Distance Learning Take 2

We are officially wrapping up our 3rd week of distance learning round 2 and I have felt so much better about it this time around than I did in the spring!

Don’t get me wrong, I still hate that we have to be distant instead of being at school but we are so much more prepared this time around. Ever since our Welcome Back days the first week of September, we have been preparing our kids for the inevitability of going to distance at some point. From day 1, I told my kids that we wouldn’t know when but we were going to go back to distance learning during the year and we had to be ready. That definitely has helped us be much more successful this time around.

In the spring, we didn’t have a whole lot of rules or expectations for our students and that was the biggest problem. Because it was such a strange time, we had to go with the flow and we couldn’t penalize a student for anything. I had a few students who I wouldn’t see for weeks and I couldn’t do anything about it. On top of that, students knew they wouldn’t be graded on anything so I had kids who flat out refused to do work because why would they? Being so loose on everything made my job incredibly challenging because I couldn’t teach.

I made sure my kids knew that we would be taking this much more seriously this time and learning was going to take place. They have been doing amazing with it! In the spring, we were encouraged to do a Google Meets with our kids once a week to check in. I tried to do one everyday but I couldn’t make it mandatory so only the same ten kids came. This time around, we have to teach live all day on a Google Meets and it’s so much better! Sure, it’s not fun staring at a screen sitting on your computer all day but my kids are in front of me all morning and we are getting things done.

Another helpful thing we’ve been doing this year is posting our daily agendas that are super detailed. We post them every morning at 9:00 and our follow them exactly how they are written. I go through it with them every morning during our morning meeting so they know what is expected of them that day. It has been super helpful keeping them on track while also getting them on our Meets at the correct times.

This is an example of the one I posted today:

The other helpful thing this time around is that our kids actually have binders with assignments for them to do with them at home. In the spring, we were flying by the seat of our pants every week because we had to do everything over Seesaw or Google Classroom. We taught using resources our kids weren’t used to. This time, we get to send things home weekly so our kids are using materials they would be using if we were in person. It reminds them that this is still school.

When we went to distance learning in the spring, I felt a huge disconnect from my class. I thought we had such a great bond all year but, when we left, I lost all connection with them and it killed me. This year, I’ve felt the same with them that I do in the classroom. It makes me so much happier to log on everyday. I actually think I’ve bonded more with this group being online because, at school, we couldn’t do a whole lot of relationship building due to COVID rules and procedures. We were so busy making sure we were at least 6 feet apart at all times, wearing our masks, and following all the new rules that there was no time for fun and I couldn’t play all of my classroom team building games that I have in the past.

It’s definitly been a hard few weeks, I’m not going to deny that, but it could be so much worse right now. I love my class and we will get through this. The best part is knowing that at some point, we will be back at school which, again, is much better than not going back at all last spring.

Also, can we just take a moment and love the fact that T. Swift just dropped her second album in 6 months? She kills me! I will forever be a huge fan and will never be ashamed of that! Evermore is pure beauty!

Fore more day to day action and live activities, go follow my class Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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NEDA Week 2021

2 years ago I shared a story that is very close to my heart. I talked about my younger sister’s struggle with Anorexia Nervosa and how it has impacted her life and my life. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week so I thought it would be time to share again the battle my … Continue reading NEDA Week 2021

Going Back to Distance

Like most Americans right now I am starting my 10 day stint of being in quarantine. I just found out that I have been exposed and had to take my first test. I’ve been dreading this day because I didn’t know what it would mean for school. I couldn’t imagine being away from my kids for 2 weeks while someone else teaches them. Ironically however, yesterday was our last day of in person teaching for awhile. Our district is officially moving to a full distance learning model so this unfortunate quarantine is coming at the right time.

As we all know, COVID cases have been skyrocketing these past few months and it is now hitting Minnesota hard. I can honestly say, up until August, I knew of maybe 3 people who had tested positive. Those cases were people that I didn’t even know personally. They were relatives of Facebook friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I knew how serious COVID was, and I have been one to take it very seriously, but it hadn’t really affected me yet.

About a month ago it started hitting too close to home. My class started to become a rotating door of students in and out of quarantine. At first, they would only be gone for a few days while they waited for their parent’s negative test results to come back but then the tests started to come back positive and I would have students out for weeks at a time.

It wasn’t just my class. This started to happen around our community. Because of this, we had to move our elementary schools to a hybrid model of teaching. Our hybrid model was a bit different than what other schools have done. The district still wanted our kids to come everyday but they had to be at least 6 feet apart at all times. To do this, most classes didn’t have to change anything except for moving some desks farther apart. That was not the case for my 5th grade teammates and I.

Because our kids are bigger and our class sizes are larger, we had to split our kids up. In order to do that, but still give them full instruction in person everyday, I had to move 1/2 of my kids into an adjoining classroom.

This was a wild concept for me to grasp my head around. I was going to have to teach 2 classrooms at the same time. After many hours of planning and preparing I finally got my “second classroom” set up and had my schedule set to how I was going to do this.

The view from my adjoining classroom door.

Within days of us moving to a hybrid model, our district decided we would be moving to a distance model right after Thanksgiving. We spent exactly 8 days in this hybrid set up with our kids.

Yesterday was the last in person day with my class. It was surreal to have to go through this again. The upside was that I was able to prepare my students for this possibility. I stressed so many times how this would be vastly different than what we went through last spring. I explained MANY times how we would be coming back sometime soon. This still was hard for some of my kids to understand. I had a few meltdowns because they were convinced they would never see me again. It was breaking my heart.

I was able to send them off with a little gift to keep them entertained until we start distance learning on December 1st. Last year, I had donors who supported my students so each one would get a free book every month. Thanks to the shut down, I wasn’t able to give them their March, April, or May books. Those books have been sitting in my car for 6 months waiting to be given to someone. I thought this was the perfect thing to send home with my students to put a much needed smile on their faces.

It was exactly what they needed. Even my harder students were thanking me.

This is going to be very challenging once again but I think we are more ready than we were. I know that this won’t last forever and I’ll have my class back in person soon. Once again, this proves to me how much I love my job and how much my kiddos mean to me.

For more day to day action, go follow my class Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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Top 10 Things I’ve Learned About Myself During Distance Learning

10 – I Would Not Be Good At a Desk Job

I have learned I can NOT sit in one spot all day on my computer. I love teaching for many reasons but one of the reasons (that I never realized until now) is because I am constantly moving around the room multitasking and working with multiple students at the same time. I love how no day is the same and I drink 2 water bottles of water a day because I’m so active. I used to be excited to lounge out on my couch binging the newest Netflix show but now I would give anything to run around with my head cut off in the classroom.

9 – My Patience Has Its Limits

I think I’m a very patient person but I have learned that between the internet failing, Seesaw crashing, and students only doing assignments they want to do I have lost it a few times. It’s hard to keep your cool when your students are all freaking out because they can’t check assignments on Seesaw because it’s down or they’re constantly messaging you because you’re not responding to their posts because your internet is down. It’s hard to stay calm when things, completely out of your control, are preventing you from doing your job.

8 – I Actually Don’t Hate Google Classroom

Before distance learning I was not a fan of Google Classroom….(sorry). My teammates are huge fans but every time I tried to use it in my class, something went wrong. With distance learning, I didn’t really have a choice but to become familiar with it. I have to say, after 8 LONG weeks, I’ve actually come to enjoy it. It has become an easy way to stay connected with my students and to share fun videos and read alouds with them.

7 – I’m Even More Awkward During PLC’s Now That They’re Online

I’m a super awkward person in general. During PLC’s at school, I would be one to just sit there and not say anything because I was so scared to say something stupid. Now, having Google Meets PLC’s, I’m even more awkward than ever. Actually, the PLC’s in general are more awkward than ever! Maybe it’s just our grade level, but no one talks AT ALL. It is silent for a good 2 minutes before someone finally takes charge and says something. Of course, I still don’t say anything (because I’m awkward) so I just sit there, staring at myself in the camera. It’s great….

6 – I Miss My Team

In my school there are 10 of us who teach 4th grade. Because there are so many of us, we are split into 2 teams of 5. My team of 5 is amazing. We have become so close during this past year. They also were there for me when I had to transition from 3rd to 4th in less than a week without really even knowing who I was. We would always have the best talks about teaching and life during prep and lunch. I miss those talks so much. They would always keep me sane during those crazy tense days. They are amazing ladies and I hate not seeing them everyday.

5 – Wine Understands

I hate to admit it, but I feel like I’ve been drinking WAY more than normal. Even though I’m teaching from home, I seem to be having more bad days than I do teaching in the classroom. Because of that, wine has become my best friend. Enough said.

4 – I Don’t Find The End of the Year Fun Anymore

As teachers, we all know how fun the end of the year can be! There are so many fun activities and projects to do that keeps May moving. We all know that the month of May is crazy because everyone is checked out (students and teachers.) Because of that, we try to make May fun. Between field trips, track and field day, and themed dress up days, May stays busy and exciting. I miss that.

3 – I Miss Read Alouds

Reading to my students is the BEST part of my day. I LOVE watching their reactions to the stories and I LOVE the conversations we have about what we read. Not having that these past few months, has been hard on me. I’ve tried to have live read alouds daily but it’s still not the same. I would give anything to have one more day to read to them out loud.

2 – I’m Having a Hard Time Staying Positive

I usually try to be a very positive person but it’s been hard. This whole situation has been hard. It’s crazy how much we take for granted. Life has been weird for all of us but my life has totally changed. Teaching has always been my life, and now, I don’t have that. Sure, I’m teaching online but it is not the same. That’s been hard. Also, because of COVID, the district’s budget for next year has been cut significantly. Because of that and because I’m not tenured yet, my position has been cut. I’m not going to lie, knowing that I don’t have a job at this point, is killing me. It’s hard to stay positive when the one thing you love is taken from you. It’s also hard to stay positive when there is a very real possibility I won’t see my students in person again. I’ve had my moments more these past few months, than I’ve had in the past few years. I just want things to go back to normal and I want my students back.

1 – I MISS MY STUDENTS

I think that explains it all. I miss them so much. They are amazing kids and seeing them on a Google Meets is not even close to seeing them at school. I am with my students more than anyone else in my life and I don’t get that right now. They mean the world to me and it breaks my heart they have to go through this as well. The worst part is we never got a proper goodbye. Friday, March 13th was our last day at school but we assumed we’d be back on Monday. We had no idea things would change so fast. If I knew then that I wouldn’t see my students (possibly) again, I would have made that Friday the best day ever. I would have given them the closure we all need. I miss them so much. I went into teaching because I love kids and I wanted to make a difference in their lives. Right now, that’s all on pause.

 

 

For more day to day action, go follow my teaching Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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Distance Learning – Please Be Kind.

Hi friends! I hope quarantine and social distancing is treating you well (as well as it possibly can.) I’ve had a lot of time to sit back and think about certain topics during this period that I may not have spent much time thinking about before. I’m sure we’re all in the same boat. I wanted to share my thoughts about what it’s like being a teacher during this time. I am now ending my 3rd official week of teaching distantly and there have been some things that have worked well but a few things that have also bothered me, especially when it comes to working with parents in a new way.

I have been fortunate enough to have an amazing class this year. If you’ve been following along my 3rd year journey, you know how incredible my students are. I’ve also been blessed with amazing parents. I’ve had my fair share of interesting parents during my first 2 years teaching so this year, I have been incredibly grateful to work with supportive and cooperative ones instead.

During this period of distance learning I have been shown so much support from this group of parents. I’m constantly getting thank you emails from appreciative parents and words of encouragement on platforms like Facebook. I’ve also been amused in seeing parents around the country thanking teachers all over for what we do everyday. Teaching isn’t an easy job and it’s been so humbling to see others share their gratitude towards us during this difficult time. It’s funny though how so many positive and kind comments can be extinguished by one negative comment from someone who has a strong opinion over choices you make as an educator.

Like I’ve stated, today wraps up week 3 of distance learning here in Minnesota. I have had an incredible turn out when it comes to my students completing all of their work and showing up for class Google Meets meetings. One problem I have had is that some of my students are choosing not to log on to their IXL accounts for math. Most of our weekly math assignments are done on IXL because:

  1. Our school has spent a lot of money on subscriptions to the program.
  2. The assignments are directed exactly to the topic/lesson we want students to learn about that day/week.
  3. I can go onto my teacher account and see who has completed what assignments and what scores they have received on them. I also can see how long a student has spent on the site per day and per week.

It’s an incredible teaching tool that I utilize every day in my normal classroom. Some of my students however, have either forgotten to log on or have chosen not to do the assignments because they don’t think I have access to see what they have done.

Like I would at school, I have reminded my students DAILY about these assignments and have told them how I do have access to see what has been done and I know for a fact a handful of students haven’t logged on to the site in over 30 days. I have warned my students multiple times in the past 2 weeks that if they do not complete these activities/assignments I would be calling them out to check to see why this was not being done. All of my students have internet access and all of them have iPads that they usually use at school but are now with them at home. They also know how to access IXL because, like I said, I used this EVERY DAY in my regular class. In my opinion, there really isn’t an excuse as to why some of my students have not logged on in over a month. Also, the students who have not logged on are students who I know are more than capable of doing the work on their own. My students are 4th graders (almost 5th graders) at this point in their school career, they should be independent enough to do work without having someone else constantly tell them what to do.

Yesterday, during our morning meeting, I pulled up my IXL teacher screen to show my class how I can see who has and hasn’t done the work. I asked a few of my students why they haven’t been on the site in over 30 days. We talked about how this is their job and they need to be mature enough to take responsibility in getting their work done. I also told them that if they haven’t been on for technical difficulty reasons, to let me know and I’ll be okay with that, I just need to know.

Well apparently that wasn’t the right thing to do during our meeting because a few hours later I got one of those emails that make all of the nice and kind ones nonexistent.

I had a parent reach out to me telling me how inappropriate it was for me to humiliate my students like that. She began sharing statistics with me about the crisis we’re in and how I shouldn’t be shaming kids for not having things done. She also proceeded to inform me about how this leads to mental illness and how I don’t know anything about mental illness in children. It was pretty much an 8 paragraph rant about how I have scarred my students for life and how I have no idea about what my class is going through….

Needless to say, after reading this, I wanted to throw up. I immediately forwarded the message to my principal asking for advice on how to respond. Once I did that, I went and cried under a blanket on my couch for an hour until I fell asleep.

I know there are so many theories and philosophies on best teaching practices and how to motivate children but those are all just theories and philosophies. Unless you have been a teacher and have spent 8 hours a day with the same group of kids for almost 8 months, you have no idea what actually goes on. I have known my class since September (some, I’ve known for almost 2 years now because I taught this group back when they were in 3rd grade.) I know my students. I know who works well and who needs constant reminders from me. I know who has supportive families and who may not. I know that my highest kid may also lack the most motivation so I need to push him more than others to get his best work out of him. I know them better than almost anyone else. Any teacher can understand that. I don’t think it’s right to have an outsider criticize a teacher without being in their shoes and knowing what the teacher knows about their kids. Granted, if it’s a concern about their own child, it is extremely valid. But if the criticism doesn’t even involve their child, there is no reason for them to get involved without the facts. That was the case with this parent. The concern wasn’t even about their own student, it was about my class as a whole.

I take things way too personally sometimes but to have someone tell you you’re failing at the one thing you thought you succeeded at, is heartbreaking.

I also caution some of you to not tell someone they know nothing about mental illness. I think that was the part of the message that hurt me the most. Just because I don’t come out and tell someone I’m struggling with a mental illness, doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about the topic.

I grew up with a schizophrenic father and a depressed anorexic sister. I have struggled with anxiety my entire life and have also been on antidepressants for my own depression for almost 5 years now. For this parent to tell me I’ve scarred my students and have been a trigger to metal illness, is an insult to me. Mental illness is a HUGE part of my life and I am not afraid to talk about it. I know that, right now in our country, we need to take care of ourselves but we also need to try to keep things normal. If I let my students get away with doing absolutely nothing during this time, I’m hurting them more than when I encourage them to complete their work. By telling me I was hurting my own students, she attacked my self esteem and put me in a downward spiral hurting my mental health. Never try to tell someone they know nothing about this topic when you don’t know what the person your talking to is dealing with.

As teachers, parents, students, people, etc. we’re all trying to do our best right now. We’re all doing things completely new to all of us. Instead of shaming each other for our mistakes and thinking we know better than them, why don’t we help each other and support each other. Like I said, I have gotten an incredible amount of encouraging and kind messages through this time. The problem is though, it only takes one negative message to make the others meaningless. Don’t be the sender of those kinds of messages. Think about how you would feel if something like that was sent to you when all you’re trying to do is help.

Hang in there everyone. I know we’re all tired and frustrated over this mess but we will get through it. We just have to take a nice deep calming breath and go one day at a time. That has become my new personal mantra.

 

For more day to day action, go follow my teacher Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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Distance Learning Week 1

What kind of world are we living in right now? We are now a few weeks into social distancing and a week into our shelter in place policy (for Minnesota.) I know all of us can agree that this is strange, insane, weird, scary, etc. There is no one word to explain everything that is happening. This week started something else totally abnormal and weird for all of us educators in the state, distance learning.

We were under strict guidelines that the past 2 weeks were designed to plan for distance teaching. We got 2 weeks to organize and prepare our new creative ways to get information across to our students. Monday, March 30th was the first day we got to “teach” our students. It has been a crazy week to say the least just trying to adjust to that.

I wanted to share with you what are grade level team came up with just because I thought it was pretty well organized but also because I’d love to hear other ideas on how to implement distance learning the best way possible. I know that what we chose to do is very different than what I’ve heard from other teachers in and out of our district. I would love to know things that worked well in order to possibly adjust some of the things we have set in motion just to make it easier.

We decided that as a 4th grade, we were going to do the exact same thing every week and use the exact same outline for every subject. We created a 4th grade website that had all of our information on it along with PDF’s for each week’s assignments. When we came up with this idea, we split into teams to put together 8 weeks worth of lessons for each subject. We have 10 teachers on our team so we split into 3 groups. One group worked on reading, another math, and the third social/science. We had a working Google Doc for each week where we wrote out each subject’s assignments. It took a lot of work, but once we were done, we had everything laid out for parents to see and use. It made planning lessons SO MUCH EASIER because I really wouldn’t have to.

We are lucky because we are a 1:1 district. Each student has an iPad to use. These have come in so handy during this period of time. We are also very much used to using platforms like Seesaw and Google Classroom because we use them daily with our students. This made assigning and collecting work super easy. Students were able to have access to our website and their homework on their iPads and had step by step instructions right in front of them on what to do and where we wanted them submitted. This was by far the easiest part of my week! I was worried they would be confused on where to find their homework and where to turn it in but there were no problems what so ever.

One of my biggest struggles this week has been trying to meet with my class virtually online. As a district, our students were given a new app on their iPads called Google Meets. It is essentially Zoom but the Google version. I had never worked with it before so I wanted to play around with it and give it a try.

Day 1 was kind of a mess. I wanted my students to all meet at a certain time so we could all talk and see each other. For some reason, half of my class weren’t able to get one. Day 2 came and I learned how I was able to see my whole class at once and how to help them see the whole class at once (you need a certain extension otherwise Google will only show up to 4 people at a time.) I attempted this but then something went wrong and I couldn’t see a single student in the meeting. By day 3 my students were getting bummed out because we were having such a hard time getting it to work. We tried one more time but again, something went wrong. I decided then to test out Zoom. We were recommended to use Google Meets but because I’ve heard of so many teachers utilizing this tool, I thought maybe Zoom would be easier and less chaotic. We had a Zoom meeting and it worked pretty well. Some of my students weren’t able to get one but it was more successful than our Google meetings. Sadly, I guess I was not supposed to use that because I was immediately reached out to and told not to use Zoom at all. I felt bad because I didn’t know we absolutely couldn’t use it.

I had my 5th Google Meets meeting today with my class and it finally worked! I’m just crossing my fingers it continues to work in the weeks to come. I love seeing my students and being able to talk to them and listen to them talk to each other. They need that right now. Heck, I need that right now!

This week has been stressful in so many weird and different ways but I did have 3 big take aways that I learned:

  1. I HATE sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen all day. I need to move and do something. I have had a massive headache the past few days because I’ve been on my computer so much.
  2. Technology is not always your friend (I’ve already known that but this week reenforced that tenfold.) Besides having students who were having trouble opening links, my WiFi crashed Thursday morning. That was literally the last thing you want to happen when you’re supposed to be teaching from home all day online.
  3. I MISS MY STUDENTS. This has been the longest few weeks of my life. I love my kids and I need to be back in the classroom. Seeing them this week has been nice but it’s still not the same. I would give anything to be back with them on a daily basis.

In order to keep myself preoccupied and somewhat sane, I’ve gotten many things done (which I’m sure you all can relate to.)

  • I’ve been able to read more books than normal. I usually don’t get a big chance to read in the school year but I’ve gotten a huge head start on my summer reading list.
  • I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my cat. It cracks me up though because I’ve given her more attention in 2 weeks than she’s gotten total the past year and she is more whiny and clingy than ever.
  • I’ve worked out more than normal. I usually have the worst motivation for that but being cooped up inside ALL DAY LONG has inspired me to get out (even if that means having to go for a run!)
  • I’ve been able to keep up on my laundry and cleaning! I’ve been cleaning things over and over just to give me something to do. I’ve also done so many loads of laundry, I don’t even know how my washer is still working.
  • I’ve binged on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, AND HBO. (Don’t judge okay, I’ve been behind on a lot of shows.) Tiger King anyone?
  • I also have been able to be a little bit crafty which I normally don’t have time for. I’ve been inspired by the #HeartsAroundtheWorld movement that keeps showing up on social media. I decided to join in by decorating my own window.

It’s a weird time right now all over the world. I’m constantly inspired by those who are sacrificing their lives to keep us all safe and healthy. For all of you in the health care service, and everyone working essential jobs, thank you. Our world would fall apart without you. I also want to thank all of the parents out there who are trying hard to adjust to the new normal of helping their kids with school while also trying to work. I could barely get things done with my cat around let alone a child. You are all my heroes.

Things will get better. Life will go back to normal. We just have to take this day by day and be so thankful for what we have.

 

For more day to day action, go follow my Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher. There will be some distance learning resources being shared over the next few weeks.

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