... and that's a wrap. My 2020-2021 school year is over. My annual tradition of decompressing at the end of the year as summer begins by reflecting upon and blogging the lessons I've learned is still exerting some pull over me because, well, habits are habits, but goodness... this year has been a doozie.
I started with twelve "all mine" remote-learning kindergarteners at the beginning of the year, and by the end, finished with seven original Dream Teamers and two mid-year transfers. In total, I taught forty-eight students, several of them repeat visitors due to multiple exposures to COVID-19. Because my exposure when Dear Husband tested positive occurred over winter break, my absences from work were limited. The subs I had on those days were brave, turning themselves into instructional hosts akin to Mr. Rogers on the television screen, though I suspect they were glad that I didn't ask them to put on puppet shows.
I watched colleagues who taught students on-site at the ends of two long hallways empty their classrooms of furniture and engineer six feet of distance between their students while trying to remember to create and maintain distance between themselves and their learners, the absolute opposite of what any of us were trained or wanted to do. I witnessed grade-level planning happening with team members standing in their classroom doorways, shouting through masks to one another as they collaborated. I saw the encouragement of confidentiality when colleagues tested positive and/or became ill and for the first time in my career, read not only care and concern in the eyes of teachers and staff when they discovered a colleague would be out of the building for two weeks, but fear. Was I exposed to COVID? How close were we when we walked to the gym/staff lounge to put our lunches in the refrigerator? I unsuccessfully tried to calm my anxiety every time a staff member forgot to wear a mask, or chose to mis-wear one because their personal discomfort (or belief that COVID19 was a global hoax) was an inconvenience against which they decided to semi-passively rail. My need for self-care grew exponentially each time my self-preservation button was casually brushed up against.
I signed many more sympathy cards than in years past as colleagues lost their parents and grandparents.
I eventually conceded to the utilization of a predictable daily routine, complete with scripted Google Slides that were created a week in advance. Spontaneity just didn't work for families who needed and wanted to rely upon a school schedule that could mesh with their home routine. My remote-learning colleague was wonderful in helping to plan our students' lessons, activities and special crafts a month in advance, and we kept our communication with our families as consistent as possible. We did what we felt was best for both our students and our guest kindergarteners, and I believe our families could feel the care that we put into teaching. Administrators didn't police us much, but I can't say whether that was by design or simply because we weren't starting any fires. Having the autonomy to create our own learning program is an experience I doubt we'll ever forget.
Tech being glitchy doesn't instill panic in me any longer. Sometimes it's the platform or website that is having an issue. Sometimes you just have to close out all the apps, shut down the iPad, and let it rest for a few minutes before powering it up again. After the ninth new update to the operating system installs itself, the day continues, and so does the learning... in most cases. I'm glad I was able to create digital resources not only for my students but for colleagues in the district who were able to use them in their on-site classrooms, and I will be forever grateful for all of the sharing teacher communities on social media who donated their own creations in kind. My device and equipment list for the year included:
- Laptop; laptop stand (purchased by me)
- iPads: teacher (it was my second screen for Zoom, displaying my students' faces, and often their parents' faces and backsides, with regular appearances from siblings, pets and stuffed animals) and student (so I could model all apps and step in as an initial help desk of sorts)
- iPencil: I fiddled with it once but never used it again, preferring to model writing and drawing using our regular writing tools
- Logitech camera, gifted by admin at the Board Office: the extra camera made it possible for me to share other spaces in our classroom daily without giving everyone motion-sickness by carrying my laptop to a new location. It could pan out to include a view of an entire wall of anchor charts, and zoom in close easily with its handy dandy little remote. My students were able to see and experience storytime with big books and art lessons modeled by me using a regular kindergarten painting easel. I went from a laptop on a milk crate to a command station pretty quickly:
- Document camera: for displaying books, worksheets, etc. onto the....
- SMARTBoard: My daily instructional slides appeared as large as a bulletin board. Students viewed the board through my laptop and Logitech cameras. Video content was screen-shared from my laptop via Zoom.
- Microphone: speakers located in multiple ceiling tiles kept me from having to use my "teacher voice" in locations that weren't within the immediate vicinity of my laptop.
- Additional camera (purchased by me) for a desktop computer that I used from my teacher's desk when my laptop was being repaired.
I know that other remote teachers used fewer devices and equipment than I did, but I just couldn't bring myself to teach in a sitting position all day. Having my laptop and Logitech camera on an old media cart in front of the SMARTBoard made it possible for me to stand, change locations in the classroom, and share more of our learning environment with my students.
This year became a standalone teaching experience for me, stretching from last March when the stay-at-home order was first issued through yesterday when I signed off of Zoom for the last time with my Super Stars and their families. Despite some semblance of normalcy provided by curriculum, routine and even decor, I'll admit to having to look through photographs to remember a lot of the finer details of what happened this year. So much has to be brain-dumped when you're literally trying to stay alive while having to appear professional as you're doing it. My Super Star Families were gracious, supportive, and (almost all) on board with what Zoom Kindergarten had to be, and my decision to be a remote teacher for my twenty-fifth year in education and their decision to have their children be remote learners for their first year of school were the right ones for us. I will always appreciate my district providing the remote-learning option that helped to support the health and safety of me, my family, and my Super Stars and their families.
Even during a pandemic, it takes a village.