A year ago tomorrow marks what was our last day in a normal classroom. On Wednesday March 11th 2020, I was arranging for a teacher to observe my class. I was her mentor and we were searching for a mutually agreeable time. I suggested the next day. It wasn’t the best day but I just had a feeling it was going to be our last chance. I said, “I think it is going to be the last opportunity.” She did come and it was. We had a normal lesson that day on the 12th and our planned (and slightly modified version) of Pi Day on Friday the 13th. In this post I’ll share the journey to now through this very crazy year. View posts below that show the entire journey through this.
You have a year
We started this fall virtually due to construction in our building. I yelled from the rooftops about this wonderful opportunity we’d been given. We had several extra weeks to let the 5th and 6th grade classes work out all the kinks before we came back to the building. All things considered I had enjoyed my journey with my students last spring. We gathered for our not required online classes and that not required part somehow made them feel special. We had a little virtual awards ceremony at the end of the year. We shared stories and we learned math.
But the fall felt different. I didn’t know the kids yet and just a few weeks in I started to feel like I was a cop instead of a teacher. Most of my days were good, but I admit that I started thinking about what other fields I could pivot to. I gave myself a year to find a new career. My husband asked me occasionally what my plan was for that. Of course I didn’t actually do anything about it because I love teaching and knew I really didn’t want to switch careers.
Beautiful things are happening
At a team meeting last month I blurted out, “so many beautiful things are happening in the classroom!” I’ll share just a few of them. I’ve always struggled with tutoring. It can be awkward to look over someone’s shoulder to see their steps. It is hard for the student to focus on what I’m doing on their paper. There’s something just inherently a little weird about it for me. I think screen sharing, online whiteboards and breakout rooms are incredible. We can collaborate real time, focus only on voice, use multiple colors and more. Jamboard has brought our kids at home and at school together in ways that I never could have imagined. I like so much of what is happening collaboratively right now.
Learning to yell
When we first went back to our hybrid in the fall I bought an amplification device to use because I was so worried that my voice wouldn’t carry. I used it for months but hated wearing it. The kids could hear me but I couldn’t move my head passionately, I got feedback from it when I got too close to the board and I just felt weird. I hated wearing a mask and yelling through it and even with that I didn’t feel like anyone could hear me. One day when I was in my temporary space a floor up due to short term construction my friend from down the hall commented that she was exhausted from yelling all day. As I sat in my classroom listening to her voice carry down the hallway, I thought, “You know you could talk a little louder if you tried harder.” So, I stopped wearing the amplification system and started yelling more. Note that for me yelling is probably speaking just loud enough that a kid can actually hear me so there’s that, but I am happier!
“Virtual students I lost you!”
As I worked with my class last week I had so many tabs open that I briefly lost my virtual students. I shouted, “I lost you” to the virtual kids and one student laughed saying, “that would have sounded INSANE a year ago.” A year ago I had never used Google Meet and only used Explain Everything to record my classes each day. A year ago, my students were all in one room and each class had 15-20 students. A year ago I worked with all students in the same space every day. A year ago my comment WOULD have been insane.
Collaboration during Covid
I am SO proud of my students for their ability to collaborate across the distance. I’ve been able to watch my husband collaborate with people across the home/work divide for over two decades in his work from home journey. He even hosts a weekly Twitter chat about working from home and wrote a book about his experiences prior to the start of the pandemic. This year I got to experience it and teach students to do the same. There are new skills that kids need for this.
Just a few include: willingness to talk to a screen, no fear of others listening to them both in the room and out there in another space, understanding of how to share a screen, navigate into and out of breakout rooms, talk from several feet away and more. It feels weird but once you get used to it, it isn’t all that weird at all. It heightens other senses and increases your focus. It makes a teacher and student really lean into what is important.
Typically my classroom is arranged in groups of 4 with kids facing each other. They stay in these groups for 5 weeks, allowing students to settle into their team. This year has been different. I remember my first few days with the rows of kids 6 feet apart looking at me to give the information. I remember trying to parse out how we could collaborate from 6 feet apart. I felt sad about our situation. Now, in March we’ve settled in. I realized that just because we’re not together in person that it doesn’t mean we can’t have these 5 week groups. Those skills in working together strengthen when you have to stay together for a bit. I’m seeing that develop across the distance now. It’s well known that the best way to learn something is to be tasked with teaching it. In the group, kids have the opportunity to help each other strengthen skills as they collaborate.
Study Hall Miracles
I wish I had grabbed pictures from this day, but I’ll paint a picture instead. About two weeks ago, several students who are not assigned to my study hall all came in to work on math. It was a mix of Algebra kids and Math 8 kids in to get help and/or to collaborate with their group. I sat at my desk and set up the Algebra class meet so that two groups could get into the meet and join breakout rooms. That allowed the groups to collaborate with the kids at home (note that kids are not required to attend study hall on their virtual days). The coolest things happened that period. Math 8 students were working together in the room and I was bouncing around giving help. The Algebra students were working on a team Jamboard and I was interacting with one team in a Google Meet breakout room giving help by sharing my screen. That group had one student in the room on the meet, another at home on the meet and one student not on the meet but on the Jamboard. We could watch his pen moving on the board as we were talking. Another Algebra group with one student in the room was collaborating in a breakout room and I heard, “one of you should take a picture of your work and put it in the Jamboard because that’s more efficient than me writing on the Jamboard.” That’s a cool feature of Jamboard. You can write on the page but you can also add an image of your work on paper. I think what struck me most from this day was again how much more effective it was to work with the team virtually by screen sharing than it would have been to hover over the 3 of them in person. They were free to focus fully on the math vs any distraction the physical experience offered.
Next steps from here
We’re heading out of this pandemic back to “normal” times or at least toward normal. Where do we go from here? What is in store for us? I know that I want to keep as much as we can of the good from this time. Our students are more responsible, prepared, better at following school rules, grateful and even mature. They are also sad, lonely and disappointed in many ways. I look forward to restoring everyone’s mental health and continuing our gratitude. We are and will continue to be resilient. Public school is a gift of education and for so many it has become a chore. I think this year has highlighted just how essential it is in so many ways.
I know that I’ve loved not waiting at the copy machine for printouts or having everything done and ready at home except the copies. I love that the kids can take their Chrome books home and that on any given day I can expect all but one or two kids to have remembered to charge them at home. I miss the shared calculators, cute little bins of shared supplies at our table groups and the lively collaboration that is all happening in class. I can’t wait to have that back. I don’t miss the kids having to take down chairs and put them up in the morning. I don’t miss bells. We removed them during Covid because our grade 5/6 is on a different schedule than 7/8 and guess what – as long as our clocks work this situation works beautifully!
I hope next year we can celebrate Pi Day again!!