Back-to-School: Holding on by a Thread

Context and Disclaimer: I am a high school English teacher in Southern California, distance teaching classes through Google Meets and Zoom Monday-Thursday and having office hours and meetings on Fridays. I have a six-year-old who just started first-grade also through distance learning, and a husband who is also at home. Oh, and I did this stupid thing that involved getting a tiny puppy a few weeks ago that is adorable but is very much so contributing to be heightened stressed levels. The following experiences and opinions are mine, not my district's, family's, colleagues', friends', or students'.

This semester (please dear god don't be more than that), might kill me. We are a week in with students, and I haven't been this tired or mentally fried in who-knows-how-long. I really, truly, don't know how we as educators are supposed to maintain this level of energy indefinitely. I am working around the clock- late in each afternoon and then again before bed, and then hours and hours on the weekend.

I know I am lucky to teach IB students for many reasons, but the pressure of preparing them for the IB assessments and also be competitive for college, one of the selling points of the program, is momentous. It is also common knowledge that the grading for honors-type classes is a bit more intense, and since I don't like grading online at all, I'm not excited to sit down and grade 138 essays digitally when the time comes.  

I also know that I have enormous privilege when it comes to having solid (so far) wifi, a quiet place to work, a son who really good at entertaining himself (although he does talk A LOT while doing so), and nothing but wonderful people to work directly with. My husband is also able to monitor Sawyer and the puppy-spawn-from-satan while I am teaching classes upstairs in the morning (my schedule in the afternoon, combined with Sawyer's mandatory room time, allows me to be back downstairs after lunch). Heck, just having a job right now is privilege.

I know I could have it worse, I do. I also know there are a lot of people out there who think I have it "easy," who don't know some of the inner workings of my life, but that's fine and I'm not bitter at all.  I feel like I get to have my feelings and thoughts validated, even if it's just by blogging about them. So, here we are.

From about 5:30ish morning to 8:30ish at night I am totally on duty, whether it's with my students or my family, with absolutely no down time. After one day of this schedule I was drained. After five I could barely think straight. And it's not just the go-go-go of the day, it's having to teach in a new way, having to recreate so many assignments for a new platform, worry about whether the kids are getting anything, reply to what feels like 546 emails a day, listen to the background chatter of the media/public about my profession- the list goes on and on. And that's just work. On the home front there are also some things to contend with, of course, some of which are private. For example, my son is totally new to distance learning, since he didn't to it with kinder last year (I just taught him, since he went to a private school and we weren't paying tuition). His teacher does an hour of Zoom every morning, and then posts 3-3.5 hours of lessons a day, which some are done in a prerecorded format and some are done on paper and we have to scan in. We work on his work before I start for the day (since we all get up so damn early), some during my lunch, I get him set up for independent stuff that I can monitor during my office hours, and then when I quit for the afternoon around 4 if we need to.

Plus there's the stupid puppy, which I know I can't really complain about since it was totally my choice. Honestly, guys? I totally forgot how much work they are. My goal is to try to tire her our in bursts of playing so she'll sleep and be quiet. Lather, rinse, repeat. She will be fully vaccinated and ready to walk in about 6-7 weeks, which I think will make life SO much easier (I'll get some exercise and she'll be tired- wins for us all). On top of my teaching, Sawyer's, the dog, there's also just all the cooking, cleaning, and general house keep up that everyone has to do. 

Back to the teaching. It's been so, so, so hard. I don't know my students and it's difficult to gauge their reactions and engagement online. Our schedule is in 80 minute blocks, which is really hard to plan for, after doing 58 minute ones for a decade (we see our students every other day, also hard... periods 1-3 Monday and Wednesday, 4-6 Tuesday and Thursday). I am having to rethink everything I do, trimming out things I can, since we are basically losing half the instructional time. Oh, and we are still getting the textbook situation worked out, which makes it a little hard to deliver the content we need to. I am working so hard to try to get to know these kids, since my philosophy has always been that you have to connect with them if you want them to really work for you. Using Google Classroom full time like this is a lot, too. I am constantly forgetting to check certain buttons when I'm scheduling work and am paranoid about having the kids on two different days and compensating for the due dates. The IB curriculum also changed, so I'm trying to navigate that as well. I miss being in my classroom so much. I have a whole corner where my desk is of little trinkets kids have given me, thank you notes pinned to the walls, loads of pictures, etc... that always makes me so pumped to be a teacher. Then there's the awesome student work all over and the random things they were always posting on their section of the whiteboard. I miss the kids themselves, of course, but also chatting with colleagues during passing period and in the copy room, and eating lunch every day with one of my good friends. This is my fifteenth year of teaching, and a decade has been at the school I am at- I basically feel homesick. I even miss sitting in staff meetings (although we had some fun group texts going at a few points).

Then all of this is combined with The Virus- nothing is really happening. Sure, we can go to parks, but now it has to be early on weekend mornings to avoid crowds and the heat. I feel like I have absolutely nothing to look forward to, which is usually my coping method of choice- plan fun things on the horizon to get me through the tough times. Nothing. Nada. I desperately miss my friends- I have worked to be social online, but now that we're five months in I have to say, I'm really, really lonely. With working and managing Sawyer's school, I don't even have time to read or work out as much as I usually do, which makes me feel like I am drowning even more.

But, at my core, I'm not a pessimist, but instead a realistic optimist. This is not how it will be forever. I'll settle in, I'll figure out a way to catch up and even get ahead to relieve some of the everyday pressure. Sawyer will keep getting better and better at distance learning. The weather will cool down and Ellie will get her shots, which mean lots of time walking outside and taking her and Sawyer to parks. Eventually there will be a vaccine. I am inherently a problem solver and while I am giving myself the grace to feel all of this, I know that I am not a wallower. I get shit done. This is not permanent.

Given my self-proclaimed realistic optimism, I do have to acknowledge some positives. I'm not losing two hours a day to the commute (although I'm using that time to work, so it doesn't feel like that much of a gain). I never have to wear shoes while I teach and I don't have to pack anyone's lunches. There's always plenty of Diet Coke and coffee readily available, and despite the stress I love popping down in between classes to get a quick update from Sawyer on his Zoom class meeting or pet Ellie's cute furry little head. I am so proud of my students' attendance so far and their willingness to email me and communicate issues. There have been some roadblocks at our school that we have worked hard to overcome and I'm so proud of what I am seeing my colleagues do.

This is not permanent. 

This is not permanent. 

1 comment:

  1. I start next week--college, so it's a lot less interactive screen time, but it's encouraging to hear that your students have been communicative so far!