Teaching in a Pandemic: Day 1

This is my attempt to document and process my return to the classroom during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

I wrote this at the end of my first day of school.

I’m alone in my classroom; alone with my thoughts for the first time since I got to school this morning.

COVID testing first thing in the morning

This morning was rough. I had to rush to get to school on time after my biweekly COVID-19 test. This is another routine I am forced to create for myself since our school district decided to have in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be nice if the testing site was closer to the school or my home, instead of thirty minutes away. I may have to arrive at the testing center at 6:30 AM if I am to get to school on time before the kids arrive at 7:45 AM.

Today felt more like the first day of school than Day 0 did. I do have a handful of students who are really pushing me, testing me. It usually takes a little bit of time for kids to settle in before they start experimenting with the boundaries. I like to call this the “Honeymoon Phase” where students slowly acclimate to their new classroom, teacher, and grade level. With this group of students, under these conditions, I have students testing me on Day 1. It feels like we’ve been struggling to come together for a few months now. If anything, the kids feel most comfortable pushing my boundaries.

The biggest issue I had today was keeping kids in their seats and engaged. It is much harder than I thought it was going to be for me to engage 10-year-olds through lecture alone. I am used to giving a prompt or hook exercise, setting up the rules for engagement, and then turning students loose to collaborate, think, and bond with each other. Now, I am forced to have students turn in their seats and face a partner 3 feet away (who will ultimately be their same partner every day unless I change the seating arrangement) and share their thoughts. Plus, I don’t think I am selling myself very well. Today, I went over my classroom philosophy, We over Me, our proposed class agreements, and my expectations and guiding principles for the year. At best, I got a meh response. The students looked me like I was excitedly telling them about different the types of dirt.

My planned activities fell flat. The most successful one (meaning most engaging with the least amount of refusal to participate) was a Creative Type test. I had students take a creative test online. I wanted them to share their results in an online chat on our district’s learning management system (LMS). I introduced my own creative personality type and I think that helped sell the upcoming experience a bit. Unfortunately, the chat devolved into texting speak, which wasn’t surprising for their first online discussion experience. I used a few examples as teaching points (e.g.: complete sentences, no texting language, staying on topic), but again, I felt that the lesson fell flat. Meh.

I have two students who consistently struggle to keep their mask on their face. It is really difficult for them to wear a mask after recess when they are hot from playing outside in 100-degree heat and haze from local forest fires. I understand their behavior. I wouldn’t want to wear a mask either if I spent 20 minutes sprinting in the heat!

We mediated again using Headspace, which I think helped. I’m not sure how they reacted because I had my eyes closed, but meditating after lunch made the afternoon fly by. I have a 75-minute block of instructional time before the end of the school day, so taking 10 minutes to mediate really speeds up the afternoon. The dismissal bell comes quick.

I found this on the floor at the end of the day.

I don’t like teaching this way. I want to blame my failures today on COVID. Maybe it’s because I am out of practice. Maybe I need to play more games with the students. How can we play games while social distancing? I’m sure I can Google that and find a few activities, but right now I’m tired from yelling all day and stressing out about COVID. I have a sore throat, which sends waves of anxiety through my head about getting COVID.

The problem is that there are too many variables to figure out what is making teaching this group of students so difficult. I have been out of the classroom for six years, so under perfect circumstances, I would still be struggling while I try to get my groove back. I’m rusty. Students have been out of a structured classroom since March. That is 5 months of hanging out at home, attempting remote learning with no grades or accountability. Remote learning in the spring consisted of packets and worksheets, not great learning experiences.

COVID makes every aspect of the classroom experience more difficult.

Well, I survived my first day of school teaching in a pandemic. Here are my takeaways from Day 1:

I’m not as engaging nor exciting as I thought I was. At one point, I think my enthusiasm for a student response actually startled a few students!

It is difficult to find anything engaging when we have masks on our faces and we can’t touch each other or get out of our seats.

It is impossible to NOT get physically close to students, especially if I am helping them with something (e.g.: teaching).

Teaching is an intimate act and I think that this first date was a meh experience.

I’ll get there. I just need to keep moving forward. Bit by bit we will all get there together.

I am a learning experience designer. I’m an intellectual thinker. I push the boundaries of what’s possible. I have lots stories to tell and change to make.

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