There are a lot of runners in my family.
You could say it runs in the family.
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 très français. 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!