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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.

It’s all relative

25 Aug

So much is up in the air.

Last week, we learned that, due to families opting out of remote learning and committing to a full year of online learning, we needed to lose a teacher. A volunteer was called for and we’d hoped to hear by Friday. We also hoped that we wouldn’t get “the call” if no volunteer came forth.

Late Friday, we got another email saying we’d hear next week. That meant another weekend of worry and wondering if and when we’d get details about expectations and requirements for teachers.

My teaching partner and I text frequently to manage our stress and frustration these days. Yesterday was no different. We’d waited all day for news. We both felt hopeful that we were still OK.

I was standing in the kitchen, texting, and could tell that Lucy needed a potty break. I was about to take her out back when I heard rustling in the recycling. Peeking out the back window, I saw a man riffling through the recycing. We’ll wait until he’s gone. I thought and went back to texting.

He was one of the regular recycling people who pass through the neighborhood in which I love. He seemed to be taking longer than usual so I peeked out the back window again and saw that he was actually looking through the garbage cans. I felt my anxiety rise. Our trash cans had been rather full the last two weeks because one of my neighbors was putting his condo up for sale and the tenant in another had moved out. I stayed at the window to be sure the recycler didn’t leave a mess

It was interesting to watch. He rooted deep into the bin and opened bags. He wiped his hands on what appeared to be a well used wet wipe. He was very methodical and stopped frequently, deep in thought as if he were contemplating the very nature of the items he encountered.

I went back to texting with my teaching partner, reflecting on the nature of the relative size of his problems compared to mine. despite the pandemic and the frustration I feel because I don’t know exactly what school will look like, I have a really good life.

It seemed that Lucy could no longer wait, so I leashed her up and we went out. The recycler greeted me in broken English. I returned his greeting as we headed out back in the opposite direction. Lucy was quick and we were back in the house in a minute. The recycler was still there, carefully weighing his options. He had two, fairly full bags. I removed Lucy’s leash, then popped my head out the door and asked the recycler, “Do you need another bag?”

“No. Thank you. I have more bag.” was all he said. He waved to me and headed off to the apartment complex next door.

Senioritis

14 Jul

Lucy hasn’t been sleeping well. As a result, I have not been sleeping well.

Truth be told, my anxieties over the discussions around returning to in person school have also disrupted my sleep. My sleep disruption has impacted her sleep habits, but her issues are more than a reaction to mine.

A few nights ago, she had a really bad night. She woke up around 11:00 and started pacing. Oh, how I wished for wall-to-wall carpeting, because the sound of her toenails on the hardwood floors woke me up – and kept me awake until 3:00. It wasn’t just the midnight pacing – there was panting and staring into space. When she stilled, she didn’t lay down. She scratched, panted, started, then started up suddenly returning to the pacing There were sudden starts and more pacing. She crawled under the bed. I took her out for a couple of potty breaks. I gave her a very early breakfast. And I started thinking about canine cognitive dysfunction: doggie dementia.

She was better the next morning. I was exhausted, but she slept the day away in her usual, 14-year-old way. Since that day, I have been watching her carefully, keeping a list of all the behavioral changes that have happened over the last few months. She’s been itchy and, despite two baths with the medicated shampoo she got last summer, she is still itchy. Maybe that’s a part of the problem.We have a vet appointment later this week. I am hopeful and a little worried.

Lucy Turns 14

 

 

Jinx

23 Jun

In 1982, I went to Denmark as a Rotary exchange student. I knew I was to have three host families before I left. I hadn’t expected though, how much I would love them.

In fact, I loved my first family so much that I wished I didn’t have to move to the second. When the unthinkable happened just before the move – my second host dad was shot in a serious hunting accident – I thought it was my fault. I knew  it wasn’t, but I couldn’t help feel that I was a jinx.

The good news is that he recovered fully and I came to love that family even more than the first. But the feeling of being a jinx has never really gone away.

I was supposed to leave for Chicago on Thursday. I was supposed to attend the ALA Annual Conference and meet the members of YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee, of which I am the chair. Even though I know that I am not the cause if the conference’s cancellation and transformation into a virtual conference, once more, I feel like a jinx.

Even though I know it was COVID-19’s fault, there is a wacky part of my brain that believes I caused it because of a journal I purchased.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was revisiting bookbinding. In my pursuit, I thought I’d search Etsy for a nice handmade journal for my niece’s graduation from the University of Ottawa. I found a lovely maker who had some with maps on the cover.

You know how shopping sometimes goes – you find the perfect gift for your loved one, and a little something for yourself. Well, I found a journal with  Portland boards which I knew my niece would love.

il_300x300.1704208556_qus5

And then I saw one with Chicago covers. I had recently started a journal to keep track of my work as committee chair and knew this would help me do a better job. I purchased both. And that is when I jinxed the conference, although I didn’t know that for several more weeks, when the announcement came.

unnamed

Our committee met this week using Zoom. Our discussions were fruitful and have moved our work forward. But I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen in January, when we are supposed to meet, face-to-face in Indianapolis to select our winner at the ALA Midwinter meeting. There’s been a lot of what if thinking going on in my head these days as I navigate the ongoing COVID crisis, wondering what school will look like in the Fall, when this will all end. Maybe you have experienced this, too.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will not buy an Indianapolis journal, no matter how beautiful it might be.

 

 

 

 

Support your local…

28 Apr

download

I don’t need
the books I have ordered
from local independent bookstores,
or the yarn I have ordered
from local yarn shops
and indie dyers.

I definitely didn’t need
the craft supplies I ordered
from a local art supply store
in hopes that I would rediscover
a craft I enjoyed a decade ago.

I definitely needed
the dog food I ordered
from my local pet supply store.

But I ordered from them
because I think they need me
and maybe you, too.

 

Questions and answers

21 Apr

Officially, I have office hours. All the teachers in my district do. And yet, I get interesting questions by email at all times of the day (and night). I thought I’d share a few of these with you today, with my answers.

Q1:Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 6.07.28 AM

A1:
Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 6.08.36 AM

Q2:
Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 6.10.05 AM

A2:
Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 6.10.58 AM

Parents are in the mix, too. Especially since we started getting in touch about students who have not turned n work or participated in online activities. And then, there are the random ones, like this, from the parent of a former student whose son is in a friends class:

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 6.21.36 AM

I haven’t replied yet, but at 55, I felt like she was making me a job offer.

Learning curves for everyone

29 Mar

Tomorrow, we are supposed to get details about remote learning from the school district. My principal has warned us that it will have a lot of information. She asked us to look it over, but to not let it overwhelm us. We are having a staff meeting via Zoom on Tuesday to clarify things.

I’ve gotten by with a Google website for many years. We have had other options presented to us, including Google Classroom and Canvas, but I am a simple person and my website has served me, and my students well enough. Knowing that things are about to change radically, I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to present whatever it is I am going to present. I decided to test the waters and dip my toe into Canvas.

I logged into the account I have had for two years, but have never used. I figured the easiest thing to test out would be a reading/writing project I had assigned before we left for Outdoor School. Students already had the details and it wasn’t due yet, so it would be a good test subject. I wrote and uploaded and pressed publish. From my point of view, everything was pretty straightforward and easy. But did it work?

I thought about the two Humanities classes I teach, wondering who I might email and ask to check their Canvas account. I don’t even know if all students use Canvas, although I think most of their Encore teachers use it for their classes.

And then, an opportunity appeared.

It came in the form of this fun email from a student.

Screen Shot 2020-03-28 at 1.08.45 PM

I emailed her back right away, offering suggestions, asking and answering her questions and providing some links to good resources. And, I asked her if she uses Canvas and could she take a look at her Canvas account and tell me if it worked. I confessed to her that this was my first time using Canvas. It seems we are both on a learning curve.

Disappointment

14 Mar

Five chinchillas
Short-haired chinchillas
Chillin’ with the lights out
Chillin’ with the lights out
Chillin’ with the lights out
Chillin’ with the lights out

We were at campfire Wednesday night and the kids were singing their hearts out. Just as we made it to 2 chinchillas, the phone in my back pocket rang.

Who would call me here, now? I wondered as I fumbled to retrieve it and turn off the ringer. When I saw the caller was my principal, I knew I had to take the call.

“Hey, Adrienne. Are there kids around?” she asked.

“We are at campfire,” I replied. “Can you hear them? Give me a moment to walk away.”

And that’s when she broke the bad news. They were sending buses to pick us up the next morning. Outdoor School (ODS) was being cancelled because Oregon was limiting extra-curricular activities  to protect people from COVID-19. And ODS was on that list.

Her final admonition to me was tough. “Don’t tell the other teachers until you get a text from me.”

So, I had to sit through the rest of campfire, holding this sad news in my mind and heart. As soon as it was over and we were walking back to our cabin, I turned to my two teaching partners and blurted, “Veronica called. I have to tell you something.”

There was no way I couldn’t tell them. Back in our cabin we ranted and vented. Maybe we ate more snacks than we should have. We all wished we had some adult beverages. After talking it out we went to to bed, only to be awakened an hour later by camp staff knocking on our door. They had just found out.

The next morning, after breakfast, we told the kids. Their gasp was audible. We spent the remainder of the morning giving the kids the best last few hours of Outdoor School ever.

 

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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