Saturday, September 26, 2020

First Month on the Hot Mess Express

Week 4 of hybrid school is complete. People ask me, “Is it getting better?” Without hesitating, I answer, “No.”

I have little faith that this situation will ever get better. Just imagine being in two places at once, using technology that is unfamiliar, questioning your every decision, predicting the outcome for every assignment, and still trying to bring some joy of learning to 90 teenagers. It is an impossible situation.

At the beginning of each school year, teachers put in many overtime hours for which we are never compensated. We recognize that and still do it, but usually by week 4, we can take a deep breath and relax a little. Not in 2020.

Two weekends ago, I worked 10 hours preparing to be out the following Friday. I had planned a weekend at the beach with my friends that would make up for the Alaskan cruise Covid took from us. This weekend, I will work at least 10 hours grading all the work I had to assign so I could miss one day. Is that how every weekend will be? Most of my colleagues do the same thing. We can’t keep up this pace.

“Just don’t assign the work. Then you won’t have to grade it.” That would be swell, but teaching doesn’t work like that. Parents are quick to judge and condemn if the rigor of our classes isn’t there. My students can’t afford to “waste” a day since we are already a week behind our college partner. The students have to take standardized tests to decide if we are teaching the standards. We can’t take time off.

Now about parents – I have the best parents ever mainly because they leave me alone. They must trust me to teach their kids to write. I don’t know. Maybe it’s my old age and experience, but I’m lucky. Some of my colleagues aren’t. In some Zoom classes, parents are watching, listening and recording to find reasons to complain about what/how the teacher is handling the class.  One teacher used a short clip from a program on NPR to add to her lesson. A parent complained that the teacher was using the class as her own political platform. So much for adding current events to a lesson. I value parental input but right now, we don’t need an arm-chair quarterback or back-seat driver.

Now about the students – They are phenomenal. I can’t say often enough how great mine are. They are attentive and get their work done, mostly on time. I know I’m blessed because my students are more mature (seniors) and smart (dual enrollment). I often remind them that they chose to be in this class; therefore, I expect a lot from them. My Zoomers are very understanding of my lack of maneuvering all the screen shares and internet glitches. After I had a heart-to-heart with my students about my insecurities, I got the sweetest text from a Zoomer.

Like I said, I’m blessed because most of my students are just like this person. However, many of my friends have the opposite with their students. Some students haven’t attended Zoom classes but a couple of times because of connectivity issues, imagined or real. Teachers have been Zoom hacked by anonymous people logging in using very inappropriate names which might be visible to the other students. Some hackers have gotten into classes and played explicit songs or yelled profanities before being removed from the group.

Now that we are 4 weeks in, people are getting sick. I have several students who are quarantined at home because of a positive test or exposure. Covid is encroaching, and it’s only a matter of time before more kids/teachers get sick. We all know it’s coming and that’s the dark cloud that hangs over any pleasure of being in the classroom.

The days are not fun anymore. I like my students, but I don’t know them. I wouldn’t recognize any of them because I see only their eyes or an image on a screen. I try to find joy in little things, like the student who wore a marquee mask, but those little things don't lessen the constant worry or the daily tears my colleagues cry at the beginning of each day. 

It's not getting any better. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Week One -- DONE!

Week one is done!

Many tears were shed by teachers and students alike. Even I cried, and I don’t cry often.  I’ve got good medication. I didn’t cry in front of the students, so I guess that’s a win.

Finally Friday! What a week!

I always say that a teacher has basically three jobs – plan, teach, grade.  I have always been able to do two of the three at once. Rarely do I get all three in sync, but when it does happen, all is right with the world. Over 39 years, I’ve gotten my course curriculum planned to perfection. I give my students a syllabus for the entire semester with due dates, test dates, etc. I am so proud of that calendar. I have also been in front of a class so long that my delivery of material is spot-on. I tell the same stories and crack the same jokes. Grading always slowed the process.  I never look forward to spending my weekend grading and commenting on 100 essays on the same topic. But I do it.

This year, I would love to have the old 3-part job back. Now instead of three things a teacher has to do, there are at least 4 more. Now I watch the face-to-face (f2f) kids and interact with them, making sure they are paying attention to my all-important lesson. At the same time, I watch the Zoomers to make sure they are doing the same thing and not back in bed asleep while holding their phone. To get to this point with the Zoomers, I’ve had to connect a laptop to the TV because there’s no microphone on my desktop computer. I can screen share with Zoomers, but I can’t manipulate the TV screen (write on the TV) because the software isn’t on the laptop.

Zoomers can unmute if they have a question, but otherwise they are silent. Admin had an idea to wear earbuds so I can hear the Zoomers and talk to them all while hearing and talking to the f2f kids. The earbuds they said to buy didn’t work with the laptop they provided, but goodness, I already have too many voices in my head. I can’t add more. 

fter one week, I saw few successes and oh so many failures. I try to be the best in front of my students if for no other reason than for them not to roll their eyes or laugh at me. No
w I have to worry that they are recording me and sharing on social media. 

Many times this week, I asked myself why I was doing this again. I can survive without the part-time paycheck. I don’t need the insurance thanks to my late husband and the VA. I don’t need retirement benefits because I already have them. So why am I back in the classroom? It comes down to commitment. I made one to my principal and my coworkers. Now that I have been with them for a week, I am committed to my students. On day one, I assured them that even though things were very different, I am committed to getting them through this year so they get the high school and college credits they need. I emphasized that we are a team, that they chose to be in this class; therefore, they have to stay “in it to win it” as good coaches say. We have to do what is best for our team/class by staying in touch with me and staying healthy.

This year is going to require so much of teachers. You have no idea. Actually, I have no idea either. I’m just rolling on, one day at a time, trying to get a handle on all these many new parts of being a teacher.

Two ways to lessen stress -- Chick-fil-a peach milkshake and playing with a puppy!

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Back-to-School Scaries Part Two

Three years ago, I wrote a post about going back to school.You can check it out here if you want, or I can give you a brief summary here. In it, I tell about the anxiety the beginning of the school year brings to teachers. We play all the scenarios in our heads of what the first day or week will be like. Will I get a bad group of kids? How many mistakes have I made on my syllabus? How will my own children handle school? 

The BTS Scaries are still here, but they look a little different this year.

In the past, I worried about what I would wear on the first day.I always wanted to look nice, somewhat stylish, and professional. This year, what I'm wearing ranks at the bottom of my worry list. After six months of quarantine, perceptions of teacher "professional attire" have changed. My administration asked that we not wear scrubs on the first day.They don't want the students to see us as medical professionals and become nervous, but after the first day, no one cares what we wear. I won't go as far as to wear scrubs, but I predict many days of jeans and school t-shirts. The constant addition to my wardrobe is a mask. I haven't decided about the face shield. 

I always over plan for the first day of school to make sure I have enough to fill the class period. I want the students to know from the beginning that time isn't wasted in my class. We work from bell to bell. This year, the class periods changed from 50 to 105 minutes. Some would say, "Just do two day's worth of instruction in that one day" but it doesn't work like that with young people. On the first day, I usually hand my students a syllabus detailing what we do in class every day/week for the entire semester. They know when every test will happen and when every essay is due. I was so proud that I could be that organized. This year, there is not a real syllabus.  I have a list of the major assignments and the weight each has on the grade, but I have no clue when they will happen. I do have the first week planned. This year, I will be one day ahead of the students. I hate operating like this after 39 years in front of students. 

My biggest worry (besides Covid) this year is technology. In an effort to get all the classes operating in the same online platform, we now use Canvas to share our lessons, lectures, assignments and tests with the students.  Everyone is on the same page. Yeah, right! It will take a year to learn this new way, and I'm hopeful that it will make life easier in the long run. Presently, I spend too much time in front of the computer making modules and then having to remember to publish them so the students have access. On the first day, I'm pretty confident that I have done something wrong and the whole class will be wasted. 

Of course, there are "those teachers" who have gotten all creative with Canvas. They have beautiful home pages with bitmojis and virtual classrooms that look just like their room at school. Not me. My home page has a banner and buttons because my young colleague and her husband made them for me. Thanks, Michelle and Will. My home page will look like this for the rest of my teaching career. 

Tomorrow will be the beginning of year 40 as a teacher for me. I look forward to building relationships with my students and seeing them become better writers. Going back to school brings challenges because of the change in routine and the fear of the unknown. This year, I'm once again drawing on that AA mantra "one day at a time" but this year, the words have a whole new meaning.

Stay safe! 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Teaching in a Covid World

It’s been a minute since I have written a post for Pass the Honey. Actually, it’s been over two years.  I didn’t feel like I had anything worth writing about, or at least I didn’t feel that my thoughts were worthy of someone’s time.

I’m not going to go into all of the events of the last six months.  I’m sure you know all about Covid-19, the pandemic, hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing.  I don’t want to beat that dead horse. What you may want to read about is the latest controversy coming out of the pandemic – going back to school.  On that, I am an expert.

I’ve been a teacher for 40 years and have experienced so many events on global and local levels with my students – refugees from Vietnam and Hurricane Katrina, the HIV/AIDS panic, terrorist activities, space shuttles exploding, civil unrest, etc. We have shared suicides/deaths of classmates and teachers, break-ups of families, unwanted pregnancies, incarcerations, etc. In all these tragedies and changes, I felt that I was one person the students looked to for answers or comfort when life went awry. We, as a team, worked through the problems together while also trying to learn the correct uses of the comma.  My job was to listen, reflect, point toward a brighter future and move on with the lesson. This is when I’d quote Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind – “Tomorrow is another day!”

Life is different now. I don’t know if I can pull off the team concept of working together with my students to face this latest devil.  I’m overwhelmed with having to learn all new technology and curriculum for teaching in person and online – synchronous, they call it. I’ll have my students sitting in front of me wearing masks (I hope), waiting for me to connect via Zoom to the kids at home. All of them will look for me to guide them through their senior English class, but we will be cognizant of maintaining our 6-foot bubble which is impossible in my classroom. Every day, we will be waiting for the notice to “retreat to home” for remote learning.

My colleagues are facing impossible odds. We cry multiple times daily. We bitch about having to teach some automated curriculum so we will all be at the same pace when we “retreat to home.” We now must fill 105 minutes of class time instead of 50 so our pacing is totally off. We have little faith in our leaders because we don’t know who to trust with our lives. We feel like sacrificial lambs being led to the slaughter of ourselves, our students or our family members. We have a doomsday outlook because we know the technology will fail given that we teach in a school that is over 100 years old. The Wi-Fi never worked in the past, and it certainly won’t now with every student sucking up the signal. We anticipate fielding many complaints from parents because their kid isn’t getting a quality education.

Every day, I count my blessings; I have many and I’m grateful. I follow rules and laws. I do my best to be a good citizen and person. I also try to find a way to be positive through terrible events. I have faith that God knows what He is doing, and I hope that we will come out of this ok. My colleagues and I are going to do our best and hope that parents will be patient. But honestly, right now I’d love to tell Scarlett O’Hara to shut the hell up.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My Transformation

a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance

Several people have told me over the past few months that they miss reading my posts. Last weekend, a relative actually asked to take a picture with me so she could share with her friends who read Pass the Honey. I was more than surprised; I felt like  a celebrity! I also felt a little guilty that I hadn't been delivering the goods to my adoring public. It's just like waiting for the next album by your favorite artist to drop or the next book by your favorite author to hit the bookstore shelves. (Picture my giant ego here. 😁)

Two years ago, I wrote about my healthy lifestyle commitment with Weight Watchers (here). At that point, I had lost 21 pounds by following the plan, tracking points and walking every day. In October 2016, I started working out with a trainer once a week to build strength and muscle. Since then, I have continued in the same manner and have lost 62 pounds. 

April 5, 2015 and April 5, 2018

In the fall of 2017, I became complacent. School/work started back, and I was teaching an additional class. I didn't think it would be much different from the previous year, but one more class of college essays takes more than just one extra hour a day. I earned more money, but I'm not sure it was worth the extra time. I stopped walking as much and didn't take the time to prep meals. I was bored with my workout routine and needed to do something different. I told myself that I was satisfied, not complacent, but I was lying to myself. A healthy lifestyle is a mind game, and I didn't want complacency to win. I needed a challenge.

In January 2018, I added more training time. I worked out with the trainer twice a week for 30 minutes each. I also attended boot camp three times a week for an hour each session. I began tracking things other than food, like flights of stairs climbed and active minutes each day. 

I also started measuring my waist, hips, thighs, calves, and arms on the last Sunday of each month. When I first started my healthy lifestyle journey, I didn't take "before" pictures or measurements. I didn't see the need because I had failed so many times in the past. I didn't want another record of my failure. The present Weight Watchers program is all about non-scale victories -- other ways to record successes. 

Since January, I have lost a total of 17.5 inches. 

  • waist: -2
  • hips: -4
  • thighs: -3.5 each so -7 total
  • arms: -1.25 each so -2.5 total
  • calves: -1 each so -2 total

I feel wonderful, and it's not just about the weight loss. I love being strong! Last week, I wore a short sleeve shirt to school, and one of my students said my biceps looked swole. That's a compliment, by the way.

Family fitness day is boot camp after church.
Before my recent lifestyle change, I was always the person taking the pictures instead of being in them and the person sitting in the bleachers instead of playing the game. Now, I don't automatically move to the back row in pictures and am eager to participate in activities I always avoided. 

There's an AA saying that applies to almost anything in life: "In order to keep it, you have to give it away." I thought about that saying when I started this post. I'm sharing my healthy lifestyle story with you because I want to keep it -- FOREVER. 

I failed so many times in the past because I wanted to do things my way and I wanted fast results. I had so many excuses as to why I couldn't change -- expensive, no time to spare, cooking for others. Now, I take my time and my money to do what it takes to keep me healthy and I hope, living longer.

If I can do it, anyone can do it.

April 7, 2018 with my handsome son, Drew

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Back-to-School Scaries

I dread the beginning of the school year.

Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching, for the most part. I love getting a new crop of students every year, getting a fresh start, getting to try something new and different, getting to attempt once again to stamp out ignorance.

But I dread the anxiety the beginning of the school year brings.

The anxious feelings start creeping into my mind when the first back-to-school ads come on TV or the displays go up in stores. As with most major events/holidays, these exhibitions happen earlier and earlier. When I notice them, I casually check the calendar and count the number of weeks left in summer vacation. 
I tell myself to stop, to live in the moment, but that end-of-relaxation date stays in the back of my mind.

Another dose of worry happens a few days before we teachers return for pre-school planning week. The cause is the dreaded letter from the principal. 

The message is always positive and encouraging, and when I was an ingénue, I got caught up in the excitement. This year will be my 37th in the classroom, so I’m totally able to control my enthusiasm. In addition to the “Welcome Back” message, the envelope contains the schedule for the week which usually consists of meeting after meeting after meeting. I have been in so many of these meetings for so long that I have seen the same this-is-the-thing-that-will-fix-education presented different ways and called different names at least three times.

Monday, I’ll begin again, which is the best thing about teaching. Not many professions allow a definite start/end date when you can try different strategies and materials with a whole new crop of mostly eager participants. I look at each year as my way to finally get it right, to have my best year yet.

Until Monday and for about two weeks after that, I’ll wake up at 2:00 a.m. and attempt to solve my imaginary classroom scenarios. I’ve tried everything to avoid this anxiety – exercise, no caffeine, peaceful bedtime routine, sleeping pills – but I’ve found nothing to conquer the Back-to-School Scaries.

I’ll let you know if those education experts have finally come up with that magical method that will fix education. Every year, I hope.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

She's Moving Out -- Again

Today I’m moving my 23-year-old daughter out of the house – again.

Like many young adults today, she moved out for college and moved back home after graduation. Her goal of graduate school in speech pathology didn’t go as she planned, so home she came.

That was two years ago.

Getting used to having her around again was difficult for us all. My then 10-year-old granddaughter who lives with me had taken over my daughter’s room which they now had to share. The house became more tense with a new schedule of comings and goings. My husband used to laugh and say that when my daughter was in the house, a cloud of tension descended. I had to worry about planning meals around someone else’s likes and dislikes, to listen to complaints of the filth left behind by the ones with whom she had to share the upstairs bathroom and to lose sleep over the every-now-and-then 2:00 a.m. homecomings. Her not getting into grad school was hard on her confidence and self-esteem, so I had to be a cheerleader and help her see that life doesn’t always go as we plan. Most of the time she didn’t want to hear my advice because this little blip in her agenda was all she focused on. In other words, she had no plan and felt that at age 21, she was supposed to have it all together.

During the next two years, she did a lot of childcare for quick money and also worked as a floater at a local non-profit for adults with disabilities and mental health disorders. The term floater means that she went where she was needed. If a staff member called in sick, she filled in. She mainly worked in personal care – feeding, changing, etc. those who couldn’t do it for themselves. At first, she was unsure that she wanted to be there. After all, she had a college degree from the University of Florida; she didn’t train to be a personal-care aide or to handle people with behavior outbursts. She could make a lot more money waiting tables or being a nanny. As she got to know the clients, though, she got excited about the work and became an advocate for this population.

Cards and art the clients and staff gave Kelsey on her last day at the non-profit program.

She was also at home during the last months of my husband’s life. She helped with doctor visits and chemo treatments. She even traveled with him on his last trip to our place in North Carolina. Just the two of them stayed together for a month in our RV. She got an ear full of his tales of his past life, of how he felt about certain people who pleased and disappointed him, and of his limited future. They both had a fascination with brain chemistry and psychology, and he told stories about his time in Germany when he oversaw a psychiatric unit of an Army hospital.

She was also at home when he died and was here to grieve with the rest of us. She was invaluable to me, helping with transportation of my son with Down syndrome and listening/advising her niece when I just couldn’t relate to the 6th grade daily drama. More importantly, she transitioned from being my child into being my friend. I’ve watched her mature and gain so much self-confidence. She has found her voice and isn’t afraid to use it. She is strong.

These past two years gave her a new goal, too. She decided that she didn’t want to be a speech pathologist anymore. The experiences she had as a floater and with helping her stepdad allowed her to see where she will be most effective and happy – as a nurse, specifically as a psychiatric nurse.  
She investigated the requirements to obtain a BSN, took the required classes at the local community college, and applied to three universities for their accelerated programs which would allow her to complete the degree in a little over a year. She was accepted at two of the three. The one she chose had 600 applicants and she was one of the 32 chosen. How’s that for a confidence builder?

So today, she’s leaving again. She’s only three hours away, but her life will be moving at warp speed and she won’t be able to come home much. After she finishes the program, she has a plan for the rest of her life that she will work toward; however, because of her experiences of the past two years, I’m confident that she will be able to deal with life if her plans go awry.

I am one proud mama.

I advised Kelsey to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest so when someone refers to her as Nurse Ratched, she'll understand.