Holiday Week 2020 Style

Well people, we made it to break! (Or if you’re not at break yet, you’re very close!) This is usually my favorite month of the year because of all the activities we do and the projects I have. In fact, my first few posts ever were from December activities that I wanted to share! It’s been hard adjusting to this new normal. This whole month was spent getting used to distance learning rather than enjoying the season. These past 2 days, I wanted to change that. I wanted us to have fun. I wanted to be as creative as possible so my students still felt the fun of the season even though they’re at home.

My favorite Christmas movie of all time is Jim Carrey’s The Grinch. (The reason is because when I was little, I used to look identical to Cindy Lou Who. My parents also used to tell me her character was based on me because our personalities were so similar as well.) I always like to have a whole day centered around Grinch themed activities. I was not letting that go this year.

Yesterday was my Grinch day! We started the day by doing a series of Grinch would you rather questions which were amazing and hilarious! My kids loved it and it was interesting to hear their reasons for their answers. After a little fun, we had to jump into our reading lesson. I love doing the lesson where you listen to “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” and then find similes and metaphors in the song. I’ve done it every year since I started teaching but I had to be creative with it this year.

We have been using Seesaw and Google Meets as our teaching tools. We pretty much are on our Google meeting live all morning while they submit assignments on Seesaw. I created a Seesaw assignment where they first had to highlight the similes and metaphors in the song. I had them highlight in two different colors so I could tell they knew the difference between the two forms of figurative language. After they highlighted, they had to pick one simile or metaphor and then had to decorate their Grinch to represent what they chose. It was very fun to see how creative they were with it.

For math, I made another Seesaw assignment full of Grinch themed word problems. I split them into breakout rooms and let them work on them together in small groups. I organized the groups so they were with kids who were at all levels but who they also felt comfortable with. It was fun to just bounce back and forth between the different rooms and listen to their conversations. The one thing with distance that is lacking is having the opportunity for them to just talk to each other.

Because of our schedule, that was most of the Grinch themed activities we did. We spent the afternoon making our parent gifts (which were adorable snowman ornaments made out of buttons) and catching up on work while students went to their intervention groups. It wasn’t as much as I usually do, but it was something and that’s all I cared about.

Today I wanted to have fun and even though we were distant, I still wore my traditional “day before break candy cane” dress (because that’s fun!)

I wanted to throw them a surprise virtual holiday party. I tried hard to come up with fun activities to do throughout the day to keep them entertained. I wanted them to have a special day because that’s what this day in elementary school is supposed to be. The day before Christmas break is supposed to be full of treats, movies, and presents. I didn’t want them to lose out on their last elementary school holiday party!

We started the day doing a fun little “Guess the Mystery Sound” activity. I had a Google Slides presentation that had them listen to a mystery sound and then guess what they thought each sound was in the Google Meets chat.

We then did a real reading activity to get some sort of school in. We read an article on the science of the snowflake and then discussed different parts of it. (I definitely didn’t spend as much time on it as I should have but at least I can say we did it!) We then moved into our math time. For math, students had a holiday packet that was sent home last week. I put them in breakout rooms with their friends and they got to work through the packet together.

The packet wasn’t math related. It had a bunch of puzzles, mazes, and coloring pages. It was more of a way to allow them to work together again while having fun. Again, it was so fun jumping back and forth between groups. I miss seeing and talking to them so it was nice to have silly little conversations with them in small groups. I even had a competition with a couple of my kids over who could finish a sudoku first, it was a blast!

We spent the afternoon having our virtual holiday party! I started the party by having Christmas music playing in the background while they all slowly popped back on to our meeting after lunch. We then played a few different games. I first had them take out a piece of paper and a marker. We did the directed drawing activity where they had to follow my directions on how to draw a snowman while the paper was on their heads. I LOVE this activity and was so happy to be able to share it with them even though they weren’t right with me. I also made another Google slides game where they saw a zoomed in picture of something holiday themed and then had to guess what it was. We then shifted into a few rounds of holiday charades which was super funny. I then had an ugly sweater making contest. I assigned them a blank sweater template on Seesaw and gave them five minutes to create the ugliest sweater they could. We then went through each one and voted on their favorites. My favorite was one with my name on it. I don’t know why but it made me laugh way too hard.

We finished our party by doing a winter themed Kahoot followed by a directed drawing on Arthub of a winter village. It was a nice and fun way to end the day.

Finally, during the day I had my kids go onto PixtonEdu to create their own personalized avatar. I then used those avatars to create our virtual class photo. I know some of you have seen these before! I’ve seen them a few times and thought they were the cutest thing ever. Today I had to do it as a special little surprise to “give” them at the end of the day.

It was for sure not the way I would normally have spent this day but I made the most of it. The best part was how grateful my kids were. They were very appreciative of the activities we were able to do. I know they know this is not how we would normally have celebrated but they were troopers and loved whatever we could do.

I am SO happy to relax for the next two weeks! I know for a fact we will be distance learning for at least another month so I’m ready to have some screen free time and some family time. The best part of today was realizing teaching in 2020 is officially over! 2021 is going to be a much better year, I can feel it. If we made it through teaching in this, we can make it through teaching in anything!!

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Go check out my recent posts!! Blogmas 2020 is almost over 😢 so don’t miss out on our fun 12 days of Christmas would you rather game!!

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!

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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.

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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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