Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I'll do you guys a favor and not talk about work.

2. Do you every wonder how the pandemic will effect the typical contemporary narrative? Are writers still writing about a "normal" society where we go to concerts and fly without masks? Or are they adapting? When you read do you notice the discrepancies of pre-Covid versus now? I am starting to! 

3. Our little puppy Ellie is growing so much- she has nearly tripled in weight since we got her less than six weeks ago. She realllllllllly hates being cooped up in the little pen we made her in our kitchen and is quite vocal about it. I get it! She thinks she's part of the family now (verdict is still out on that one, ma'am), and wants to be included. Unfortunately, with the way our house is laid out she can't just roam (plus she's a chewer!). I read about "umbilical training," which basically means you keep your dog on a leash most of the time so they're constantly with you and you're able to teach them how to behave around furniture and whatnot. We've been doing the lite version and she seem much happier.

4. Despite the hectic nature of life, I am still resolute to get in at least thirty minutes of reading a day, plus 25-40 minutes of exercise. I break it up; I'll jump on the treadmill to incline walk for ten minutes when I can sneak away here or there, and the same with reading. It's not ideal, but at least I can keep up with things I love.

5. The weather has become a bit cooler here where I live; a week or so we were well over 100 every day and the evening temperatures not as cool as I'd like. Things have cooled down 10 or so degrees and it's made a big difference- I am much happier when I can spend more time outside and with windows open.

6. All Sawyer does is make comics- every day he has me print out little grids for him and he makes 5-10 pages worth almost daily. The topics are the absolute cutest- yesterday was about a new kid at Hogwarts (there was a new kid in his class Zoom), the day before about Carl from Up! going on an adventure (we got a new Pixar book and drew the house from the movie), etc... I love seeing how he connects things from his actual life into his stories. I admire his stamina so much- he sits for like 2 straight working on them!

7. Sawyer and I are going to take a virtual kids painting class on Zoom later today, through one of those "sip and paint" kind of companies. It's reasonably priced and they put together the materials for you to pick up beforehand. We need fun things to look forward to!

... but a Few Good Things

Recently  I wrote a post lamenting distance teaching and learning, as a working mom.

Spoiler alert: it has maybe gotten a tiny bit better, maybe, but I'm exhausted, overwhelmed, and when people ask me how I'm doing I often reply, "I want to die" with a crying emoji and a laughing one. I miss the old days of teaching in the classroom and shipping your own child off to be dealt with by someone else all day- the somewhat forced cheer below does not replace the dumpster fire we're all trying to contend with. 

I also said that I was a realistic optimist in the post, so I've been trying to find some of the positives. It hasn't been easy, lemme tell ya. But we all know the research that has been done about gratitude and all the warm fuzzies it can give you. 

So, here we are, two weeks in of teaching from a distance and supervising my first-grader doing the same, and I've managed to drudge up some of the good parts:

1. I have fully (and happily) committed to a full face of makeup, hair done, dress clothes on, and maybe even some accessories. What I'm not wearing? Shoes. A slip. A sweater (my classroom was a freezer).

2. Not commuting! I am spending nearly two hours less in the car every day, which means no expenses for gas or car wear-and-tear. 

3. My students are replying to ALL THE THINGS. I write "good job" on an assignment? They write "thank you." I tell them they're missing something? They respond "I'm sorry, I'll get it in!" I make a joke about something they add? They "lolol" at me. It's going to take me ages to learn their names and faces, but I enjoy the written interactions (my email box is VERY full, all the time, though).

4. I've already lost a few pounds, just because this new schedule has really ruined my impromptu pantry visits. I also haven't been baking a ton. 

5.  I thrive on efficiency and schedules- I've had to really flex those muscles and create something that ensures Sawyer and I are where we should be, doing what we should be doing, at the right time (there are a lot of alarms programmed on my Fitbit, let's just say). Plus there's the puppy and her 2951235 bathroom trips outside a day. 

6. Meetings at my school are once a week, whether staff, professional development, or department. We still have them, but they're on meets/zoom and just way more efficient. Much better!

7. Over Meets or Zoom no one is going to notice if I have a flaky patch on my cheek, I accidentally have a Diet Coke splatter on my shirt, or if my eye shadow isn't blended perfectly (why yes, yes I am as self-conscious as the teenagers I teach).


9. I don't have to guess how much water or Diet Coke I need to take with me for the day- it's all there, in the fridge.

10. No more dealing with copy machines! If I had a dollar every time I had to swear at those things and threaten violence I could retire. And not only that, I don't have to deal with running out of copies, forgetting to make copies, or making the wrong copies.

11. I have had to force myself to learn Google Classroom and use the Drive, which, as a semi-ludite, I had resisted hard. And now here I am, scheduling assignments, linking my AERIES gradebook up to the grading I do in Google Classroom, and having my kids do breakout rooms in Zoom. Tech whiz I will never be, but I have improved greatly. 

12. This has also forced me to help Sawyer become more technologically literate. I bought him a cheap laptop (thankfully, as his district ran out of devices) and he is getting better and better each day with using the touch-pad and navigating the assignments his teacher puts in Google Classroom. He is learning to use Zoom, has gotten more familiar with certain aspects of the keyboard, and can work the controls of the videos his teachers send, as well. 

13. Let's be honest- there are people at all workplaces who you'd prefer not seeing. I don't have a burning hatred for anyone, but there are people I don't miss.

14. Respect and flexibility from our campus administrators. 

15. A newfound appreciation for my classroom and seeing my friends. We can teach at home or school, and clearly it makes more sense for me to stay home. We don't teach live on Fridays, and prior to a few days ago we weren't going to be allowed to go in then. They changed their minds the other day, though, so I am going to go in a few times a month. I can't wait to be in my room and be able to wave to friends who are there from afar (with masks on, too, of course). 

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. 

5-4-3-2-1 (Back-to-School Edition)

[my classroom, which will have to be redone
considerably before students are one day let
back in... I miss it!]

In case you're new here, I am a high school IB English teacher who is about to start my school year teaching virtually. I also have a first grader starting a new school and an eight-week old puppy that perhaps was a bit of an impulse decision, but is adorable and I'm sure she'll be a great dog in like four years. I also have a lot of hobbies, try to exercise 6-7 times a day, am actively pursuing an at-home social life (ha! what is that, even?). Basically, I am busy like everyone else on this planet.

5 ways I'm trying to make my life easier:

Plan, plan, and plan some more- I am fairly organized and I often have multiple to-do lists going at a time,  so I am definitely a seasoned planner. When it comes to planning for my classes I need to really rethink my time constraints, my platform for teaching, etc... so that I can optimize every minute I have. When it comes to home, no time can be wasted. I am getting up at 5:30 right now and I need to start using the time before then and work as productively possible (picture me blankly staring at the Keurig). 

Have designated no-work times- I am definitely plugged into email round the clock and I will never hesitate to reply to a student or colleague as I am laying down to fall asleep at night (or even at 3 am recently when I was up with the puppy). I won't limit myself to contractual hours; it's not how I roll. I do plan on having blocks of time during the day, after and before contract time, that I am not accessible. 

Organizational tools- I have a paper planner, a to-do list for work, a to-do list for home, Google calendar for work, icalendar for home, and am going to start using a paper habit tracker for a visual. I also adore my Forest app, as we all know, to help me take a break from my phone. 

Have a designated work desk away from my family- I know that a lot of people might not have the room to do this, but I set up a space in the room I use for my treadmill, bike, and crafts (and Sawyer's toys so he can hang out while I work out). I don't plan to always be in there, but it will be a great place to store my stuff and retreat to when I need a quiet space to work. I got rid of so much junk and it looks a million times better. 

Start dinner earlier every night- I know this sounds so simple and silly, but I think this little fifteen minute shift will make our nighttime routine a lot easier. Most days I don't get to sit down and actually relax for more than five minutes until after the dinner-kid shower routine is over, so it will give me a few minutes to chill. If distance learning last spring was any indication, I will spend every minute from about 7:30 to 4:00ish on work and helping Sawyer with his school stuff, 4-6 catching up on chores, taking care of the dog, and trying to get some actual QT with my kid (as in drawing together, not doing math together). Again, I know it's not exactly revolutionary, but I like to find little tweaks I can make to our daily schedule to help things run efficiently and give the illusion of giving me more time. 

4 ways I plan to boost morale:

My teacher Instagram account- I used to only allow alumni on it, but I have opened it up to current students as well, and it has been such a fun way to connect to the kids. I have put up a lot of informational items for getting this crazy time worked out, but I also put up fun polls, games, and personal touches from my own life to help them feel like they know me. I just stopped typing this to help a student figure out who to talk to about her schedule and also noticed an old kid joke around about something else I had posted. 

Star students- I started doing this last spring with my seniors and I got so many messages thanking me. Each day on Instagram Stories I'd mention a few kids who were doing great work and put them in a highlight- it was that simple. I think not only will I give them an insta shout out, but I'll incorporate into my Google Site as well- sort of like an student of the week kind of thing, but with no one filling out a collage about their favorite foods. Under normal circumstances our students may not receive enough positive feedback and attention, which means they need even more during these trying times. 

Positive emails- I started sending out 2-3 positive notecards to students each week last year and I got such great feedback. It was everything from "you have the greatest sense of humor and you do wonders for classroom morale" to "your thesis writing has improved so much" to "your constant attention to turning your work on time has been noted." I am going to keep doing that, but through email! Parents have also mentioned it at conferences and it's just nice to know that the kids are feeling validated and their families are proud.  

Virtual student work bulletin board- I love love love decorating my classroom walls with student work, so I plan on doing a virtual board on my google site. I haven't worked out the details, but 

3 things I won't be doing:

Staying off the bitmoji train- This is a huge thing right now in education, but it's not me and I'm not going to take valuable time to create a cute little person and animated classroom site. I teach juniors and I just don't think that this is going to be what sucks them in. I totally get why people are doing it- they want to connect with the kids somehow, they want to be creative, they want to be engaging. That's great! I just don't want to and don't think it's going to enrich my personal teaching practice. 

Do all the bells and whistles- Kind of an extension from above, but I think a lot of teachers are overwhelming themselves with seventy-six Google extensions, websites, and youtube channels right now. It's so easy to! There are so many resources that instead of feeling assisted it's easy to drown. I am going to stick to Google Classroom, Zoom, Google Meets, Peardeck, and email. 

Comparing myself to other teachers-  There are some people who are tech whizzes, there are some people who never get to know their students, there are some people who grade everything the day it's turned in, there are some- you get the point. I have been teaching for fifteen years and I know what my personal strengths and weaknesses are and will adjust from there. 

2 things I am looking forward to:

A vaccine- I have very little faith in our state's ability to open up before the new year, and I really think if we can push out a vaccine asap we might get back in our classrooms this school year. If anything, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and maybe people will feel... lighter. 

November- I have such high hopes for this month. I have a post in the works to talk about my hope soon! (This is literally 100% nothing concrete and is like my own personal harmless conspiracy theory)

1 things I won't miss about going in to work:

The commute- I spent about 45 minutes in the morning and at least an hour in the afternoon driving in traffic, between getting Sawyer and going home. I would gladly continue to do it if it meant life was normal, but I'm trying to look on the bright side! Also, I know I'll spend that time working instead, most days, but at least less time driving and less spent on gas!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. The school year in my district started today, for teachers. We have various online meetings throughout the next three days, but we also have a lot of time to prep, plan, etc... I am doing most of it at home, but I hope to go in to work for a few hours for some quiet time to really tie up loose ends tomorrow. I am fairly certain that I know what I am teaching, but everything is in flux (I am one of the lucky ones that knows; our district, like many others, are scrambling to accommodate the various instructional plans they offered. Basically, it's a mess). I plan on writing a post later this weekend to sort of unburden myself of ALL THE THOUGHTS.

2. I'm reading three books, but I feel like I am making progress. There's one for work, David Mitchell's Utopian Avenue, and then I am still slowly making my way through Bill Bryson's The Body. All are good in their own ways, but also long (well, not the one for work, I'm just moving through it slowly).

3. Little Ellie, our new golden retriever puppy, is growing quickly! She is now 8.5 weeks and we've had her just over 2, so I feel like she's a permanent fixture now. She sleeps through the night, meaning from about 10-5:30, without any accidents. This is sort of cramping my style, big time, in terms of having time to myself at night, but I am trying to readjust and just take that time in the morning. I am literally counting down the days until I can take her on walks, after she is fully vaccinated. September 27 cannot come fast enough! I have these grand ideas about taking her on walks in the morning before I start working in order to tire her out, and then again in the evening. I am fully aware that I am completely ignoring what a pain it is to teach a puppy how to properly walk on a leash, but I'll just stay in this bubble until then. 

4. I have been neglecting my embroidery terribly these days (wow, don't I sound like someone straight out of an Austen book or something?), and I'm a little sad about it. Despite it being August, I still want to finish my symbol-a-book hoop from 2019, do a few things for my Etsy shop, finish a fun little reading llama hoop I'm doing for myself, think about a few Halloween options, and start a Christmas custom- portrait push. I have not really tried very hard to push the holiday sale aspect of this tiny little side business, and while this year probably isn't the time, I just might attempt it anyway. 

5. I am trying to plan something to look forward to every weekend, mostly involving Sawyer, since I know this is going to rough on him, with my days being so structured and him going back in some form soon (his district is a lagging). I told him on Saturday we'd swim a ton, get takeout from somewhere we haven't yet, do something delicious for dessert, and he could stay up late to watch a movie (I'm pretty strict about him going up to bed by about 8 every night, just because I need time at night and he does well with routine). We have been so lucky with mild summer weather (knock on all the wood), so I can't wait for fall when it gets cooler and even easier to go hike or whatever. Even better will be when we can take the dog! 

6. I accidentally discovered someone trying to be sneaky on Instagram recently (not my husband, haha- I feel like I have to make that disclaimer here) and the fact that they made such a rookie mistake is pretty hilarious, although clearly they were trying to pull a fast one on me. On that note, doesn't social media really truly bring out the childish side of us? I mean isn't this ooooooozing passive aggressiveness right here?

7. I have tried to use an online habit tracker and I'm really horrible at using it, s o I paid $3 for a super cute printable one from Etsy and am excited to get it filled out. I think in a lot of ways going back to school is like the new year, for many people. 

July Reads

I'll just say it, even if everyone else is: HOW IS IT AUGUST? This year, man. 

I read a lot in July, but I'm slightly terrified to see what will happen in August, since I start back at work in four days. I guess that's all par for the course, but considering the circumstances it all seems a bit more overwhelming this year. I made a list of non-negotiables the other day of things that I need to spend at least a few minutes a day doing to not lose my mind, and reading was definitely on it. Anyway, this month:

I had two re-reads this month, one with Sawyer and one with Julie. Sawyer and I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which we both obviously enjoyed. Julie and I read A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of my favorite Irving books, for a post we did the other day.

Two of my books were for the two book clubs I am a part of, which has definitely been a positive to come out of all of this. With my little trio of good friends we read Stephen King's Misery, my first fiction read of his since high school. It disturbed me in all sorts of ways- the idea of being held captive in a house (slightly triggering these days), the gratuitous violence, and Annie's instability. I read Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other, as well, which I thought was outstanding. Her narrative structure, discussion of gender, and syntactical style will make for great discussion when we "meet." I have to say, now that I have read both of the Booker Prize winners from last year, Atwood's was far, far inferior to this and I respect the Prize far less now. 

Kevin Kwan's Sex and Vanity was like a literary dessert- totally over-the-top and delightful. He still possesses the wit, charm, and attention to detail as he did in his trilogy, and I was amused from beginning to end. It was the perfect pool read. 

I enjoyed Jami Attenberg's last novel, so I was excited to pick up All This Could be Yours when it came out earlier this summer. A father-on-his-deathbed-bringing-everyone-back-together kind of tale, we learn about the secrets the family possessed in the past and in the present. 

Finally, Michele Harper's memoir The Beauty in Breaking was perfection. I have read several doctor memoirs before, but never one by a black woman- there aren't many of these books out there. She approaches her profession and personal life in the text, looking at the moments one breaks, and how you can choose to learn and grow from these experiences. I was brought to tears a few times, reading about an old man who chose to die without treatment for cancer and child severely beat. I think these days when many of us aren't at our best this book can help us realize the lessons we are hopefully learning.