Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Fifth first day of the school year


My first official day on the school calendar was August 4th.  I had been working for a few days prior, getting the lay of the land in my new but familiar library.  We had to fill in a spreadsheet marking our comings and goings, limited time slots ensuring the ability to social distance.  Technically, I was not required to be on campus, but much of the work I had to accomplish couldn't be done virtually.  Some meeting days were spent at home, reminding me of our shelter-in-place spring.

The teachers' first official day was August 10th, a trade day for summer training, so the staff met virtually for the first time on the 11th.  Another day of online meetings; was I on campus, or off?  I can't remember, as my schedule seemed to change every day.  A few more teachers crossed paths with me on campus, but not many as the district was still honing its cleaning protocols and promoting work from home.  The focus of preparation was our new learning management system, confiscating days of training.

The students' first official day was August 20th--a virtual back-to-school riddled with technological glitches. Librarians joined instructional tech staff and educational assistants in a network of help desks, answering questions about logging in to the new LMS, Google Meets, and connectivity.  Two weeks into virtual schooling, the dust began to settle a bit.

The teachers' first official day on campus was September 8th, an asynchronous learning day for students so teachers could be trained once again, only this time for on-campus COVID protocols.  Rooms were finally set up, but sparsely to allow the social distancing of roughly thirty percent of the student population whose parents opted for in-person learning. Schedules must allow time for regular cleaning throughout the day.  

The in-person students' first day is today.  Orientation now includes presentations on social distancing, wearing masks, and using the hand sanitizing stations.  Support staff like myself are being used in novel ways; on our campus, we are assigned specific classes to monitor during specials as students remain in their classrooms, to allow their teachers planning time and keep bubbles as contained as possible. Class sizes were still changing as of yesterday, as parents were making last-minute decisions to keep their students at home.

Two more "first days" than usual for me; I wonder if there will be any more as we navigate this unmapped COVID landscape?  The optimist in me thinks that our sanitizing and distancing efforts will bring low risk of infection and a fairly healthy fall semester; the realist in me knows that we are dealing with many "bubbles" intersecting with our campus, and that children's behavior doesn't always fall neatly within protocols.

Mask, face shield, and sanitizer in hand, I venture into the fifth first day of school this year.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Half lives


Did my mother stop and ponder, that March at forty-two?

Maybe she was too busy preparing for her last trans-Atlantic move, figuring out which household items to pack, already missing the German landscape she'd be trading in for El Paso tumbleweeds once more in May.  Maybe she was looking forward to my college graduation--or worried because it was one more event to attend during that transition.  

My mother, at twenty-one:  married, living in Paris with my Army father, navigating her first time overseas.  Giving birth without her own mother nearby.  She would have to pack up and move just six months later.  My mother is so young, in those black-and-white photos stored in the cabinet.  Did she think about this, that March of my twenty-first birthday?

Me, at twenty-one:  barely surviving student teaching.  Worried about getting a job after that May graduation.  Happy to be "legal" again (the law changed when I was nineteen).  Boyfriend, yes, but thoughts of marriage and children were only lightly discussed, certainly not planned.

Life's path has a way of twisting in unseen directions.  In three years I would be married (not to the boyfriend of twenty-one).  In three more, I became a mother.

That was a half-life ago.

Me, at twenty-seven:  considering leaving the teaching profession that March, that intention set in stone when I found out I was pregnant.  Thankful for that decision when my baby was born at twenty-six weeks in September.  Worried about her health, her future.

My daughter, at twenty-seven:  married, beginning her last year as a JET-ALT in Japan, preparing for another trans-Pacific move next summer.  Trying to make the most of the time she has left overseas, even as she prepares for life back in the U.S. She has the gumption of her grandmother, her birthday-mate. 

Me, at fifty-four:  grateful for unplanned blessings, for what I've experienced and learned these last twenty-seven years. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Tuesday Slice: September, lyrical

"Thirty days hath September,..."  

I paused this morning and realized the poem begins with September, not January.  This is the first full month of school for many students and teachers, so maybe the nursery rhyme decided to follow suit.  I've been an educator long enough to appreciate this extra New Year of sorts; it certainly takes more preparation and has more impact than January first.  This September brings its challenges as we begin our year as we ended it, in pandemic mode.

"September morn

We danced until the night

Became a brand new day...

Look at what you've done

Why, you've become a grown-up girl..."

Ah, Neil Diamond.  My mother was a fan, and so am I.  There's always a wistful longing in his voice as he sings his stories.  Didn't we all grow up just a little more each September, as we crossed thresholds into new classrooms, cafeterias, colleges? We were a military family; I attended eight schools before graduating, and went to college six hundred miles away from my mother and brother--who then moved to Germany to accompany my father.  I had no choice that September, that year, but to become a grown-up girl.

"Do you remember the 21st night of September?

Love was changing the minds of pretenders

While chasing the clouds away..."

I can't help but dance and sing along when this song plays on the radio.  Another season begins this month, the equinox celebrated by Earth, Wind and Fire.  Fall is my favorite season--the promise of summer's heat breaking with cooler nights, the happy preparation for the coming holidays, a moment to pause and be thankful.  I will be decorating my house with fall colors this coming Labor Day weekend, even as temperatures threaten to remain in the triple digits.

Rabbit, rabbit is what we say on the first day of a new month, for luck.  May this September, this month of beginnings, bring us all a bit of luck, a portion of hope, and in this pandemic--health.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Tuesday Slice: My current situation in song


I have more empathy for telephone-based tech support these days, as I help parents and students find their way to their teachers' Google Meet and Schoology virtual classrooms.  We are all learning to navigate online together.

Like Shakira, my hips don't lie.  They're telling me that they don't like sitting in an office chair for forty-five minutes out of every hour.  I've never considered myself athletic, but the carpal tunnel symptoms and trigger finger I wake up with every morning and the hips that have to be unlocked every time I rise from my seat are evidence that my body needs to move to be healthy.

Equity is a focal point of our district and campus this year.  I've returned to the Title I school in my neighborhood after seven years at an upper-SES campus, and the difference between the two with this odd beginning is glaring.  I'm seeing images in my social media feed of creatively crafted learning spaces with gamer headphones and a laptop for each child  that look like mini-classrooms from the latter,  while we are still making sure families have devices and teaching them to make quiet learning corners at the former.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the RNC on television last night.  My heart and stomach ache at the very thought.  To be fair, I didn't watch a lot of the DNC either, except a bit of the roll call, which made me smile and brought me joy.

Music keeps me going these days.  Enjoy the playlist..

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Kitchen table talk about social studies


My collegeboy is about to wrap up his three week staycation at home, in between apartment moves.  I've enjoyed his company; we have interesting conversations, and he's not afraid to challenge my thinking when he has experience and knowledge to back up his assertions.  Lest you think we argue a lot--we don't.  We had a spirited meeting of the minds across the kitchen table the other day on the topic of teaching social studies.

Yes...social studies.  

The setting:  the TV has been set to PBS travel shows all day long as background noise. Collegeboy and I start talking about travel show hosts--Rick Steves, in particular, whom I've had the pleasure of seeing in person at a librarians' conference.  He was a keynote speaker, and none too shy about sharing his views on the importance of travel and understanding different cultures at a person-to-person level as a way of gaining world peace.

Talk of travel led to talk of geography and history which led to the teaching of those subjects and the timing of that teaching in our curriculum.  Fifteen minutes into this conversation, we had concocted our own scope and sequence.  I present it to you as "what ifs".

What if...
social studies in elementary schools deeply focused on geography and culture, starting at home and working its way out into the world by fifth grade?  Maps and globes, families and food, music and art, clothing and religion and celebrations are common, tangible, understandable concepts that humanize the inhabitants of our shared planet.  Concrete does not imply simplicity: real discussions could happen about differences and similarities and shared needs and dreams.

What if...
history was taught from middle school through high school, starting at home and working its way out into the world by graduation?  With a solid background in geography and culture, the events would no longer be seen as disparate dates involving a blank setting and faceless actors.  History wouldn't be seen as a straightforward timeline of exploration and wars and outcomes in black and white.  Students would be old enough to think about the gray areas, explore bias in the record-keeping, discuss the perspectives of the conquerors and the conquered.

What if...
teaching social studies this way, with an emphasis on humanity, helped make us more understanding of our role in history and the caretaking of our world--and each other?

I'm going to miss collegboy when he returns to his university this week.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tuesday Slice: Back to school musings


One full week into the work calendar...some thoughts:

Teachers all over the country are adjusting their bedtimes and alarm clocks.  Some of my teacher friends have been doing the go-to-bed-a-little-earlier, wake-up-a-little-earlier method.  Bedtime for me isn't so much about minutes as it is "Star Trek" episodes.  My summer escape from coronavirus chaos has been two to three hours of "Star Trek" each night, Sunday through Friday, on a station that runs episodes from five series--the original, then "Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine", "Voyager", and "Enterprise", ending at midnight.  Some nights I was up until midnight; most of the time I fell asleep to the opening theme song of the last showing.  This past week I've cut back to a few minutes into "Voyager"...but I really need to turn off the TV halfway through "Next Generation" if I'm going to achieve waking up at 430a again.

It's been nice having our college boy home, and the time has gone by fast.  I realized with a shock that he heads back north in eight days, which means we'll be following in ten days to move the rest of his belongings to his new apartment.  He's been working hard on internship applications, a requirement for his final semester.  His college graduation in December is a testament to his willpower to overcome adversity--he began his freshman year three years ago on a liquid diet, barely able to open his mouth after major jaw surgery. I admire his perseverance!

As I was moving some of my stuff into school yesterday, a family approached and asked about registration.  After checking in with the registrar, I was able to give them the details about registering online.  They were so appreciative, and their little girl waved at me and said goodbye with a smile in her voice.  I hope she heard the smile in mine as we communicated with masked faces.  My heart leapt a little at this first student interaction, grateful that our first impressions were positive.  

I felt a sense of accomplishment this week when I was able to clear almost two tables of items in the library, and moved the contents of two boxes back into the closet which had to be emptied for HVAC work.  My library director was right--it's like eating an elephant, one bite at a time.  In a way, I'm thankful that school is virtual for the first three weeks, giving me the gift of time to sort this out.

Today is the first gathering of all of the teaching staff, old and new.  It will be nice to "see" everyone in one place, even if on a screen, to get a feel for my new learning community.  I'm heading back into the library this afternoon to get some work done and help teachers check out needed items.  We can do this together, teacher friends! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tuesday Slice: And so it begins

Today is my first official workday for the 20-21 school year.  

Some things are the same.  Yesterday I planned my clothes for the week.  I set my alarm for three-plus-a-quarter hours before my first scheduled meeting, then hit the snooze twice.  I am grateful that our activities begin at 830a, like every starting week has been for as long as I can remember.  The dreaded 430a alarm can wait until next Monday.

I am dressed for a walk, hoping there will be time to get some fresh air after writing this Slice.  This is the same, too--reestablishing an exercise routine with the start of school.

Our first obligation is an all-hands-on-deck, all-day librarians' meeting.  That's pretty typical.  

But...instead of factoring in drive time to a district workshop or colleague's library, I'll be booting up my laptop in my study, praying it doesn't crash as my instructional tech support warned me about yesterday via text messages.

I'll be staring, once again, at tiny faces in boxes, hoping that when we separate into breakout rooms that I'll be able to participate--it didn't work the last time I tried.

I will probably find myself slipping into multitasking, popping over to my inbox to answer emails.  I'll turn off my camera to stand up and walk in place, trying to unlock the hips that can't handle more than 40 minutes of sitting at a time.

After a full day on the computer, my eyes will be tired, my brain strained from focusing on those tiny boxes and deciphering delayed, stilted conversations.  I'll miss the usual banter before speakers begin; chat boxes just don't convey the same sense of community for me. 

I get to do this all over again for the next two mornings, sitting in remote training sessions on a new-to-us LMS. I'll spend the afternoons practicing what I've learned, hoping I master enough to be a master trainer for my campus.

I'm still not fully moved in to my new library.  The library itself is still a mess from being rearranged for HVAC and electrical work.  I am worried about making relationships with staff and students from afar.  

Every new school year feels a little chaotic, but it's usually the kind of chaos that can be quantified in a to-do list, the little details that we rush about to get done before the doors open to students for the first time.  This year, the chaos seems more qualitative.  Yes, we have spaces we need to prepare, but they won't be inhabited for a month...or more?  Yes, we will have a student roster, but class lists may change depending on who opts to continue learning from home...or if we all go home, in a shutdown?  The most basic, tangible tasks have all become malleable.

It will truly be one step at a time this school year.  And on that note, there's some fresh air to be had.  Good luck to my fellow educators as we begin a year like no other, hopefully never to be repeated in our careers.