Back in Work Mode

Oh man, I don’t know about the rest of you but I feel like everyday has been a marathon and a sprint at the same time. I don’t know if it’s because of our shortened schedule mixed with our new COVID rules and procedures but I am exhausted at the end of every day. I also feel like I never get everything done that I need to.

We are now officially one month into school and I have finally come to the conclusion of what kind of class I have. I have a group of really sweet kids but they are also a group of kids who cannot be unsupervised or unstructured for more than a few minutes. They are the type of class that can get really loud and excited fast but then cannot come back down. I’ve had a couple of classes like this before so I sadly know what we will and won’t be able to do.

I’ve also come to the conclusion on who my students are as people. I know who my class clowns are, who my shy insecure kids are, and who my overachievers are.

My students (at least I think) have realized who I am as a teacher as well. I have high expectations for them and they know it. (Some of them hate it.) I do not tolerate certain behaviors that they have been able to get away with in the past. For some, this year has been a rude awakening and I’ve been called the mean teacher many times. In our district, 5th grade is the last year of elementary school. We tell our kids on day 1 that we are going to treat them like middle schoolers so there isn’t such a culture shock next year when they enter 6th grade. It’s been crazy for me to see how many of them don’t even act like a 10 year old.

It’s been rough trying to get everyone back into school life again. I’ve been told by my teammates that the 5th grade teachers are known as the “mean teachers in the school” because of the high expectations. What has made this year even harder than normal is that some of these kids haven’t had any structure in over 6 months. (Some even longer than that because their 4th grade teacher had no expectations what so ever.) The first few weeks I caught them doing things that I couldn’t even believe I was seeing. During a test I had students getting up to talk/share answers with another student in a different spot of the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had students who constantly tried to “sneak” on their hats in the classroom even though it’s a school policy to not wear hats. I’ve also had students who have flat out refused to do what I’ve asked of them. When I’ve asked them if they have gotten away with refusing what a teacher has asked before they said yes. It’s been wild and has definitely been an eye opener.

Besides the weird behaviors and adjusting to being back at school, we’ve had some pretty good moments including these amazing Daily 5 moments and this amazing writing my student wrote for me during write to self. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Max Kepler is an outfielder for the MN Twins and I love him!)

This year (thanks to the threat of going distance again) our school has provided Chromebooks for everyone in the district. Before this year, only kids in grades 6-12 had them. Being 5th graders, our students were the first to get their Chromebooks in the school. It’s been fun incorporating different sites and apps into our lessons. I am used to teaching with 1:1 devices, so it’s been fun for me to teach my students how to use different platforms like Seesaw, IXL, and Epic. I’ve also learned that “free Chromebook time” is the perfect Friday afternoon reward for positive behavior since the novelty of having them hasn’t worn off yet.

On top of the sites I’ve used before, I’ve also learned about more platforms our school is rolling out district wide this year. It’s been exciting incorporating different typing and music sites that they’ve been learning how to use in their media and music classes. As crazy as this year is, using the Chromebooks has been a nice constant in our day that will be able to stay constant when and if we have to go back to distance learning.

I’m also trying to adjust to trying to teach outside as much as possible. I’ve kind of been slacking on this. The only time I’ve really been outside with my class is to eat snack and lunch. That’s been it. (And that has been interesting itself.)

This is one of my students using the tinfoil from his lunch to “heat up” his friends peas….

I felt bad this week when I was hearing from other teachers about how they’ve been out to teach reading and to do math homework. Today I finally decided it was time to try going out. We were in the middle of taking our super long unit reading test so I had them finish it outside. It was wonderful and went much better than I had expected. (It helped that one of my harder students wasn’t in my room at the time.)

It’s been a weird month and it’s only going to get weirder. With our county’s COVID numbers, we are more than likely heading to a hybrid model soon which will be a whole new definition of weird. BUT I am thankful to have a job and to be able to see and teach my students in person. I’m really hoping things start to turn around soon so we won’t have to go back to what last year was like. Fingers crossed.

The mask eyes you have to make in order for your students to know
you mean business.

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Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons! This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday … Continue reading Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Back to School COVID Style

Well here we are everyone, we made it to September. It has been a wild and stressful summer because I didn’t know if I would have a job for this school year and, even if I got a job, no one knew what it was going to look like.

I know I wasn’t alone in that boat and I know I’m still not alone.

I wanted to start by giving a little update on my crazy long wait these past few months. As I’ve said before in a previous post, I found out the last week of April my job was being cut at the end of the school year. This was completely devastating to me because I did not see this coming. I found out later that my principal didn’t even know about it until after I got the call from the superintendent. It was a mess. I was given hope, however that they would be hiring back later in the summer once the fall school year plans were finalized.

I waited and waited and waited ALL summer for them to repost my job but it never happened. In Minnesota, we were told that the governor would make an official announcement on fall plans the last week of July. Districts were going to wait to hear his plan before they finalized theirs. A week after the governor announced Minnesota’s county by county plan, I heard from my principal that they would not be hiring anyone back. I felt sick to my stomach.

While I was waiting to see if I would get a call back, I was looking for other jobs around the area but no one was hiring. I truly thought there was no hope.

I felt like there was no hope until my home district (the one I grew up in and the one I taught at my first year out of college) was planning on hiring a handful of new teachers because of new programs they were going to roll out.

Side note: This district came out with very different and creative school choices for families in order to keep enrollment high and to make sure everyone felt safe in whatever environment they would be in. Families had the choice to enroll their student in a full distance learning class, a regular in the school class, or a nature based class that is entirely outside. Because of these options, many students stayed in the district and many students enrolled in the district.

I was fortunate enough to get an interview and a job offer back at the first school I taught at 3 years ago in the town I grew up in. I will officially be teaching 5th grade this year and, as of now, I am 100% in the classroom.

Just because we get to be back in the classroom, doesn’t mean things are back to normal however. I am usually a teacher who loves grouping students and hates desks. I love having tables in my room so students can collaborate throughout the day. That is not an option this year. I have 26 students and 26 desks that are spaced strategically around my small classroom to create as much distance between students as possible. It’s crazy how much room that takes up.

Another strange thing about this year is I don’t just have 1 classroom, I have 2. If our school has to go to a hybrid model of learning, 1/2 of my class will be in 1 room while the other 1/2 of my class will be in the other. Luckily the rooms are next to each other and has a door that connects them but it will definitely be an interesting experience.

My room this year isn’t as exciting as I normally like it to be but I’ve accepted the fact that having a perfectly decorated classroom is the least of my worries. I still wanted to share some pictures of my room just in case anyone is wondering what a COVID classroom looks like in Minnesota as school begins.

We had our teacher workshop week this week and it was a very different workshop week than I’m used to. All of our staff and team meetings were centered around questions and brainstorming sessions on keeping our students safe and distanced. The weirdest thing I think we discussed this week was the idea of having scheduled bathroom breaks throughout the day so our classes don’t mix with each other. Being an intermediate teacher the past 3 years, I’m not used to taking a class bathroom break especially at certain times so that is going to be a challenge for me to get used to.

Our last day of workshop was also our first day of Welcome Back/Assessment Days. I’m used to having 2 full days of this but this year we have 3 in order to keep our families separated as much as possible. We get 30 minute time slots per family with 10 minutes built in between to clean. As nervous as I was to meet my new families and students it was easily the best thing that I’ve gotten to do since school ended last spring. I am so excited to get to work with kids in person again and meeting 8 of my new students just increased that excitement even more. It was also so refreshing to meet all of the families who were so thankful for all of the work we’ve been putting in. They were so appreciative over our efforts and were so understanding when I kept telling them that what I told them yesterday might change in a matter of days because things are changing every hour. That was definitely a highlight of my week.

It’s going to be a mess but I’ve realized that’s where everyone is at and it’s okay. We are all just doing our best and making the most of what we can. I’m just so thankful to have a job and to be able to finally teach kids in person again! I’ll be back next week to cover the first 2 days of school and all of the new challenges that will come with it including trying to talk in a mask all day.

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The New Normal

What world are we living in right now? It seems like things get more intense every single day. I don’t know what to think. Up until yesterday, I was doing okay handling all of this. We were told on Sunday that Minnesota schools would close officially as of today until at least Monday, March 30th. I figured this was going to happen and I was at peace with it.

Yesterday however, things were HARD to say the least.

We were told as a district that students would not return to school at all this week and staff would report on Tuesday so the admin could meet Monday to come up with a game plan. Walking into the empty school and empty classroom for the first time was surreal. Knowing I won’t see my room full of my kiddos for who knows how long, was one of the hardest things I had to wrap my head around. This was the first time I cried.

We were under the assumption that this would be a short break and we would return the first week of April. Our students have 1-1 iPads, so Monday night families were told that Tuesday morning they could come in and get their iPads to use just in case we have to go into distance learning. (Side note: Minnesota’s break this week and next week is a non school time for students. It’s primarily for staff to prepare for the possible future once this two weeks is over.) Because of this, I didn’t think my students needed to come in because they already brought their iPads home on Friday. Things abruptly changed around 8:00am yesterday morning.

We were under a new order that we had to clean out all student desks and lockers. We had to put their things in garbage bags with their names on them and then we’d have a drive thru like system going on outside the school. Parents would pull up to the doors, say their student’s name, and a para would run to get their stuff. It was like the last day of school but with no kids. That was what really did it for me. Realizing we were preparing for them not to come back at all was heart wrenching.

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Once I had all of their things packed and ready for pick up, I went in my room and cried again. I didn’t know what to think. Just the scene of it did something to me, I don’t even know how to describe that feeling.

At the end of the day, we took all bags that were left over into our large gym for parent pick up today. Seeing the entire school’s school supplies in one area made it even more surreal.

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As a staff, we are bonding together. Today, we are going to begin planning the next few months (if need be) and decide on best practices to get our content across to every student. The support we have for each other has helped immensely and is what is getting us through this, it’s what is getting me through this. An anonymous staff member put this up in our lounge yesterday and it was exactly what I needed to see.

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We all went into education because we want to make a connection with students. We want to change their lives and interact with them on a daily basis. We want to give them love while also teaching them some tough love along the way. Education is a powerful profession. I know the last thing we want to do is sit behind a computer all day. If we wanted to do that, we wouldn’t be teachers. I know these are strange waters we are all walking through but we’ll all make to the other side stronger and better professionals. This will give us new tools that will only make us better teachers in the long run.

During this time, do silly things and remember to laugh. My mom is a 5th grade teacher and all of this is just as hard for her as it is for me. We decided that we would read picture books together, tape them, and share them out to our students. We shared our first video last night and I got countless messages from parents and students saying it brought joy to their day and made them smile. I’m going to share the Youtube link for you if you would like. We only have 1 story on their so far but we plan to share as many books as we can during this crazy time. (We need it just as much as our students do.)

What are you doing to battle this crisis? How is your district, families, kids handling everything? Please, share with me all of your thoughts and ideas. Our superintendent keeps reminding us to think outside the box. There is no right or wrong answer right now, all that matters is our students.  I am sending my love to all of you.

 

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What is Happening

Well well well…I feel like I need to share my thoughts on everything going on considering the education system is being effected pretty hard.

I know some other states are closing schools but Minnesota has yet to follow in their footsteps. Our neighbor state Wisconsin announced yesterday that they will be closing for the next week. Our governor has stated he is doing everything possible to prevent our schools from closing.

That being said, yesterday was INSANE because throughout the day, we were constantly getting updated memos on policies and procedures that we had to follow to keep our kids (and ourselves) healthy and safe.

Thursday night we got an urgent email saying that we had an impromptu staff meeting Friday morning with updates. We were told that the state had some basic policies we needed to follow in order to protect everyone. Most of the policies that were stated are already a thing we do in our school. One main thing that was different was that, as soon as our kids were settled in Friday morning, we had to show them a hand washing video. Parents had requested that we teach our students how to wash their hands. (Although, I have my own opinion on parents not teaching their own kids how to wash their hands, I do think that it was important for us to remind the kiddos on why hand washing is important.)

Another policy that we had to implement, was preventing the interaction between large groups of people. Ironically, yesterday our students were supposed to walk over to our high school to watch a musical put on by the middle schoolers. We were scheduled to leave at 8:40. We literally found out as our students were putting on their jackets at 8:37, that the musical was cancelled. It was pure chaos. My kids were so excited to go and I was so excited because that was 2 hours of no teaching time for me. Because of this, I had NOTHING prepped so I just kind of went with it!

We survived the unplanned morning but I still had to adjust my day to meet the new policies and procedures. During our meeting in the morning, we were told that we had to prevent intermixing classes that don’t usually interact. This was to prevent the spread of germs they’re not used to. Because of this, we had to stagger our dismissal times at the end of the day. It was so weird because usually with dismissal time, when that bell rings, the halls are CRAZY BUSY! When I released my kids yesterday however, the halls were DEAD!! It was eerily quiet and I didn’t like it.

I know these don’t sound too crazy, and I probably could’ve shared some more, but my brain is fried and I just can’t believe some of the stuff that is happening. Our hometown girls basketball team made it to the state CHAMPIONSHIP game that was supposed to be today and they couldn’t play because it was cancelled. How sad is that? I understand the precautions but it’s still heartbreaking thinking about the girls on the team and how hard they worked to get there. I’m also personally devastated because with the cancellations of ALL NCAA competitions and tournaments, college gymnastics is over already and that’s my normal Friday night date with myself. What am I going to do now!?

I hope all of you are being healthy and safe and are finding the nonexistent toilet paper to help stock up your homes (to lighten up your day, I found some pretty fantastic toilet paper memes on one of those Facebook ads that I think you may love Just click on the link!) Hopefully this all passes soon and are lives will be back to normal.

 

Also, to brighten your day, here is a picture of my lovely kiddos with their new monthly book! This should also put a smile on your face!

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