Unappreciative “Teacher Appreciation Week”

It’s shaping up to the the most unappreciative “Teacher Appreciation Week” that I’ve experienced in my 14 years of teaching.  There will be no posters hung around my high school campus by the Associated Student Body or large bowl of Hershey’s chocolates in the staff lounge brought in by a kind parent.  No pizzas or subs for lunch brought in mid-morning by a generous local restaurant and grazed over by the teachers throughout the day.  The best Teacher Appreciation surprise was when I arrived at work in the morning and saw that my entire classroom door was covered in a colorful personalized poster.  The quadratic formula was on it as well as an acronym I use in my statistics class I teach.  An artistic student had drawn a Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass and hat in tribute for my love of that fantastic sleuth.

No personal posters for me this year: I have to go to my classroom and pack it up for the summer, even though we still have another 6 weeks left of school.  Put everything away from my teacher-desk, take down posters from the walls, clear out my clutter that naturally occurs when one occupies a room for a while.  This is a natural occurrence at the end of every school year, a right of passage, signaling another school year has ended and I, with sound mind of another school year over and down in the books, can put things away so that my classroom can be thoroughly cleaned over the summer.  It’s going to feel so unnatural to clean out my classroom and turn in my keys when I’m still working.  Distance learning is still happening and I’m still providing lessons and interacting with students (via email, video, and audio of course) so I’m not done.  Why then do I have to clean out my room?  It goes against the natural order of things and my brain will be resisting the idea that I still have teaching to do.  Why am I creating another lesson plan?  The class room is packed up and my keys are turned in, I’m done!  It’s going to be a constant struggle with motivation for me over the next few weeks.

This week also marks the first week of giving students grades for their work.  March 13 was our last school day and ever since then grades have been frozen, locked in purgatory until the District releases them.  My colleagues and I have been providing meaningful work digitally to our students since March 30th but I have been incredibly frustrated with the whole process.  It’s in my nature to teach and I have the requisite desire to help students.  With no grades, students weren’t participating, and I had a fraction of my students complete the optional assignments.  I had very little students to help and it made for deep sadness, missing the classroom in a way that I never thought I would.  But now after six weeks of no grades, the switch has been flipped, these next four weeks will be graded.  I’ve got a hopeful heart as this week progresses, maybe there will be more students participating in my digital classroom.

That might be all I receive this Teacher’s Appreciation Week:  more students participating in my Google Classroom.  That in itself is a gift to me.  Teachers want to teach.  It is discouraging that our classrooms must be packed away and our keys turned in before we are officially done with the school year.  Disheartening that our interaction in the classroom with our students was suddenly, and without warning, snuffed out.  Teachers thrive on the interaction that occurs between themselves and their students.  It’s when the best learning happens.  This week, with more students participating on my Google Classrooms, I may be able to capture some of the magic that happens in the classroom.  That would be a good week indeed.

My “New Normal” Daily Routine

A couple of months ago I would have never envisioned my current daily routine.  My brain could not have fathomed the possibility of working from home, of supervising the education of my own children, wearing a mask to the grocery store, or viewing our church service as a pre-recorded video every Sunday morning.  It all changed abruptly when our governor declared the state of California to be under quarantine and schools closed down and all meetings discontinued.  It was mind-blowing how we went from one “normal” to another in so short a period of time.

When the dust settled and we all realized that the quarantine wasn’t going to be lifted any time soon, my family settled into it’s own daily routine.  I really encouraged a routine to commence as I knew we all did better with a schedule.  I’ve read books about Arctic explorers and how they must endure the long dark winters.  The captains who enforced a daily routine filled with activities helped their crew keep their sanity verses those captains who didn’t.  Not that I thought my little family would go insane without a day packed full of scheduled activities but I thought it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

I start everyday by getting up about an hour earlier than everyone else.  It’s my quiet time to myself and I find that my day starts off better when I have a chunk of uninterrupted time to write, read my Bible, and exercise.  I know when the kids get up when I hear the sliding glass door screech open and my daughter tossing her new puppy outside to potty.  We got the puppy, a little tan colored chihuahua mix that is the same color of a chocolate chip cookie, the first week after school closed.  Cookie has perked us up these past 6 weeks, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a puppy in the house.  She’s made us laugh when she plays with our German shepherd who interacts gently with her and she’s made us cry when she has an accident (or two or three) on the carpet.

Once 8:30 hits, it’s time for the TV to be turned off, beds to be made, rooms straightened up, and teeth brushed.  It’s time to get our “daily bread” from the elementary school.  The kids don’t have to come to get their portion of breakfast and lunch but they come anyway.  It’s the only place they go now that the quarantine has been in effect and my daughter made the observation that she hasn’t been out of the car in over a month.  The kids look forward to this daily ritual if only to see what they got for the day.  It’s a good day if they get donuts or fried chicken and a bad day if they’ve got peanut butter and jelly.

Returning home, the kids have about 15 minutes to finish their second breakfasts (they snack when they wake up) and it’s time to start the morning session of school.  I supervise their lessons and sit with them as we start the time with a journal prompt  which we all take turns sharing when we’re done writing.  Then it’s on to cursive practice out of a work book and spelling.  Social studies is next.  I have my son focusing on the geography of California, helped by his workbook from school, and my daughter is endeavoring to learn the 50 states and regions of the United States.  We take on math next, recently we’ve been focusing on fractions, and we end with practicing times tables.  I show them flashcards for 60 seconds and they try to get as many products correct as they can.  My 5th grade daughter’s record is 47 and my 3rd grade son’s is 20. Their record highs have been steadily increasing.

Lunch is next.  We take an hour-long lunch around here, the plus-side of arranging our own schedule.  The kids go outside and play after they eat and I might read or knit once I’ve had my leftovers from the fridge.  My husband will wander into the kitchen for a quick sandwich and he’s back to his current home improvement project.

One o’clock is the time for us to start our afternoon session.  I disappear into the den and close the door and “go to work.”  As the weeks have gone by I have improved my distance learning skills.  It’s satisfying to know that I’m using this quarantine time productively.  I want to feel like I’ve earned my paycheck.

While I’m working away at the computer the kids are doing their afternoon session.  If my husband is not in the middle of a project himself, he will supervise this portion, otherwise the kids work independently.  One kid will read to my husband aloud or have quiet time, and the other kid will be on our family laptop working on one of the activities their teacher posted to their Google Classrooms.  After 45 minutes, they switch.

At 4 pm I emerge from the den, bleary eyed staring at the computer for so long.  By this time, the kids are on their personal screen time hour, when they are allowed to play games on an old tablet and older cellphone.  I focus on getting dinner ready and we sit down to eat together.

I’ve been enlisting the help of my kids more often to get dinner together.  They have one night a week in which they “cook” dinner.  So far, it’s been under either my or my husband’s supervision, but they have to start somewhere and learn how to read a recipe.  My son made chocolate-chip strawberry muffins from scratch yesterday and they turned out delicious.

After dinner it’s more going outside time.  I’m thankful that we have a yard that they can go outside to play in.  They’ve been making a dragon stable in the corner of the back yard and will spend hours back there building it and adjusting it.  We call them inside around 7 pm and it’s baths and brush teeth and read.  We started reading chapter books aloud as a family a couple of years ago.  We recently finished “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien and we loved it.  I’ts on to “The Fellowship of the Ring” to see what happens next.

We finish reading, say goodnight to the kids, and my husband and I sit together on our couch for a while before I go to bed.  I get up early in the morning and I need my beauty sleep so that I’m not ugly on the inside the next day when we do it all over again.

Needing Silly

I couldn’t find my black flats.  They would go with my skirt and red blouse and I was running late for work.  I went around the house looking in all the usual places where I kick off my shoes.  No, they’re not by my bedroom chair. Not by the couch and they’re not by the front door.  Where are they? I have to be leaving to work right now. Well, when in doubt, look where they belong.  I went back to my bedroom and looked in my closet where my shoes are supposed to be kept when I’m not wearing them.  Not there.

My eyes fell on my pair of skull shoes set on the top shelf of the shoe rack.  They were black, like my missing flats, but unlike my missing flats they had bright colored skulls all over them like the skulls for Dia de los Muertos.  I caught myself smiling at the idea of wearing these bright casual shoes with my professional teacher outfit. I needed to wear these shoes today. I needed silly.

The previous Saturday afternoon, scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from my principal sharing news that one of my students in my second period class passed away.  I stared at my phone in disbelief. I gave him a hard time Friday morning in class for not doing his assignment and copying off of a neighboring student. He gave me his slow grin and started working on his assignment like he was supposed to.  Monday morning I had his paper to return to use for his quiz and he wasn’t there. I see his name on my student withdrawal list on my grading program whenever I log on to complete my class attendance.

My second period was boisterous and quick to laugh but now they are quiet and subdued.  I dreaded my second period class Monday morning because I didn’t want to see the empty desk that I knew would be there.  The school offered grief counselors that morning and I spoke to one, seeking advice on how to address my class after a death of one of their own.  I’m running class as usual now, but I know my students are hurting.

I found a pair of no-show socks to wear with the skull shoes and put them on.  I looked at myself in the mirror. Not something I usually wear with a skirt and blouse but I liked that it was silly.  I took myself to the living room to say goodbye to my kids before I left for work.

“What do you think?”  I asked, modeling my outfit before them.

The kids barely glanced at me from the couch and returned to watching their Pokemon cartoons.

“Wow, tough crowd!” I said.  I tried again, striking a different pose, “What do you think?”

My daughter tore her attention from her cartoon and looked me up and down.

“Your shoes don’t match.” She said and gazed back at the television.

“Yeah, they’re a little different” I said.  I went over to my kids and kissed each of them, telling both that I loved them and to have a good day at school.

At work a couple of hours later, in second period, one of my quieter students happened to look down and see my skull shoes.

“I like your shoes Mrs. Adams” he said “They’re cool.”