How am I supposed to get anything done today if it is going to be such a glorious sit-on-the-porch rainy day?
I can count on one hand the number of days before I report back for the new school year. I have a to-do list of to-do lists and I have been dutifully checking my way through them. I am. I am not in a panic (meds are so helpful!) but I have “set my face toward Jerusalem” and acknowledge that summer ends for me next week.
Next week, there will be no more coffee hours on the porch and lengthy sessions with my journal. In fact, there will be little coffee consumption because I won’t have time to drink it or empty my bladder afterwards.
Next week, I will resume my vitamin D supplements as I wake up in the dark to spend the bulk of daylight hours indoors with my classroom air purifier humming by my desk.
Next week, my days will be divided into minutes and even my peeing will be regulated by a bell. In contrast, this week my time is divided into chunks roughly corresponding to morning, afternoon, and evening, but more accurately designated as unproductive me-time, productive me-time, and binge-watching me-time.
Don’t get me wrong. I am quite ready to be back at work. I need the stimulation and the structure and the purpose. I need the schedule. The responsibility of deciding what to do everyday in summer when the possibilities are endless—it is getting to be too big of a burden.
And so, in the spirit of returning to work, I turn to my to-do lists.
But there are few things more precious than a rainy day on the screen porch rocking in my glider. My only hope for today is for the sun to come out.
And, for the moment, it has.
But a most beautiful, puffy, ginormous cumulous cloud is sailing by in an azure sky…
Weather bulletin:a tornado watch is in effect until 8 p.m. A tornado might just get me off this porch.
Good news! A month of teaching from home has not killed me. It came close in Week Three, with my resting heart rate mounting from stress and an allergy medication contributing side effects of anxiety and depression. But the doc released me from the allergy med and we got –dramatic pause– Spring Break!
I don’t know that I have ever so much needed to step back from the craziness and unplug. Oh, I did a little schoolwork, but it was good to stop running at full speed and recharge for what will most likely be the long haul to the end of the school year.
One weird result of the break from teaching during Coronapocalypse was that I actually missed the structure and busy-ness of the teaching week. An unending list of potential indoor and outdoor projects did not disguise the fact that I was stuck at home. Other than a grocery run and a disguised outing as the Easter Bunny (complete with mask and gloves), I had a lot of time to be with myself. And I was pretty boring.
When school resumed this week, my students felt the same way. They had to admit that without anything else to do, they missed the structure of the school day and the strange disconnected connectedness of meeting online. And so, in the absence of our old normal, we tentatively begin to accept the new situation.
Here are a few things that are making life doable:
Orderly work space
A critical project during the break was to deep clean and organize my office. Windows and curtains are clean. New blinds hung. A huge bag of clutter went out in the trash. All my curriculum materials sit in organized stacks on the shelf. A new microphone headset arrived. The command post is in truly functional order. The room looks good. I actually like being in it. And guess what? After a week of teaching it is still in functional order! Order in my space does wonders for keeping the craziness at bay.
Plan for the week
The worst part of the first week of Corona Teaching was reworking each of my five lessons every night for the next day. My normal routine had been to work out the week’s road map by the Friday before. The last thing I did every Friday before leaving school was to post the week sheet on the class page. Then I left the building, drove an hour home, and enjoyed my weekend. Now, teaching from home, it is not sustainable to spend every waking minute thinking about school when the “classroom” is just behind a closed door.
A major Corona Teaching Victory came when I posted my week sheets on the class pages at the end of the day before spring break. It was a huge relief to resume that normal rhythm. My students and I are used to that. It saves all of us time and frustration–one document is posted and we all know where to find it. Of course, we can get derailed during the week. But we can address the changes the way we always did– in (online) class and by posting announcements.
Plan for the new reality
I teach foreign language. I can’t just assign pages of reading and comprehension exercises followed by a quiz. Language learning is a skill. While the students have access to technology to enable them to read and write and listen and speak assignments to me, it cannot really replicate what goes on in class.
Even with live online class meetings, we are not physically in class. The give and take online is not the same as in the classroom. So, the regular lesson has to morph into a new thing.
My lessons are morphing into a simple pattern:
Things we need to do together
Things they can do on their own
Live classes start with a mini-lesson where I present or explain material that is new or challenging. That will segue to an oral activity. I assign each student an example in an exercise, give them think time, and then call on them just as I would in class. If it would have been a partner activity in class, I play the role of the partner when I call on them. Not ideal, but at least, I can hear where the problems are. Then, that activity is often assigned again as a written activity.
Live classes end with everyone understanding their marching orders. If students have no questions, they are free to leave. Students who want answers to questions hang around.
Connecting students to my homescreen
I felt like a magician when I figured out how to display my homescreen on the students’ screens during a live meet. It opened up all sorts of possibilities! So far, I have tried the following:
Displaying the online textbook page while I explain a topic. It is so much better to have them staring at the page while my cursor squiggles around pointing to things than for them to stare at my face talking about it. And when we work on an exercise in the book, I can point to the words the student is struggling with.
PowerPoints. It is so much better to move the slides for them, than to talk at them and tell them to move to the next slide on their device.
Kahoot! I use Kahoot a lot in class and immediately began using it as a self-paced non-timed comprehension activity. But now! Now, we can play a Kahoot together. It doesn’t have quite the same rowdy effect when everyone is sitting in their own homes, but it is still interactive.
Online video/YouTube. I successfully showed students a video from the curriculum, just to start a lesson. They could have watched it on their own, but I wanted to “watch” it with them. In another class, I had a epic fail trying to watch a YouTube video. I watched it fine on my end, but they saw and heard absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure I clicked the wrong screen when I did that. Oops.
Tossing redundant activities
Once upon a time, during normal teaching, there was classwork and there was homework. Homework generally replicated what was done in class. Now, there is no classwork vs homework. There is just work. As lessons morph, I look at each activity and remind myself:
Do not cram too many new ideas into one day.
Do not assign the same type of activity twice in a lesson.
Assign only activities that actively advance mastery of the topic.
Less is more–choose quality over quantity.
Let go of the expectation that you will cover everything this year.
Respecting and managing time–theirs and mine
A few ideas are guiding me in respecting and managing time:
Set a reasonable workload. Live class plus written activities should not exceed normal class time plus normal homework. Ideally, if redundant activities have been pulled, students should spend less time on my class.
Have firm expectations for students. Students should respect our class time and assignment deadlines. I am not teaching an open-ended correspondance course.
But be flexible. Some students will struggle with doing school this way. At this point in the year, I know who the most likely strugglers are. And I know who the lazy bums are, too. Grace to the strugglers. Zeros to lazy bums.
We are figuring this out. It is not at all perfect. Some students are still very casual about attending live class and meeting assignment deadlines. Tech challenges are real. Family demands are real. Teenage attitudes are just as real as they ever were.
What am I missing right now?
This crazy 2020 has become the year of the essential. The essential worker. The essential work. Right now, I am missing the fluff and fun of class. Movie days. April Fool’s fish. French restaurant field trip. I may very well end the year covering most of what I normally teach. Why? Because I have cut out anything that is not essential.
And that is going to get boring. I’ll have to think about that.
What am I happy about?
So far, the students are scoring as well from home as they did in class. (Or as bad, depending on the student.) So I do not see anyone suffering academically because of this change.
Because I am giving points for everything they do (which would not have happened with spot checks in class), the less-than-stellar students are probably doing more work than they ever did before! There is nothing so motivating to these kids (or their parents!) as a zero.
Distance learning has taken on real meaning as several of my international students went back home and are now checking in to class every day from South Korea!
I am not one of them. I walk. But I still know the difference between a sprint and a marathon. This COVID-19 teaching experience is a marathon like no other. And we don’t even know where the finish line is.
The first week of online teaching nearly killed me. Or to be more precise, it became quickly apparent that it would kill me if I did not make changes. The first week, I charged off at full speed at the sound of the starter’s pistol—without knowing what race we were running.
Week Two was about finding survival techniques for what we now realize is a marathon. To survive teaching in the coronapocalypse, I am looking at three things: pacing, boundaries, and personal health.
Online teaching is taking much more prep time. This is frustrating for someone like me, with decades of teaching experience and who was in a happy routine of tweaking things. Now, it is like starting a brand new job. I need more think time.
This past week, I gave my students and myself some breathing room. For my classes that do independent reading, I gave them all reading day on Wednesday. For my lower level French students, I gave them a link to take a walk in Paris. It was a rainy day and the three hour YouTube video was great for putting in some treadmill time. (No, I did not assign three hours of walking.) The benefit to me was a day without students checking in. My devices did not ding at me all day long. I had bigger stretches of uninterrupted time to think.
And so, a conundrum emerged this week. At the same time that I am increasing face-to-face meetings with my students, I am also pondering ways to give them longer stretches to get work done. This, realistically, is not going to happen much in my French 1 and 2 classes, where they can only handle one new concept at a time and need daily feedback. But French 3 and 4/5 can handle two day stretches. The Advanced ESL English class, starting their first research project ever…..well, yeah, still pondering that.
Mercifully, my amazing, awesome, best-ever boss has heard the cries of students and teachers. Effective this week, we will be teaching four days a week, with Friday as a catch-up day to plan or just to breathe. I have often told my students that I would gladly put in a longer day four days a week in order to have three day weekends every week. Who knew it would take a pandemic to make that happen?
So, pacing involves slowing down for the long haul. Assign smaller, manageable chunks of material. Give myself necessary think time. And give the students space. The students are not only being expected to keep up with their school work, but they need time to process this whole crazy life change, too. And they have to do it at home, with whatever dysfunctions come along with that.
I am a firm believer in setting boundaries. Up until now, I had a great work routine in which I did all my work at home, drove my thirty mile commute, and arrived home with my day tucked behind me. Now it is here in the house with me. All. The. Time. I never thought I would miss that thirty mile commute.
Boundary #1: The Office
I am fortunate to have an empty nest. Oh. So. Fortunate. Not only are there not little people in my face all day with their little needs and demands, but I have whole rooms of the house I have reclaimed for other purposes! One of those rooms is my office.
I do my schoolwork in my office. Only in the office. Not in the kitchen. Not on the sofa in the family room. Most definitely not in the bedroom. When I am working, I am in the office. When I am not in the office, I am not working.
The little glitch with this scenario is that I have not actively worked in the office in a while. So it is a bit disorganized. And not as clean as I would like. In fact, the mini-blinds are really gross. I have been meaning to replace them with the same blinds as in my bedroom, but never got around to it because, well, I just wasn’t sitting in there that much. So last night I went online and ordered the blinds—at 30% off! Woo hoo!
Boundary #2: Office hours.
I am available to my students during their normal class hours. If they contact me during another class period, I ignore them. Likewise, I expect them to be available to me during their normal class hours. This one has been a little trickier. A few have had internet glitches during our face-to-face meetings. How do I know it is a real glitch and not a lame excuse? A student with a real glitch contacts me ASAP in a panic saying he cannot get on. A lame excuse dribbles in many hours later with a “Sorry, I couldn’t get on.” A true hours-later tech glitch comes with a parent email verifying the problem. See? I know teenagers.
Boundary #3: Calling it a Day
While this new teaching day is taking me longer than my normal teaching day, it cannot consume every waking hour of the day. I need to call it quits at some point. My goal is to finish by dinnertime. My goal is to relax with my husband in the evening—even if it is our usual goofy scenario where we sit in the same room watching different movies on different devices! I did not quite meet that goal this week, but I did a whole lot better than in Week One!
Boundary #4: Reclaiming the Sabbath
In my old normal, I worked really hard during the week to get all my work done before I left school on Friday. The past two weeks, I have spent most of the weekend planning. (It did not help that I sort of forgot that third quarter ended this week and that grades were due Friday morning!) After only two weeks, I am desperately feeling the need for the day of rest. I need to power off.
Pacing and boundaries were immediate needs for my physical and mental health. But there are other things I am doing to keep myself from falling apart. The last thing I want is to get sick now. And the very, very last thing I want to do is to stand in the prescription line at Target. The. Worst. Thing. Ever.
1. I take a shower, do my hair, and put on make-up. To a certain extent, I have to. There is no way I am facing my students online looking like Saturday morning! But I did so even on Saturday. Why? Because even I don’t want to look at Saturday morning me.
2. I take mini-breaks between online classes to do mini-laps around the house. In the normal classroom, I am on my feet and moving around a lot. Now I find I am glued to the chair at the computer. I have to move! I also need the little mental break.
3. Weather permitting, I eat my lunch outside. Last week, I sat on the side porch in a sweatshirt with a scarf wrapped around my neck. With the exception of the sweatshirt, it was trèsfrançais. The sunshine felt so good and I need all the vitamin D I can get. Plus, it was a mental break from my office.
4. I do something more physical at the end of the school day. This is where the lack of a commute is really helping me. At 3:00 I charge outside to do gardening or take a walk. On the rainy days, I have a lovely Paris Walking Tour to perk up a walk on the treadmill. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xE3lpCIgeI)
5. I allow myself rest. All that charging and mini-lapping is to manage the stress and all the adrenaline flooding my body. The fact is, I am tired. And I need a break from technology. A nap is good. And a paper book to read is really good.
Heading into Week Three
My goals for this week ?
Rest more. To quote the eminent philosopher Winnie the Pooh: “Let’s begin with a smallish nap or two.”
But also, grade the work I ignored this week because I was frantically wrapping up third quarter!
Because of the sprint we all did last week at our school, we can have our regularly scheduled Spring Break next week. Only four days to go. Easter break has never looked so good!
We did it—my students and I got through our first week of school from home! The learning curve has been steep but, with the weekend’s respite from students, I may get beyond the feeling of treading water to actual swimming.
Half the stress of this week was due to the shock of implementing it so quickly. A day after our faculty meeting where we were told to be thinking how to teach remotely, the governor announced that schools would be closed effective Monday. That gave us Friday to put a plan in place.
Fortunately, much of the plan was already in place:
Online class pages. Our school uses PowerSchool. Now, did students ever actually use the class pages? Of course not! That is why PowerSchool class pages had a melt-down this week. I doesn’t take a tech genius to figure out that, if a site user goes from zero views a week to over 7 views a day, things will crash. Which is why I had built in redundancy…
Online Assignment Submission. I use Showbie. My students have been submitting documents, audio and video files, and photos regularly via Showbie for a long time. If the class page goes down, they can still look on Showbie to see what is due and when. And I can grade their work right there. Showbie is a normal routine for them.
Online curriculum. Three of my French classes have online resources through my.hrw.com, which includes the text, audio files and videos for the students, and all my teacher supplements–which I can copy to Showbie! Without this, I can not even imagine trying to teach my French classes from home. The my.hrw.com site is supposed to be a normal routine for them, but since each student also has a hard-copy text at home, we had to reset three student passwords last Friday for students who could not log in.
I had to add one more component to my online classroom, but it was actually already in place:
Microsoft Teams. Every class became a Team. Our tech guy, Eddie, has been telling us for years how wonderful the Microsoft Office tools were and how all our students had access to all this stuff via their school email. For the most part, we smiled and nodded while Eddie shook his head and sighed. He does that a lot.
It only took three days for Wine-free Lent to get tossed by the wayside. Two-days, really, but Day 2 was St. Patrick’s Day which has always been a feast day from fasting in my family. All the sunshine and yard work I can do is not enough to handle the stress of this new routine this week.
One colleague said she feels like an octopus, with eight arms flailing in all directions. Another feels like she is playing Whack-a-Mole with all the messages coming at her from students. Setting up completely new routines and reformatting lessons has been overwhelming. Was it just a week ago that Maryland’s Governor Hogan announced the school closures? Have we stepped into an alternate universe? Um, yes to both.
By the end of the week I look back on the following successes:
I have a routine–I follow the class bell schedule. During any given class period, I focus my attention on that class only. I interact with those students and their work.
My students have caught on to the routine. They check in with the Team at the start of their class period and answer at least the following questions:
Have you posted your work?
Have you read the instructions for what to do today?
Do you have any questions?
They may have also have a discussion question to post and reply to. It’s like a warm-up to review what they learned yesterday.
I have been able to supply pretty much all resources I would have given the students in class. Except in-person me. More on that later.
Most–not all–students are keeping up with the schedule of work. It took a bit of nudging for some. One student, who was being lackadaisical about posting his work, explained, “This was why I stopped home-schooling.” My retort to him: “This is not home-school. This is SCHOOL –from home.” One of his classmates commented with a heart. The student, I am proud to say, has been most diligent since then!
Students are letting me know what is not working for them.
Kahoot activities need to be done without a timer so students can think before answering. Thanks to the free upgrade to pro, I can give them untimed activities.
Internet and wi-fi problems are making it difficult for some to post by deadlines. I need to set longer deadlines and be gracious with students who have tech problems.
Audio and video resources are great, but there is no substitute from hearing things straight from the teacher, hence…
LOOKING TO NEXT WEEK
Team Meetings. The math teachers jumped into this almost immediately, but it took me the week and a student plea for help to realize that face-to-face interaction has to happen. A colleague and I practiced a Team Meeting on Friday and discovered that it was actually ok! I’ve scheduled my first one for 10:15 Monday. The biggest glitch I am fearing is the formatting difference I see between the laptop and the ipad.
More time to think and less stress in lesson planning. As I get my plans organized for this coming week, I am planning them for the online platform. Last week, I was reworking the plans that I had already organized for the classroom. I was working minute-by-minute, flying by the seat of my pants. (By the way, what does that metaphor actually refer to?) This week, my posted week sheet will contain exactly what I will post for the daily announcements. Copy and paste daily. Woo hoo.
Reminders to self to give breathing room to myself and to the students. I asked French 1 what they were “going to do” or “not going to do” this weekend, since they learned that this week. Several said that they were going to study. I was totally fried by Friday. This was a rough week. Successful, but intense. I don’t want my students to spend the weekend doing schoolwork. So, here’s my list to myself to help us have breathing room and not burn out:
Independent reading days for my upper level students. I may plan them all for the same day to give ME some space.
Virtual field trips. I want to give space between hard lessons with something fun yet interesting. Versailles and Monet’s Gardens are offering virtual tours, for example. The Louvre tour might actually be better than the crowd-crushing experience of trying to see the Mona Lisa in person! Really, though, I’d like to find something more fun than a museum tour.
Let go of the expectation of covering all the material I would normally cover in class.
Don’t introduce too many new things at once. I can’t handle it. The students can’t either.
This week, I felt very much like a rabbit leaping off into a race. It is hard to think like the tortoise, slow and steady, when there’s COVIC-19 nipping at your heels. I recall my pet name for my students –squirrels. My students are like squirrels–all over the place in any given minute. I have to stay slow and steady because many of them haven’t a clue how to do it. This week I had only half a clue. Next week? I am aiming for one clue.
I took this photo because a student bought a painting of it. Came home to realize that I bought the same scene three years ago!
We were dining in Montmartre when the news broke that Notre Dame was on fire. Almost instantly, our phones began dinging with texts from back home.
“Notre Dame is on fire!”
“Where are you? Are you ok?”
Concern for our well-being came with snarky comments, too: “Was John smoking cigars in the restroom at Notre Dame?”
“We are fine! We did not do it!”
After dinner, we made our way to the steps of Sacre Coeur, the highest point in Paris, where we joined many others in dismay to watch the glow of a historical treasure burning into the night. We stayed up there until 11:00 p.m. to give our group their first glimpse of the twinkling Tour Eiffel, but the Tour Eiffel did not twinkle that night.
Notre Dame as seen from the steps at Sacre Coeur. Photo by Addison Mueller, a student on our tour.
Our initial fear for the structure of the cathedral gave way to concern for the bees of Notre Dame. We knew that three hives were kept on the roof of Notre Dame, but the roof was now gone! Fortunately, the hives were not kept on the very top of the cathedral (that would be a bit difficult to manage!), but rather, thirty meters lower on roof of the sacristy on the north side of the cathedral. The sacristy did not burn; however, Notre Dame beekeeper Nicholas Geant had concern for the temperature near the hives. The bees would be doomed by melting wax as much as by flame.https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/19/europe/notre-dame-bees-fire-intl-scli/index.html
Miraculously, the bees were not harmed by flame, heat, or water. Drone footage and video by those with access to the roof show the bees zipping hither and yon as usual. (Now the question is when the beekeeper will be permitted to tend to the hives. Spring is a very busy time for beekeepers as well as bees!)
The fire at Notre Dame affected, but did not diminish, our trip. We had planned to attend a Tenebrae service on Holy Thursday. Instead, we took our group to see the magnificent stained glass at Sainte Chapelle, built in the 13th century to house the Crown of Thorns relic which was rescued from the burning Notre Dame.
Streets near Notre Dame were blocked and some metro stops were closed, which made getting to dinner in the Latin Quarter less direct, but we had only one glitch, when our guide had us going the wrong direction on the metro! Good thing our group knew to follow the listing of metro stops posted on the train!
“Hey, Bibi! Aren’t we going the wrong way?”
“Oh! Yes! We are! Everyone off at the next stop!”
And just like that, our group of twenty-three hopped off and turned around to go toward the Latin Quarter. At dinner, our waiter told us of the cinders that fell just outside the restaurant when the spire of Notre Dame crashed in flames.
Our Seine River cruise detoured to avoid making its usual circuit around Notre Dame on Ile St. Louis, but we still got plenty of photos of a now-twinkling Tour Eiffel.
But amidst all the usual touristy stops, Beekeeper John and Beekeeper Wife Me were in search of honey. Our first stop, at the Opéra Garnier, yielded nothing. The honey from the hives on the roof of the Opéra had sold out quickly after last summer’s harvest.
Opéra Garnier, home of the Phantom of the Opéra and some beehives
We had more success in Giverny at Monet’s Gardens. John found a sticky jar of Normandy honey in the gift shop. I gave him grief for selecting a sticky jar, but he assured me that all the jars were sticky. Ah, what a homey touch! (I would have wiped the jars before selling them in a gift shop!)
Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny
My coup came at the unlikeliest of places–the Paris Catacombs. My students had added this to our itinerary and waited patiently–and even happily–in line for three and a half hours–yes, 3.5 hours–to climb down and up over 200 steps to see the bones of 6 million Parisians arranged in artistic patterns. The drama teacher sang creepy stage songs and multiple students simultaneously played their cellphone recording of another student’s laughter for a frighteningly good creepy atmosphere.
The Catacombs of Paris
We emerged from the Paris underworld and entered the gift shop, which was full of ghoulish humor and plenty of skulls on tee shirts, mugs, posters, magnets, you name it. And there it was…Le Miel de Paris! Paris honey from the beehives of Les Invalides gardens, L’Ecole Militaire, and the Musée D’Orsay. Sweetness, for sure! I was even willing to pay eighteen euros for the tiny jar.
Some people wonder why we would buy honey in Giverny and Paris when we have our own honey at home. It has to do with terroir. Just as wines vary not just by grape but by the environment in which they are grown, every honey tastes different. This French-teaching beekeeper wife came home from Paris with three new scarves, four new kitchen magnets, two jars of French honey, and a sigh of relief that the bees still buzz at Notre Dame.
With the school year over, my To-Do List looks a little different:
1. Wake up to daylight.
2. Have a second cup of coffee. Finish the coffee while it is still hot.
3. Pee whenever I want to.
5. Repeat item 3.
6. Be outside.
7. Eat when I am actually hungry.
8. Think about things.
9.Drink more coffee later with ice cubes because it is a choice, not because it is what sits before me from morning.
I am pleased to report that on Day 3, I am wildly successful in completing this To-Do List. Not that it has been easy. Take item 4, for example. Whoever decided that everyone should drink 64 ounces of water a day must also have invented water-boarding as a form of torture. I do love my chilled water (infused with natural flavors), but by ounce 48 I’m drowning. However, I have flushed 2 lbs out of my body, so I will Keep Hydrating and Carry On.
The real struggle is with my addiction to To-Do Lists. I have other Lists for this summer.
All the things I need to do to be better prepared for the next school year. (As though,after 33 years in the classroom,I am unprepared. Still…)
All the things I need to do around the house because it fell into near total chaos during the school year. Only the bi-weekly sprint to tidy before the cleaning ladies arrived saved us from total disaster.
All the things I need to do to be the perfectly healthy individual that everyone else I know is. Or at least so I can visit the doctor for a checkup and not cringe.
All the people I am going to invite over because I don’t have the overstimulation of the work week as an excuse and because introverts love to spend their vacation hosting events. (FYI, for an introvert, hosting more than 2 people is an event. So if I invite just two of you over, consider than an act of love. More than two, I am sacrificing myself on your behalf.)
All the summery fun things I need to do to feel like I had a vacation.
So, yeah, the list of Lists is fraught with opportunities for failure. There is no way to do this. And each of these Lists comes with Sub-Lists. And yet I need the Lists or I will do nothing. It’s like my WeekSheet of lesson plans. I may not get everything done by Friday, but I come a whole lot closer if I work to the plan.
A missionary to Cameroon shared at church last Sunday his struggle with being back in the States for a year. The Africans have a saying, “Westerners have clocks; Africans have time.” It is hard to shift from one timeframe to another. That really resonated with my launch into summer. I have a “need” To Do while simultaneously desiring a break from the tyranny of doing. I long to discern the difference between maximizing my minutes and fully living in time. I long for a compromise between the list the top of this page and the List of Lists lurking beneath it.
For the moment, my compromise is looking like this:
Look at each day as a day of possibilities. What can I do as opposed to what ought I to do? (Being the first-born that I inescapably am, my “can-I’s” will surely contain enought “oughts” to keep me from sliding into total slothful irresponsibility.)
Follow the nudges of the Holy Spirit and be open to divine appointments.
And for the immediate moment, I am behind on my water intake and I have to go to the bathroom.
Little Emily loves the Japanese maple in the Maywood yard. It’s over fifty years old, planted by Emily’s great-great grandmother Retta. And it is the perfect tree for little ones to learn to climb on.
The main trunk divides into two very low to the ground, so little legs can easily climb into it. The next branch is a short leg swing above that, providing a perfect spot for a three year old to sit and ponder. Of course, the natural thing to ponder is how to get up higher in the tree.
“Help me up,” she says. “I want to go up there,” she says, pointing to a branch that is over my head and absolutely impossible for me to reach. I can’t put her there. The only way to get there is for her to climb there herself.
“But I want to go up there,” she says.
“You have to do it all by yourself. You have to think about it and figure out how to do it.”
If you think that three year old Emily thought about it and climbed up to the high branch, you will be wrong. I turned around to watch out for her little brother and–that quick–she fell out of the tree.
Boom. Right onto her elbow on a stick. Instant adult panic that she could have broken her arm on my watch while the parents were away. Instinctive reaction to protect her, take her away from the dangerous tree and go back to the house for a popsicle.
That’s when she amazed me. She got up, surprised but not crying, and she climbed right back into the tree.
This time she had real respect for the tree. She carefully considered where to place each foot, how to hold on. Her goal was no longer how to get up to that very high branch. Her new goal was to master the distance from the ground to that first branch. And she did. While I diligently spotted her.
Oh, the Winnie-the-Pooh lessons to be learned from Emily and The Tree. On the way to school Monday, I thought of how I wanted my students to be more like courageous Emily. They tend to want me to implant knowledge in their brains, like Emily wanting me to put her on the higher branch. However, they panic when things are difficult, fear making mistakes, and want to bail on the whole learning process when it doesn’t go as quickly as they want. They also absolutely, positively do not focus on anything for longer than a nano-second.
“I want to tell you a story,” I began first period class.
“Are you going to yell at us?” they asked. (They are so paranoid.)
“NO! I just want to tell you a story!” (Ok, I might have yelled that a teensy bit. Sometimes their way of thinking makes me crazy.)
So I told them about Emily.
“Are you saying that learning French is like climbing a tree?”
Um, yes. And then I told them what branch they were currently on and how we were going to climb today to a higher branch.
“Are we going to fall out of the tree?” they asked. (FYI, these are high schoolers and 8th graders.)
“Actually, yes, some of you are going to fall out of the tree. But we aren’t up very high. You will not die.”
That seemed to calm them down. Apparently they believe that learning will kill them.
Friday, my colleagues and I attended a workshop on Teaching the 21st Century Learner. The speaker was good and had extensive handouts of his very scripted presentation that covered all the usual blah-blah about active learning, none of which I can recall without reading the handouts. His presentation did not teach me nearly as much as I learned from little Emily.
Students want to climb high.
Students want the teacher to put them where they want to be, but…
Students have to do the climbing themselves.
Students are afraid to make mistakes, but…
Students learn from their mistakes.
Students need diligent coaching and spotting while they climb.
I’m tempted to assign tree-climbing for homework, but they would fall from their trees, injure themselves so they couldn’t participate on their sports teams, and I would get blamed for such a stupid idea. I guess instead I’ll focus on how to better coach and spot them. They do want to climb, and I don’t want them hurt on my watch.
When I came home yesterday, I immediately noticed footprints leading to the front door. We hardly use the front door, so we don’t shovel to it. Maywood Man has enough to do with plowing and there’s no reason for me to shovel a walk that no one ever uses. There has been snow upon snow all month, so we’re just waiting for spring to deal with it. Hence, my surprise at the footprints. UPS knows better.
It was my brother-in-law, come to check out locations for tree stands for next year’s hunting season. Tromping through the snowy woods in March must mean he’s going a little squirrely indoors. However, he didn’t count on our driveway being a sheet of ice. That’s another thing about March this year. If isn’t snowing, it’s coating us with freezing rain. So Jim and his truck slid down the driveway to within inches of the Weber grill that waits forlornly for warmer weather. And then he was stuck at the bottom of the driveway with nothing to do after his woodland walk but sit with Maywood Man sipping coffee until the driveway melted.
Where was I? At work. With some difficulty and great trepidation, my Camry and I made it up the slippery slope so that I could go to school and manage squirrely teenagers and their Ipads.
I had a parent conference at noon. The mother shared that her daughter seems to get overwhelmed by too much stimulus. It’s not that she can’t focus. She just can’t figure out where to focus. I totally get it. I told her about my sister, the one with Attention Surplus Syndrome. (You gotta love the acronym!) She pays attention to everything. Try riding in the car with her while she drives, notices every realtor sign, and avoids every manhold cover and pothole in the road. She needs blinders, like a horse.
So what am I supposed to tell this mother whose daughter sits in a class with audio files and video clips and online text and online workbook and online classwork submission all in different apps while doing partner work with classmates who can’t even figure out that I want them on page 152? She doesn’t need more stimulating activities. She needs blinders. I explain that the technology of the paperless classroom is actually helpful for those students who lose all their work in a crumpled mess at the bottom of their bookbags or somewhere in the hallway or maybe under their bed at home, but even as I speak, I know that often I am completely overwhelmed by the “too much” of it all. The mom and I can’t even get our days straight as we talk…the umpteen snowdays have the two of us completely befuddled.
Today, while it pours snow, I ponder remedial work for some students. There are so many resources available to the students online that they did not have last year. I search for something that will be helpful. One auto-correcting activity will not work with pop-ups on the Ipad. Another has so many publisher errors in it, that I will not use it. I discover video activities. I regularly use these in class with paper handouts, but–voila!– all the resources are right there on the Ipad!
I click on the video pages to discover that the video activity link does not contain video activities. It contains all the teacher answers to the workbook.
I’ve spent the afternoon spinning my wheels online. I’m thinking that I need less. I need slow.
I like the idea of sitting by the fire with a spinning wheel, simple work. A manual task that is repetitive and yields a tangible product. If I’m lucky, I’ll prick my finger and a magic spell will let me sleep for a hundred years.
I was called a lunatic this weekend and it made me really happy.
Why? Because I was in an auditorium filled with other lunatics and it was so nice to have company. We were all lunatics. Language learning loonies who sold out a conference to hear a linguist.
Stephen Krashen spoke at the MDTESOL conference. For the 99% of you reading this who do not know who he is, Stephen Krashen is an eminent linguist whose theory of comprehensive input has had a major impact on the field of language learning. One can agree or disagree with his theory, but he is the man you agree or disagree with. How cool to get to actually see him and hear him speak!
And then he called us the Lunatic Fringe.
And I was delighted. I am a certifiable member of the linguistic lunatic fringe. I love language learning in a country of monolinguals where being bilingual is like being a freak. I cut my linguistic teeth diagramming sentences with Catholic nuns. (To this day, diagramming sentences is a fun thing for me to do.) Krashen cracked a grammar joke about French past participles that only a smattering of other lunatics picked up on. It was great.
Then Krashen said that “nobody cares” about language learning, which we all know to be true, but he wasn’t calling us unimportant. He affirmed my membership in the club of linguistic geeks while reminding all of us that having a compelling story is what draws people in. Compelling stories are irresistible.
Compelling story is what led one student in my 7th period class Friday to say, “I only came to school today because I knew we were watching the movie!” That made me smile, but the student who made my Friday was the kid on the lunatic fringe. When asked to translate Les poissons imitent un dauphin (the fish imitate a dolphin), he gave the smarty-pants answer “The fish imitate the son of the king of France.” And I shot back, “I guess that makes it a pretender to the throne.” The two of us were laughing like lunatics while the rest of the class went “huh?”
I suppose everyone belongs to some sort of lunatic fringe group: actuaries, tuba players, liverwurst makers. We all just want to belong. And hang out together. Sometimes even at a conference.
A puffy white cloud seen through a window frame with a crisp Red Delicious waiting to be eaten?
Or do you notice the incongruity of trying to access the Cloud using Windows and an Ipad?
My day began with clouds. Real clouds. Beautiful golden puffs of strato-cumulous lit on the east by the rising sun. They were so delightful my heart burst into a hymn.
When morning gilds the skies
my heart awaking cries
“May Jesus Christ be praised!”
Yeah, it was that kind of O What a Beautiful Morning. I would have stopped to take pictures but the traffic report already had me dreading the deadlock near school. And it was predictably bad. So bad that all late students to school had an automatic excused tardy. So I ate my egg-bagel sandwich and enjoyed the view through the car window as I drove. (The apple came later as part of the Wednesday morning teacher snack.)
Ensconced in my classroom I no longer notice clouds. I am in the Cloud. It feels more like a fog though. I have trouble knowing where I am. Most of my files are on the school server via my desktop. They are Windows files. But as a pilot teacher in the technology program (roll on the floor laughing, yes you may), I am using the Ipad for many new innovative things, like note-taking, accessing the online textbook program, and submitting paperless documents for grading. All of these can be done with plain old textbook and pencil and paper, but that’s another story.
At any given moment, I have no idea where I am. Students give me letters they have written for their French penpals. Some send me a Word document. I can’t read that on my Ipad. Others send me a Notability file. I can’t read that on my desktop. Still others give me a plain ol’ piece of paper that I have to scan into a PDF–at home, because I know how to do it with my printer at home. All these get sent to a teacher in France, but I send them piece meal because they are getting sent from different devices. Ok, yes, I’m sure there is an easier way to do this. But I haven’t figured it out yet. (The simplest way, of course, is to put all the letters in an envelope and mail it to France, but the quick turn-around of replies from France wins over the technology curmudgeons.)
I have found an app (Showbie) that could very well be the answer to this dilemma. I show it to my students. It’s on the Ipad. I switch the input on the Smartboard from my desktop to the Ipad. My Ipad is now displaying on the board. Cool, huh? But the Ipad is not in my hand as I freely roam the classroom. The Ipad is tethered to a cable and sitting by my desktop. If I go to type on the Ipad, I use the computer keyboard by mistake. I try to scroll the Smartboard screen with my finger but have to remember that I’m on the Ipad and must scroll via the Ipad screen.
The students find this rather amusing. They love it when teachers pull their hair out in class.
Then there is the issue of browsers. Once upon a time, like last year, I was blissfully using Internet Explorer for all my computing needs. I knew there were other browsers out there, but, what the hey, my life was relatively simple. Ah, but then issues arose and we were instructed to use Google Chrome to access our gradebooks. Do I need to tell you how that messed up all my preset links? The default browser on the Ipad is Safari. I was fine with that until a student explained to me that the new online textbook will only open in Google Chrome. So just getting onto the worldwide web is now a jumble of options.
I have no idea when I go to a website if I am on Internet Explorer, Safari, or Google Chrome. Yes, yes, it looks plain as day that I should just use Google Chrome, but I have all these icons preset to send me to sites. Do I have to reset them all? Really? I don’t even know how I did it the first time.
I can’t remember when I look at a document whether I am in Word or PDF.
A colleague suggests putting all my documents on DropBox. She loves DropBox. I have at least a bazillion files on the school server, and more at home. I know where they are. I’m not moving them.
“It’s easy,” she says.
“I’m not moving them,” I reply.
She’s lucky I do not launch her to a Cloud through a Window.
I drive home watching golden puffy clouds through the car window, lit now by the sunset in the west. I forgot the crunchy teacher apple that I saved for my ride home. My other Apple, the Iphone, dings text alerts. I ignore the distraction.
I’m happily distracted by golden puffs of clouds lit by the sunset in the west.