There are some jobs you know you'll end up doing as a teacher, even though they aren't teaching. Elementary school teachers often serve as nurses. We all serve as custodians at some point. It just comes with the territory. But, in this pandemic, there are a number of jobs I now serve that I never thought I'd have to.
In the spirit of these posts, I am limiting this list to five. It is not exhaustive. And, to brighten it up, enjoy some bitmojis.
1. Biohazard Capable Custodian
This applies to a lot of staff at schools right now, not just teachers, but let me say that it is NOT a role I expected to fill, nor one I fill well, depending on the piece we're discussing. Sure, every teacher has wipes, disinfectant, etc. But this year, in addition to regular straightening and cleaning, we have various cleaners to help slow the spread of COVID and our custodians are also deep cleaning as well (although I don't know the details of that). A quick list of things in my room: four types of hand sanitiser (2 provided by the district and 2 I bought myself), extra masks (provided by me), paper towels (district), three types of cleaning solutions (1 provided by the school during the last major flu season, 2 provided for this year in specific), and perhaps other things I'm forgetting. We are supposed to clean as often as possible, but it is impossible. Some of the cleaners we cannot use if students are coming within 15 minutes and most of the cleaners have a smell that we cannot stay in the room for.
I am a rule follower. I am not a tattle or a snitch. There are some things I feel aren't my place or I feel put me in a bad position. I am NOT saying that it is required of me by my superiors, school, or district to do this. What I am saying is that stories are appearing from across the country of these unspoken expectations. If you hear things of positive cases, close contact, illness, blatant disregard for safety rules, you might be expected to report it. I should not have to (a) report an adult for anything, but also... (b) I should not have to justify something to a student because Mr/Mrs/Ms/Mx/Dr. X says its okay.
3. Pandemic Therapist/Protector/Parent
One of the jobs teachers fill increasingly is the role of protector, therapist, and parent all at once. Especially now that we do tornado drills, fire drills, and lock down drills. And, while I don't feel we should have to do at least one of these (wink wink), I have accepted that in those situations I must take steps to protect the lives of my students. Now I have to add to that pandemic expert. When students have questions, they often go to their teachers. They are scared. They are confused (especially when parents, teachers, and admins are not all on the same page). Especially with the politicisation of this situation (science y'all), students aren't sure what to do. Now I somehow have to meet those needs. I am not a scientist. As I told one of my classes today when COVID came up, "At the end of the day, there are a number of things we can do to protect ourselves and those we love and care for. We can wear masks, wash our hands, use hand sanitiser, social distance, and more. So, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if we did our best." They didn't train me for this in college.
4. Truancy Officer
Okay, I'm exaggerating a little here. I am not responsible for bringing charges against or serving paperwork regarding truancy. However, teachers across the country are suddenly responsible for all sorts of things that, in the past, they received help for from parents, counselors, admins, etc. This isn't to say that those parties aren't doing their jobs, but the rhetoric increasingly is that if only teachers would do X or Y or if they "just did their jobs" then a whole slew of things would or wouldn't be happening. Be assured, we are doing everything we can. We are emailing, recording all classes, calls, contact. We are calling home. We are engaging with families, students, counselors, and case managers.
5. Customer Service, Tech Support
Again, to some extent we either do this or are treated this way. I am going to address this in my next post, but I truly believe that teachers and parents could work together to stop treating grades as an exchange for service and more like a conversation. However, as I stated in Part IA, this is wholly uncharted territory. Not even the schools already set up for digital learning could have predicted or prepared for this. Technical problems are bound to happen. Grading issues will occur. But there is little in the way of support for teachers due, in part, to the fact that we are all figuring this out as we go. As an example.... Today during a class, I was late due to the one way hallway rule. When I arrived to the room shortly after the bell, I had three messages from digital learners asking where I was and another two saying they couldn't get into the room. I started the digital room up and began printing paper copies for those who needed them in the room. Then I took roll... twice. When I started class, digital learners reminded me that I need to share my screen for them to see the video. After we started our dictation, one student had trouble accessing the document. Another needed help finding the document. A third didn't understand the directions. A fourth wanted to discuss grades during class. All of this was happening over my computer and speaker in a room of about 10 face to face learners. We need the answers, but we don't have them. I don't think anyone has them all.
There are posts all over that say that this time is hard for teachers. Sometimes the response is that we are being insensitive to first responders who have been on the front lines since March. Sometimes the response is that we are first responders. And, sometimes, the response is that we are complaining for no reason because, well, "COVID isn't real". Today's post is to assure you that it is, indeed, real. This is not an easy post to write and it won't be an easy post to read. But these things need to be said because we are exhausted in a way we never have been. We are struggling in a way that only teachers can struggle.
I've decided to keep this list to 5. There are more than 5. There will be a follow up post.
We are navigating uncharted waters and as soon as we think we've figured out one wave, we see the one behind it. There are always aspects of teaching like this, but right now, everything is like this.
It's been a bit since I posted, and for a few good reasons. I do not necessarily want this blog to be all upsets. They are there and I want to talk about them, but I never want a single post to be so depressing and anxiety ridden that it serves little purpose other than to make me feel better, I have other means of doing that. Some, however, may just have to be that way.... To say it's been rough is an understatement. To say that that's an oversimplification cannot be overstated (did any of that make sense). So... let me break it down a little....
The Pertinent Facts
So... what exactly happened?
Firstly, I am okay. I have a bronchospasm likely caused by my asthma, caused by.... well potentially lots of things. At first I was afraid it was COVID, but a negative test solved that. To be honest, I was impressed with my doctor/insurance's handling of it. I got a recommendation for a test in less than 20 minutes after calling them. Got the test the next day, and got my results that night. However, since I had symptoms, I wasn't cleared for school. I couldn't get a doctor's appointment for a few days, but it was via telephone and I was so impressed with this doctor's handling of me.... She diagnosed me, gave me care procedures and wrote a note saying when I could return to work. I returned this morning. I felt ready in that I miss teaching. I didn't feel ready based on my to do list of things that had racked up while I was gone and I didn't feel ready knowing that, if I wasn't at higher risk before, I am now.
I won't comment on the school's handling of it, that's not why I'm writing this blog. What I will share is my perspective of my experience at home.
I don't want this to drag on, but I will say that this post (along with some things I've seen on social media) are prompting another post I plan to write this week: How to Support Your Teachers During a Pandemic. So... here are the things I experienced, as briefly as possible.
As I finish this, it is 5:10 in the morning and I am about to get dressed, take my meds to help keep my throat healing and soothe my cough, grab my things, and head back for another day. I am already tired. It could be that I was up until 8:30 last night answering parent emails I didn't get to earlier in the day (I don't usually do that, but since I was out and sick, I am playing catch up). It could be that I was awake from 2:45-3:30, already creating a to do list in my head. It could be that when I logged on to social media this morning I was overwhelmed with articles about parent struggles, student fears, and teacher hatred. I guess it's all these things... So, in preparation for my next post... Teachers, paras, and classroom staff only please... what specifically do you need to be supported? It can be physical and material, it can be emotional, it can be political, it can be scientific. I DO NOT CARE. What do you need?
While I likely won't post a reflection every day, I want to try and post on days when noted things happen, or when I spend time working on a variety of issues, work-arounds, or creative projects. Today I am posting to discuss (again) the questions from this morning as well as nearly all of the things listed.
3. What are the requirements? Can I be me? There are requirements for our digital learning platform and I came in today knowing what most of those were and having already set them up. However, and I give full credit to my mom for this, I will also find ways to be me and be creative and fun. I certainly do not have time to discuss them all here, but I will link what I can and ensure that I post later on other topics. So far I've: set up my google classroom and included a Bitmoji GIF, used amazing resources created by my colleagues and administrators, starting working in my Bitmoji Classroom, and worked on creating a virtual meet the teacher and a virtual "all about the students".
I want to close with the answer I gave to my department head's question: If this year were a fruit or vegetable, what would it be and why. My answer? The English pea... Very few look at the English pea and think "yum" (yes, I'm one of them), but just about everyone likes the English pea or eats it at some point. You just have to be creative about what you put it in: fried rice, chicken pot pie, mac and cheese. Whatever it is, get creative, find the right context, and work it.
It's 5:30 AM and I am sitting in my home office with a cup of coffee. I am still in my pajamas, but all that is about to change. Today is the first official day back at school after we went into quarantine in March. Last night I meal prepped, packed my backpack (yes, as a teacher, you still need a good backpack/bag), and spent extra time snuggling all my fur babies. So, how am I feeling? What is in my plans today? Am I scared? Am I prepared?
We'll see how today goes, but here is what I'm hoping I have answers to by the end of the day/this week.
This blog is dedicated to my reflections on teaching during COVID. These posts are my own thoughts and reflections and DO NO represent anyone else's opinions or policies.