Remote Teaching

It has been a verrrrrryyyy long two weeks. I have behind me one week of four half days and one full week of online teaching. I teach third grade.

My take-aways from these two weeks are:

  • Doing what is best for the students and myself (even if it may not be exactly what administration is telling you to do) is sometimes the right move.
  • Surprise Dutch Brothers drinks delivered by a friend on your first Friday remote teaching are amazing.
  • I love my students already and I have not even seen them in person.
  • My students’ families are incredibly supportive and appreciate honest, humor infused communication.
  • Wine is nice in the evening.
  • No matter how the day goes, my pets and family are always there to make me feel better.
  • Even as technology crashed and burned all around me, a total dumpster on fire moment, acting calm and rolling with is all one can really do.
  • Did I mention how amazing my students are? Really, truly they are fabulous.
  • I stare at a computer way too much and have no desire to blog. I hope this will change.

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Simple Sunday – Fan Fort Fun

Take a fan, preferably a box fan, a couple pieces of tape, and a sheet.  Voilà, you have yourself a Fan Fort. Cody and Carter spent hours yesterday creating a variety of Fan Forts. Some incorporated the couch and pillows and others were build on their bed. Snacks were consumed inside the forts and books were read.

From what I could determine from their conversations, there was only one consistent rule across all these forts: No Fan Fort Flatulence.

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Fur Friday – Well Protected

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Happy as a…

pig with a pinwheel.

Geico Pig GIF - Geico Pig Pinwheel GIFs

One of Cody’s teachers had an activity today that required the students to pick a gif that they felt represented how they felt about going back to school. Cody picked this one.

It makes me so happy that both boys are enjoying their first week of school, virtual as it may be.

I wish I could say the same about my feelings. We are being told to use an entirely new teaching/learning platform that we have little to no training on as of now. It does not seem at all friendly to the user, especially if that user is an elementary aged student. Meet the teacher is Monday and live instruction starts on Tuesday. I think I cried three times today. Oh how I wish we could use Google Classroom, but it is not my call to make.

I am holding on to the pig and the pinwheel. I am focusing on the fact that the boys are off to a great year and I will do what I can to get my pinwheel moving, even if that feels like I am spinning around in circles.

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I’ve Got Your Back

Every morning, Husband and I take our dogs for a two + mile walk. For the last several months there has been a major construction project underway in our neighborhood that has caused us to have to modify our route. A stretch of road has gone from two way to one way traffic. Trenches have been dug. Sidewalks have been removed. This has causes us, on our way home, to have to walk along/in the street with our backs to oncoming traffic. Mind you, this is not a very busy street, but the construction traffic of water trucks, dump trucks, and other large and loud vehicles is a bit unsettling. There is a flagger person at each end of the road.

This morning on our walk along/in the street, I kept looking over my shoulder to ensure our survival, when I saw a large dump truck lumbering our way. I warned Husband and we reined in the dogs and tight-rope walked along the asphalt and into the dirt roadside. We walked on, anticipating the loud roar and rush of air as the overbearing vehicle passed us, but it never came. I kept looking over my shoulder. Then I noticed it. The truck had stopped way down the roadway and was idling, waiting.

At the four way intersection, which has recently become a three way intersection with the temporary road closure, there stood one of two flaggers. Each morning for months, he has happily greeted us, or rather our dogs. He crouches down, arms open, waiting for them to come to him. Sasha’s tail starts wagging the moment she sees him get to her level. Haley, more interested in what is in the back of his truck, is less welcoming, but usually gives him a lick or two.

He had seen me repeatably looking over my shoulder at the dump truck. As he ruffled Sasha’s fur and told her good morning, he looked up at us and said,”The trucks don’t go anywhere until I say they do. I’ve got your back.” And then he went back to hugging on our pups.

We thanked him and went on our way laughing at the grand and unexpected service offered to us by the flagger.

On an unrelated note, Cody and Carter completed their first day of school. Cody is a freshman and Carter is in seventh grade. Learning was done virtually with real time teaching. It went wonderfully! I was also back to work in my classroom nook/office, tucked in our bedroom. It was an in-service day with so much to cover my head is still spinning. I meet my kids on Monday for a brief meet and greet and we start our first week with four half days of instruction and professional development. It is going to be quite the year.

James giving me supportive and comforting hugs.
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Simple Sunday – Life in the Foreground

A little reminder to myself, that perspective, my perspective, is powerful and in my ability to control. I can choose to focus on the foreground, and let go of the background clutter as needed.

In life I can use the “portrait” setting to keep what is close, what is important, in focus and allow the distractions to blend, blur into a watercolor-like backdrop.

Or maybe I am just procrastinating cleaning the back patio…

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Dining by Rapid Automatic Gunfire

There are many reasons I am looking forward to the school year starting back up, even if it will be done remotely. I am excited for Cody to start high school. I am glad Carter got his first choices of elective classes – applied technology and yearbook. I am trying to be positive about all the technology I will learn and utilize as I teach my third graders from the classroom nook I created in a corner of the bedroom.

But mostly I am excited that Husband and I will no longer lunch together at our dining room table to the delightful sound of machine gun fire.

About three weeks ago (although it feels like three months ago) under the guise of being concerned about our children’s socialization, we caved to the pressure of allowing them to play a popular video game, Fortnite. This is a third person shooter game that players can play in teams with others. As far as I can tell, players slaughter other players, using a variety of differently colored weapons, in hopes of being the last ones standing. The winners can then gloat and freak out over getting a “Victory Royale”. It may not be our best parenting decision, so don’t judge.

Once school starts, the boys will no longer have their Pandemic Summer Screen Time extended from 40 minutes a day to way-to-many minutes a day, and life will get back to somewhat normal.

We will all be able to have lunch together to the gentle sounds of NPR playing in the background.

Fortnite. I had to crop this picture because no one in our house wears pants anymore.

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Fur Friday – When the Cat is a Dog

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July, an Honorary Fall Month

It did not happen all at once and honestly even I did not see it coming, but come it did.

The first indication that I was becoming a Christmas/Fall-In-July person was the candle. I lit my cinnamon sparkle candle twice in one week, a candle typically reserved for the fall months.

Then it was the cookies. As I was drinking my cup of coffee one morning, I thought that an accompanying gingerbread cookie would be wonderful. It did not necessarily have to be in the shape of a man/woman/person, but no ordinary cookie type would do. The recipe recommended chilling the dough for at least an hour. I made the dough, but then lost all motivation to bake after seeing the sorry state of my classroom.

The dough chilled in the fridge for a couple days. As is the case with these things, spoon sized/shaped divots started appearing in the cookie dough. I believe this is a natural phenomenon occurring when any cookie dough is left to rest too long in the fridge. Perhaps this is something you have experienced as well?

Fearing total dough loss, the boys and I finally baked the cookies. I brought out all the cookie cutters we have, cutters ranging from ones I used in my childhood, Etsy uses the term “vintage” to describe these, to the set of three Ninjabread men cookie cutters I got from Cost Plus World Market last Christmas.

The boys rolled and cut. There were ninjas, Christmas trees, stars, chili peppers, ghosts, candy canes, dinosaurs, footballs, and bells. After the cookies cooled, the boys pulled out their leftover frosting (made the morning Carter decided to randomly bake mini cupcakes wearing nothing but his underwear).

I left the kitchen at this point. I am not a decorator of anything, baked goods especially, and frosting and sprinkles are so sticky and messy. Ugh! I did not want to be the hovering mom wiping up globs of frosting off the floor. They had a great time and were very responsible cleaning up after themselves with minimal help or prompting on my part.

Cody was very proud of his Fortnite gingerbread skin cookie. Fortnite is a video game Husband and I finally caved on and let the boys start playing about a month ago.

Then last night I served Trader Joe’s Autumnal Harvest pasta sauce with our five cheese tortellini. Made of pumpkin and butternut squash, it is very fall festive.

No, I do not want Christmas in July (even if I was belting out Jingle Bells in the shower this morning). I just think that I am over summer. I am ready for something else. And if that something else happens to smell of cinnamon and taste of gingerbread, pumpkin, and butternut squash, the more the better.

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In our classroom (I say “our” because it is both mine and my students’) there is an order and a calm that comes with knowing. In the first week of school, my students and I discuss why we are here, why it matters. We create Essential Agreements for our room that relate to expectations we have for each other as well as the look and feel of the room we want to be surrounded by all year.

I compile our Agreements into a document for one last final review. Once is it just the way we want it, I type it up and give each child a fragment of the document to write in their own handwriting. (They are also able to add one embellishment if they wish, as long as it does not make their words unreadable. They love learning the big word embellishment.) These fragments are then put back together and glued to a large poster paper upon which we all sign our names. These Essential Agreements are what guide us in our behaviors, attitudes, and direction throughout the year. It is a large piece of the order and calm that then organically takes place in our classroom.

To protect student identities, I put stickers over their signatures.This is from a couple years ago.

We care for each other and our room because that is the type of environment we want to be in.

We laugh and have fun, but we also work hard and support one another because that is the type of environment we want to be in.

We acknowledge that learning is sometimes messy and hard but know that at the end of the day, we are proud of our learning and our learning space and so together we tidy because that is the type of environment we want to be in.

On Thursday, I came home from a quick and unexpected trip to my school campus and cried.

I had no order.

A lot of energy has been spent this summer worrying about the unknowns and the uncertainty of this coming school year. My worry is twofold – I worry as a parent and I worry as an elementary school teacher. In the arena of parent, I felt I had more control. Husband and I discussed and then worked at getting both boys enrolled in a school district that had an option we could live with. Once this decision was made and our boys were officially enrolled, I felt less anxious and my mind could shift to my own self.

At this time last week, my district was fully in the direction of in-person learning. While they waved about the CDC guidelines with vague and unreachable realities, they did mandate masking for all, but still it did not seem safe to me. In an effort to have some control, I bought a box of N95 masks and tried to mentally prepare myself to teach thirty, eight and nine year old children through such barriers and still come across as loving and accessible.

Last Monday I received an email from my principal; a water supply line breakage occurred sometime over the weekend and many classrooms were flooded. Many classrooms upstairs (where my room is) and many classrooms below those sustained heavy damage. Phrases like “major loss” and “water restoration company” accompanied the information that the water was on for 2-3 days leaving a lot of water in rooms.

I played over in my mind any items low to the floor that I may have lost. I tried not to think of the smell that surly must be there considering none of the windows open to the outside. I recognized my inability to control any of this even while I looked, with a heavy, flat feeling at a picture the custodial staff sent of one of the classrooms across the hall from mine.

The next evening my district held an emergency board meeting to discuss and vote upon in-person vs. on-line learning. There were moments that were very heated. The chat stream made me uncomfortable as I watched both sides do away with niceties. It lasted over three hours, but in the end four votes for on-line learning through the first quarter out numbered the one vote for in-person.

Feeling safer but still full of questions (and with a lake for a classroom), the next morning I was greeted with an email telling those teachers affected by the flood that we could come in the next day to pick up any items we felt we may need from our lakes/classrooms for distance learning. No expectations or guidance in how this distance learning was to happen had been disseminated yet.

Photos from about this time last year.

It was then, that on Thursday I was escorted up to my classroom. Long plastic sheets hung down in the hallway making for an E.T. like vibe. Fully expecting to walk into my room to quickly pick out the items I had on my list. I know where everything is, there is order in my classroom, even behind the wall of cabinets and on the sometimes jumbled looking bookshelves. I was greeted with cabinets, counter tops, and cubbies all ripped from their walls, emptied of contents, and pushed into the center of the room. I could not access any of the items I thought would be helpful.

Current state of the classroom.

Some of the water restoration workers took me down the hall to boxes meticulously labeled and stacked floor to ceiling. Boxes containing my classroom. Tears welt up and I was glad my mask covered my face as I worked to keep from crying. They offered to open them and help me find what I needed, but I waved the offer away. I would simply make it work without. I went home and cried.

Then, I once again recognized that which I could not control. In doing that I saw that there are things that I can control. So I did.

I took my desk, shoved into a wall in my bedroom, my uninspired work station, and I turned it, making a little “classroom nook”. I ordered a whimsical, cheerful canvas print of an owl in glasses to hang behind me, an image my students will see ever time I reach out to them for a video call.

The classroom nook is not ready yet, but here is the picture I ordered for it.

I created a virtual classroom containing a Bitmoji of myself that we will use as a place to house resources, assignments, and celebrations. I am not technologically savvy, so my head is not fully wrapped around all this, but I am trying. I am going to grab on to what I can control and I will make some semblance of order.

Still a work in progress, but you get the idea.

For me.

For my family.

For my students.

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