Back to School 2020
If you're here, I'm guessing you're dealing with the craziness that is Back to School 2020. Here in Arizona, we go back pretty early (although we're two weeks late this year!), so I'm hoping sharing my back-to-school experience might help some of you that are starting the year a little later! Learn from my mistakes!
A bit of background before we get started:
We had 5 extra days of teacher training this year, and it was honestly a great way to get back in the swing of this whole "work" thing. Having so many extra days meant less meetings each day, but also more time to work. In the spring, it was chaos, but there were significantly fewer requirements than this year. Working from home this year is going to mean staying on top of a lot more things, but also a lot-more self-paced time. I've realized that it's really hard to feel like it's actually back-to-school time, so here are a few things that have helped!
1. Set up a space that you can work from, and then walk away from.
2. Have a solid planner/ to-do list and some fun pens!
3. Get at least somewhat dressed in the morning. Seems overrated, but it's really helped!
3. Video-chat your coworkers when you have a question instead of just texting. It really has helped me feel a bit more connected to campus!
4. Check-in with someone on campus every few hours to see if there's any updates you missed! All-calls are great for making announcements on campus...but they don't reach the people at home!
5. Celebrate the perks of working from home... light that candle! Have your coffee in a mug! Make yourself a real lunch! Snuggle with your pets!
6. When the workday is over, shut down your computer, put your school phone number/ Class Dojo/ Email on "Do Not Disturb" and walk away. It's really the only way to make a distinction between work and home....and that's something I'm still working on.
7. Don't plan too far in advance... I lost track of how many changes were made!
You guys. The one huge perk of this whole pandemic thing is that this is THE MOST communication I've ever had with families. By the Friday before school starting, I'd talked to nearly every family at least twice, and the only families I hadn't talked to didn't have any working phone numbers or email addresses. I had families calling and emailing for more information, sharing information about their children, and making sure they had the right supplies. I had KIDS messaging me to make sure their parents had all the information they needed, and one kid even called me on Friday to make sure she hadn't missed any work since she couldn't see assignments on Google Classroom. These are 9 and 10 year olds! I've been blown away.
Another huge benefit to teaching the online class when parents had a choice: This is what they wanted. Every parent in my class chose to be online. They're all excited--nervous, yes, but also excited. The parents and kids seem absolutely ready to take this all on. The in-person classes might have to go virtual at some point, and I can only imagine that those parents won't be as happy about school as mine are. Plus, we'll be consistent...no matter what happens on campus, we'll all be learning at home every day.
Meet the Teacher Night
Meet the Teacher Night is always exhausting, but this year was even more of a whirlwind than most. We had parents log-in to a Google Meet, and then gave two presentations, one at 5:00 and one at 5:30, so parents could visit multiple teachers. I made a Google Slides Presentation and shared that with my parents, along with a video from our principal and a quick run-through of Google Classroom. I'd say it went pretty well! I had about half my class show up (in a normal year I'd have about 2/3) and parents had great questions.
Here's What I Learned!
The First Day
Y'all. There ain't no tired like first day of school teacher tired. Then add on a pandemic, and staring at a screen for 8 hours...
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised at how (relatively) smooth our first day went. There was a lot that went well, and then there was a lot that we changed on the fly.
Most importantly, students and families seemed really, genuinely happy to be logged-in to school. They were so patient and smiled through every disruption, technical difficulty, or change in plans. Kids and parents communicated internet difficulties, technical difficulties, and questions, and in 95% of the cases, our conversations were really, really pleasant. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, but still smiling!
There was a lot of things I was expecting for online learning... but there was a lot that surprised me, and a few tricks I learned throughout the day. Hopefully these will help someone be more prepared for their first day!
1) The Silence was Deafening.
If my students had learned anything during the spring, it was that you keep your mic off when you're not talking. (Hallelujah!) I only had to make a few reminders throughout the day about turning mics off. Keeping your mic off was even the first rule they came up with for our class expectations! I was expecting mics to be a much bigger problem on Day 1. What I wasn't expecting was how much the silence would get to me. I had 21 little faces in front of me, and no noise. That meant no interruptions, but it also meant I didn't have anyone agreeing when I asked if they were ready, nobody responding to my questions right away, and nobody talking to friends. It was like recording those videos from spring all over again, and I'm not a huge fan. I didn't realize how much I'd miss hearing little voices all day long.
2) Logging in Wasn't the Hard Part. Remembering How to Read Directions Was.
I was expecting logging in to all the websites to be the most difficult part of today. We set up 6 different websites, and the only log-in question I got was when one of the websites crashed. (But one of my students monitored it and let everyone know when it came back up, without being asked. Um...amazing.)
It's been a long time since we really did school. My fifth graders were fourth graders last year, and they were an independent group of fourth graders. Throw on the craziness of spring and then summer break, and wow. Directions are hard. To be clear, anything I told them to do, they did. However, anything that was written, they didn't do. I spelled out all my directions in super detailed steps, thinking that students would be able to just walk themselves through everything on their own. Instead, our conversations went like this: "It says click here. What should I do?" "What do you think you should do?" "Maybe....click on it? Wow, that worked!" Ugh. Tomorrow we'll be spending a lot more time going over how to read and process directions.
3. The Kids Really are Alright.
I had all sorts of fears coming in to today. I'm sure we're going to deal with a lot more issues in the coming weeks and months. But if you ignore the fact we were all on computers, kids had a pretty normal first day.
They wanted to share way too much about their birthday that was 8 months ago.
They were concerned about whether or not they had to wear a uniform.
They wanted to know my plan for recess, for breaks, and whether or not they could have a snack.
They told me it was time for lunch 35 minutes before it was time for lunch.
They wanted to tell me about their pet turtle, their brother's new headphones, their road trip to the lake.
Nearly every student mentioned something to do with coronavirus, or being online for school on their daily check-in. One student wore a mask all day inside her house. It's definitely there, and they're definitely thinking about it.
But not one student uttered a single word about coronavirus, lockdowns, or virtual learning all day long.
All things considered, it was a normal first day of school. For the first time in a long time, I really felt like there was a bit of hope for this school year. And for that, I am so thankful.
**Day 3 Update: We're doing so much better! Technology issues have been a major headache, but these are resilient kids who are so ready to learn. They're working independently, asking questions, answering questions, and getting better at just unmuting themselves and asking questions during work time. Some students have settled in to just using the chat if they have noisy backgrounds, and they're getting better at typing fast enough to keep up with what's happening. Today we started 45 minutes of work time, 15 minutes of a break where we all agree to step away from our screens, and they were so much more focused and on-task! I'm still emailing and calling our IT department every 20 minutes trying to get updates for the poor kids who's internet/ email/ computers aren't working, but we're settling in to a bit of a routine. I'm thankful that the kids seem to be having fun, are communicating well, and we're still building great relationships. It's hard not to be able to pull a kid off to the side to talk about an issue (no breakout rooms yet!) or do some of the fun crafts the in-person teachers are doing, but so far, I'm feeling really, really good about what we're doing as a class.
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