Archive | September, 2020

Somedays I’m good, others, not so much

29 Sep

Good teachers plan ahead. So, like a good teacher, I previewed the slide deck we’d been sent for our daily 20 minute Advisory class. Wednesday’s lesson included two short videos about mindfulness. I looked at the clock and thought It’s close, but I have time to preview bits of each before class begins.

And thank goodness I did. In the second video, a cartoon character says “I’m pissed”. Now, many people might not be troubled by that phrase. I admit, I have used naughtier language than that. But there was no way in heck, I was showing that video to my sixth graders. I didn’t want the parent fallout. A quick search – following a “heads up” email to my 6th grade colleagues – found an equally effective video without questionable language.

Good teachers pivot. Quite frankly, I am tired of hearing that despite the truth of it. In the olden days we said “monitor and adjust”. So, like a good teacher, as I was presenting my lesson on Friday, I made a quick decision to model using the iPad I had not yet set up. I was feeling really good about online teacher after a successful first week and wanted to stretch myself.

In no time, I was good to go. Except that may writing was backwards. Kids offered suggestions. I went back to my chart paper. I pivoted a lot. It wasn’t comfortable. I chart papered my way through the next two classes, all the while wondering what I had done wrong. As kids worked, I sneakily Googled a solution to my problem. None was to be found.

After my last class, I realized my error, and, simply turned the iPad over. Voilà! My iPad now functioned as a document camera. Today, I will use it, but I will be sure to have a test run before my first class begins.

The First Week of School

22 Sep

My students and I survived the first week of remote learning. I was more nervous Monday than I usually am on a first day of school. But as the days passed, I felt better. And things got better.

Most of our work this week has been get to know you activities that help us all learn how to navigate the online platform we are using. Friday’s activity, intended to teach students how to upload a document into our platform to turn in work I will grade, was meant to be fun, and a way for me to get to know my new students better.

I asked them to write a poem about how the week went. Of course I gave models. First, I modeled how they could use the rhythm and rhyme of a song or poem they knew to write a poem. To model this, I shared My First Week of School (v1.0)

Twas the night before school started
And I tossed and I turned
My mind wouldn’t shut down
My thoughts were all churned.

The air smelled like smoke
My dreams were overtaken
By thoughts of my students-
There might have been bacon.

And yet as the days passed
My worries abated
I was able to teach
The classes I created.

So now it is Friday
And though things aren’t flawless
They have greatly improved
And in that I find solace.

But not every kid has a sense of rhyme or rhythm. I have read (and written) enough terrible poetry to know this. So I taught them a trick to write a free verse poem: start with a paragraph. Thus, My First Week of School (v 2.0) was born.

It was the night before the first day of remote learning and my brain wouldn’t shut off.  I tossed and turned in bed, fluffing the pillows, hoping sleep would find me. Eventually, I fell into a disturbed sleep where, due to the presence of smoke in the air from Oregon’s wildfires, I dreamed of bacon – a food I have not eaten in decades.

Monday dawned orange, the wildfire smoke obscuring the sun. I hoped this was no indication of the sort of year I should expect. My online lessons went fine, though I talked more in those four hours than I had in the previous week. 

With each lesson, my confidence grew. I tried more features of Zoom and Canvas. I arrived at the point where, when I messed up in Period three, I was able to problem solve quickly.

The wildfire smoke is dissipating and my anxiety about online teaching is waning. I still have a lot to learn, but I am no longer daunted by the prospect of this school year.

I then demonstrated that, by thinking about logical breaking points – maybe places where a reader might take a breath, or want to emphasize a word or phrase – you can turn your prose, into a poem. I shared My First Week of School (v 3.0)

It was the night before the first day of remote learning
And my brain wouldn’t shut off.  
I tossed and turned in bed,
Fluffing the pillows, 
Hoping sleep would find me. 
Eventually, I fell into a disturbed sleep where, 
Due to the presence of smoke 
In the air 
From Oregon’s wildfires, 
I dreamed of bacon – 
A food I have not eaten
In decades.

Monday dawned orange, 
The wildfire smoke 
Obscuring the sun. 
I hoped this was no indication 
Of the sort of year 
I should expect. 
My online lessons went fine, 
Though I talked more 
In those four hours 
Than I had 
In the previous week. 

With each lesson, 
My confidence grew. 
I tried more features 
Of Zoom 
And Canvas. 
I arrived at the point where, 
When I messed up 
In Period three,
I was able to problem solve 
Quickly.

The wildfire smoke is dissipating,
My anxiety about online teaching is waning. 
I still have a lot to learn,
But I am no longer daunted 
By the prospect 
Of this school year.

My Dystopian Life

15 Sep

I think I have figured out why I can’t read fiction these days.

I am living a dystopian novel full of COVID quarantine, remote learning and, now, a smoke-filled world as Oregon burns.

Reading nonfiction is the only bookish solace I can find these days.

We started remote learning at my school with three hundred students yet to pick up their Chromebooks from school. their scheduled pickup day was cancelled due to hazardous air quality.

Yeah, there’s an equity issue there.

I teach at an affluent school, so when the school message is to use a personal device instead of a school device, my students don’t bat an eye. But I think about the school I sued to teach at, only a few miles away, where this would be a real hardship.

With Air Quality still in the hazardous range, there has been no update on when Chromebook pickup will happen. At least the public library system, that canceled my book pickup appointment due to hazardous air quality, keeps sending me updates. Libraries are closed through Wednesday. I rescheduled my canceled appointment for this coming Saturday, hopeful that we will close to normal.

A little normal would be nice.

We started remote learning yesterday. All my students showed up, though some were late. I inelegantly balanced connecting with the student who showed up early with letting in students who were late and answering emails from students who were having trouble logging in. I know it will get better. Online learning might even begin to feel normal.

Calm amidst the calamity

8 Sep

The news mentioned that high wind warnings were in the forecast yesterday. The day seemed calm until the afternoon, when pinging against the window made me wonder if it was raining outside. When I looked outside dried leaves and sticks swirled around.

I am feeling a lot like this these days – some semblance of calm with a lot of “stuff” swirling around – as I get ready for remote learning to start. My mood seems to swing from anxious to angry to accepting and back again.

I went into school Friday, to pick up materials to help pull together my home classroom. I planned to be surgically precise: in and out as quickly as possible. I arrived at eight and intended to be out by ten. I had a list of goals and checked things off as I accomplished them. It felt very satisfying, as if I was really accomplishing something.

I realized it would take two trips to the car to move everything. On my first trip, I stopped in the main hall where I ran into some teachers I hadn’t spoken with since March. It was good to talk to new people; my circle has shrunk in the last five months. They described the feelings that swirled and blew around in their minds and lives.

Early yesterday evening, as the winds whipped even stronger, I went out the back door. I was feeling relaxed after the long weekend. Looking up, I saw the sun as it was beginning to set over the roof across the street. In addition to blowing around detritus, the winds had blown in smoke from wildfires in Eastern Oregon. It made for a beautiful sunset and reminded me that I can find beauty amidst the chaos and turmoil, as long as I take the time to look.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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