it is a vowel and for some of them it isn’t. They all sorted their names accurately (which might have been luck, I recognize that). We had a brief conversation, as a class, about how to know when y is a vowel and when it isn’t (stupid English).

It clicked quickly for some and not so quickly for others. The virtual kiddos were processing in that chat and cracking me up.

Those are two kiddos chatting, alternating. So the first one typed, “oh” and the second one followed up with a less than thrilled emoji. As we continued to talk, they both had that a-ha moment. It was awesome.

Another day, we were working with number lines. This is the one that really stumped them.

There was quick agreement that the top ? was 8. They had very good reasons for that. Then they all agreed that the bottom one was 3. If the top one was 2 away from the final number, the bottom one must be too. They would not budge on that. I asked them to draw the two number lines (on their whiteboard for our in person kiddos and on whatever they had handy for our virtual ones) and mark the various numbers on them. The cognitive dissonance was strong. They really struggled with marking the numbers because it didn’t fit what they thought made sense. As they continued working, one kiddo’s whiteboard said this:

The a-ha moment was so strong it had to be written down.

Those moments are amazing.

A Read Aloud Win

I’m currently reading this book aloud to my third graders;

It is an amazing book. I read it a year and a half ago and thought it would make a great read aloud at my current school. The main character is neurodivergent (as are many kiddos at my school) and her mom is a soldier currently deployed to Iraq with her bomb sniffing dog (all of my kiddos have at least one active duty parent). It is also a challenging book. It’s definitely a bit much for the great majority of my kiddos to read on their own, making it perfect as a read aloud.

I was concerned it might be a bit much, even as a read aloud, but I offered it as one of three choices to my class when we finished our last book. I book talked all three and this one won pretty significantly.

Every day my third graders are ready for this read aloud after recess. Our virtual kiddos are logged back on because they don’t want to miss a thing. The chat is usually full of questions and demands for specific information, demands that typically aren’t met by the book that day. My kids are IN for this.

Recently, one kiddo described this book this way: “It’s as if each chapter is its own story.” He was getting at how wrapped up they all are in each new step of this book.

I am thrilled they are loving it as much as I’d hoped.

Then, one recent day, the chat got busy for an unexpected reason. At the moment (although not for long), we’re in a hybrid setting. Kids are at school two days a week and virtual two days so only half the class is there at any given moment. In order to make the read aloud work as well as possible in that setting, I sit on a stool by the computer. I can make eye contact with my in person kiddos and turn to the camera for my virtual ones. But mostly the virtual ones see my profile as I read.

To my great disappointment I now can’t remember what earrings I was wearing. Sigh.

I will note, however, that they must have been pretty amazing because the first kiddo to mention them in the chat is probably my most avid, devoted fan to this book. That kid is desperate every day for the next piece of the story. I must have had some phenomenal earrings to distract her from the book. (Each of those comments is from a different kid so that definitely supports my theory that the earrings were outstanding. Just making it worse that I can’t remember which ones they were.)

Autism Celebration Month

In my 20+ years of teaching I have been lucky enough to work with a number of students who are neurodivergent. My current school has quite a few students with autism and this year I get to work with a few of them. I absolutely adore them. Frequently these kiddos (not just mine this year, but in general) have IEPs and I will admit that I begrudge the special education teachers the time they remove these kiddos from my classroom. I’ll argue that it’s because these students benefit from social interaction with their peers, and that’s true, but really it’s because I want them with me because I love them so.

I think it was our first day back in person, a few weeks ago, that one of my kiddos ate a plum at lunch. He held on to the pit and took it out to recess to plant it. (This included handing it to me so he could clean his hands with hand sanitizer when we got outside. I dutifully accepted the pit although I’m not really sure why, in retrospect.)

When we returned to the classroom, he made this sign and explained that it was to mark where he planted the plum pit.

Of course, we didn’t go back outside that day and I thought he forgot about his sign.

He did not.

Today, weeks later, he took it out to recess and gently placed it on the ground where (or as close as he can remember) he planted the pit. Tomorrow looks like rain so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when we return on Thursday. Will his sign remain? Will he remember to look for it? He’s an exceptionally good-natured kid so I think he’ll be fine no matter what.

And no matter what, I love that he wanted to plant his plum pit and that he made a sign for it.

Christianity is Not Our National Religion

I believe that more Americans identify as Christians than any other religion. That actually makes me more frustrated by how Christian holidays seep into our public schools. I will admit that I have been guilty of this in the past. So my frustration could be seen as hypocritical. I can accept that.

Here are some images from teachers in a facebook group recently.

I don’t believe these activities are any more religious than Santa and reindeer are at Christmas. I do believe that they make the assumption that all kids are on board with Easter or Christmas. We don’t do this with Passover or Eid or Diwali. When it comes to holidays that are truly religious celebrations, we allow Christian holidays to dominate our public schools.

Our calendars reflect this. We are on spring break this week, in one of the largest school districts in the country, because it is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Our winter break is always planned around Christmas.

Many students do celebrate Christmas and Easter. Instead of that making these lessons (and calendar decisions) make sense to me, it causes me pain. Those students who do not celebrate these religious holidays, and there are many of them, are reminded yet again of how they are different, how they are the other. We reinforce that in so many ways in our society. I am not okay with public school teachers doing it so thoughtlessly.

Some years ago my teammates (a team I haven’t been on in a while) decided it would be great to address our geography standards by studying how holidays are celebrated in various countries. I thought this was a fabulous idea. One teammate volunteered to take it on and returned with five or six countries: Israel celebrating Hanukkah and western European countries and Mexico celebrating Christmas.

Sit with that for a moment.

Two holidays. Mostly overwhlemingly white countries.

I put together some activities around Eid and Diwali and most of my teammates had no interest.

These were not bad teachers. There were many things they did exceptionally well.

The idea that Christianity is the norm is so pervasive that many people don’t even think twice about it. (This doesn’t even get at how the norm is a very white version of Christianity even thought many people of color are also believers and their religious traditions may look quite different.)

Those of us who have traditionally been the norm, had the power, determined how things work in our country, need to take a step back. We have to do the work to identify all that we haven’t seen in the past. All the ways many people in our society live differently from us (be that around religious holidays or anything else). We are the ones who have to do the work.

Spring Birthdays

This post should have been written yesterday. Sigh. That’s true of so many things in my life. But it’s getting written so I’m counting it as a win.

Yesterday was the first day of spring. It was also the birthday for two women who inspire me and are roll models for me. As a rebirth of sorts that spring brings, I am reflecting on these two women and how they have helped me (likely without realizing) to become a better person, mother, teacher, friend, etc.

from Vic,’s flickr

Many years ago I worked with Glennon Doyle. She taught third graders down the hall from my classroom of fourth graders. I had a few years of teaching under my belt when she began and her skills and her genuine care for and interest in her students was inspiring. I learned much from the chance to watch her interact with students and from teaching her students the next year.

Then Glennon went on to write Momastery, which spoke powerfully to me. (Glennon’s oldest child and my oldest child went to the same babysitter, thanks to Glennon’s recommendation to me, early in their lives as we became moms at similar times.) Glennon’s honesty, transparency, and willingness to share the whole story was refreshing, funny, and validating.

And then, Glennon began writing books. And running a nonprofit that does astoundingly good work. Glennon continues to live a life with challenges, like anyone, and also with love and care for everyone. She’s sees individuals. She sees people as people, no matter what. That is something I work to do every day, with my students, with their families, with my colleagues, with complete strangers. Seeing it modeled so powerfully helps.

The other special birthday from yesterday was my sister-in-law. I am lucky enough to have married into a phenomenal family and I have three amazing sisters-in-law as a result. As I only have one sister, it was quite a gift to gain such family members by marrying my husband. This specific sister-in-law is an amazing human being.

Our family, no matter how you define who I am including, is quite a diverse group in lots of different ways. Somehow, no matter who needs a little bit of help or support or love, be it one of the kids or an adult in any generation, this sister-in-law is the one we all know will be there. She seems to always know what anyone needs, often even before they do. She anticipates challenges people will face that don’t occur to the rest of us and simply addresses them. I would guess that the majority of times she does this, most of us don’t even realize it has happened.

This awareness of and dedication to the people in her life (and, through her nonprofit volunteering work, people she will never meet) is something I constantly marvel at. It feels almost like magic but I recognize it isn’t. It is something that is a priority for her, something at which she works all the time because it is important to her.

Both of these women are living lives that inspire me. One of them is doing so in a very public way now (thank goodness as that’s why I get to still see it) and the other is doing so in her daily life. I am grateful to know both of them and to learn from them.

Day 1, Part 1, In Person

Apologies in advance for any lack of coherence here. This was likely the hardest first day of school I’ve ever done and it wasn’t a first day of school really!

I’ve heard again and again this year how hard concurrent teaching is. As I’ve been virtual since last March, I had no expertise to throw into the ring. Today that changes. I spent my day with nine of my 17 third graders. Those same nine will return tomorrow. There will be eight on Thursday and Friday (seven new ones and one who comes all four days because her mom teaches at our school – one is remaining fully virtual because her parents are currently, temporarily split between two states due to work so virtual is perfect).

Those who are not in the building are in class virtually. As of last week I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to teach virtually. So I felt good about my skills as an in person teacher and my skills as a virtual teacher. Today I felt like I sucked at both. (Not awful, but definitely far from good.)

My husband and I married the Saturday before Christmas, many years ago. We opted to wait to take our honeymoon until later, as family was all around for the holidays after the wedding. We honeymooned in Spain and my husband had to drive the rental car as he had turned 25 by then and I had not. We knew it would be a stick shift, something I drove but he didn’t. So I taught him before we left. One day, not long into this process, he said to me, “I used to be a good driver. Now I suck.”

He’d been driving an automatic for a decade. He felt comfortable and confident doing so. Adding a clutch changed everything. (For the record, he learned to love driving a stick shift and opted for that with his next car.) Being comfortable and confident at something and suddenly not knowing how to do it is really rough.

This story came to my mind again and again the year I moved from teaching 4th and 5th graders to teaching 1st graders. I’d been a teacher for a decade. I was National Board Certified. I felt good about what I knew and was able to do. A few days with six year olds and all of that changed. I felt completely incompetent. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.

Today wasn’t quite that hard. But it was rough. My virtual students definitely didn’t get from me what they normally would. They didn’t get the attention, the responses, the focus on their needs. My in person kiddos got frequent reminders about wearing their masks properly, staying distant from others, and washing their hands. Not ideal either.

It wasn’t terrible. There were many, many moments that made my heart sing as a teacher. We’re going to be okay. I’m just still grieving what we’ve all lost as a community of learners. I can “honor what was lost” and “commemorate what we found” at the same time. I can feel all of the feelings.

I know it will get better. And it wasn’t a bad day. I can see the good as well as the parts that were lacking. I just seem to be really good at focusing on the parts that are lacking. I do so in order to improve, but sometimes I need the reminder to find the good things. (Hence, my great love for One Good Thing.)

My One Good Thing today (although there were many) would be having kids reading in our classroom again. It was a total highlight of my day. Twenty solid minutes, at least, of students quietly absorbed in books they chose from our classroom library.