As we begin our third week of pre-planning in my district, it’s hard to find the words to write this post. It is almost too painful to articulate the fear, anger, and anxiety that has been building inside me the last six weeks or so as the beginning of the school year has drawn closer. Like many of you, my heart and mind feel raw and fragile at the moment. Those feelings are exacerbated by the fact I’m caregiver for an elderly parent who is in the high-risk category for Covid-19 and the fact I’m only 2.5 years from full retirement and feeling boxed into a corner with impossible decisions and limited choices for continuing my career without jeopardizing my health or that of my father. Many of my colleagues have made the difficult decision to walk away from public education in Georgia; others, like me, cannot afford to do so financially.
In spite of my efforts and expense this summer to better myself as a candidate to teach virtually, I was not selected to teach virtual courses, nor was I able to find another job that would allow me to work virtually elsewhere in Georgia public education. One positive professional step I have taken to feel more agency as an educator in Georgia is to join GAE; I have belonged to another organization my entire career, but I feel GAE provides more of the services and resources Georgia educators need, and I have especially enjoyed the weekly Facebook Live sessions designed to keep teachers and school employees informed about our rights. I will also be serving as our building representative for GAE.
Many of you have read what an utter disaster the state of Georgia is at the moment, a situation that seems to be worsening weekly. Unfortunately, the whole issue of wearing masks is heavily politicized here, and it is jeopardizing the health of the public. I know friends and family across the country have been astonished as they have watched the botched school openings around the state, particularly in metro Atlanta. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening with school openings and all the issues around it, I encourage you to read AJC Get Schooled, a voice in the wilderness for all Georgians right now; the discussion page on Facebook is also of value.
While I am grateful for three weeks of pre-planning in my district, I am still deeply apprehensive about safety in spite of a mask requirement and the fact I cannot effectively socially distance my students unless we switch to a different plan. Students will also be given mask breaks indoors on the hour and will be eating in our classrooms at times as of right now; needless to say, these elements are worrisome. Add the fact that Hall County is in the top 5 in the state in number of Covid-19 cases, and you understand why I am fervently praying our superintendent and school board will decide to start virtually for at least the first month. Here is the latest data as of today at 4PM on Monday, August 17, 2020.
On Friday, it was announced we will run a hybrid schedule (embedded below) foro the first two weeks; the plan is then to go to “normal” daily face to face instruction, but I am terrified of what will happen if we do that. You can see the current plan here, and read the district’s press release from this past Friday, August 14. We are all doing our best, but it feels challenging trying to plan for what feels like a moving target.
I will not go into all the nitty gritty details of our building’s plan for safety, but from an instructional standpoint, we are all planning for a blended learning environment, and I am very comfortable with that aspect. Our administration designed a master Canvas course template that we all copied over into our individual courses so that everything has a uniform look across subject area and content area. I already have an Ed.S. in Instructional Technology and School Library Media from the University of Georgia (2005) that has given me an excellent baseline of knowledge thanks to the visionary foresight of Dr. Mary Ann Fitzgerald and other long gone members of what used to be the School Library Media program there. Couple that with years of classroom experience and the Introduction to Online Teaching course I took and completed through Kennesaw State University this summer, and I feel pretty confident about blended learning as well as teaching in a completely online environment.
I also am halfway through Catlin Tucker’s excellent self-paced course on blended and online learning. In addition, these new professional texts are super helpful, and of course, Tucker’s website and blog are a treasure trove of practical and THOUGHTFUL pedagogical knowledge and strategies. I have also found great resources through my favorite sellers over at Teachers Pay Teachers; you can also find a wealth of knowledge and “how tos” on YouTube. New updates from Canvas, Actively Learn, Flipgrid, and Seesaw are also going to make blended and online learning more robust. I am also loving the new Canvas Studio tool we have to create and import YouTube videos (no more filter worries, yay) in Canvas. However, I really encourage you to look at Tucker’s blog for the foundational strategies and pedagogy behind effective blended and online learning.
Because of the efforts to minimize student movement and keep safety at the forefront, my physical space has changed rather dramatically from the last two years. Gone are my cozy chairs and rugs that served as more than pretty decor; they were essential to many of my learning activities and the design of my learning space for 8th graders. My question trails, playlists, gallery walks, and stations will now be digitized instead of learning experiences with active movement.
We have been instructed to keep student seating 6 feet from the teacher desk, but if the class sizes do not become smaller, this will be difficult for most of us. As much as I love my tables, I was hoping that desks would be sent to replace them, but that is not happening. I am also trying to figure out where to house my ESOL co-teacher so that she has a little perch in my room for the class period she is here. I will no longer have my independent reading books out, but students can use my virtual book bar I’m building and request a book through that tool.
Because we were told two weeks ago that class rolls might be fluid until Labor Day (parents don’t have to commit to face to face or virtual instruction now until August 31 plus we have about 25% students that we have not heard from as to which way they are leaning), we realized we could not really jump in headfirst into the kinds of activities we normally would do the first week even though we are trying to plan collaboratively in grades and subject areas. Originally, the plan below was my blueprint for the first three weeks before starting a short story unit September 14:
When we got the news about the new hybrid schedule this past Friday, coupled with “Reconnect” activities, we all had to punt and rethink the first two weeks. In the video below, I’ll outline for you what the first two weeks will now look like for me, or at least, what I have planned at the moment: Right now my mind is overflowing with many thoughts as well as emotions, so forgive me if the video feels a bit ramblish:
My digital playlists include:
I also have a working short story unit planned out that I completed for my Kennesaw State course from this summer. I expect that I will still refine and tweak it, but it is a solid working blueprint.
I expect there will be more changes in store; while I hope our district will decide to start the year with all online learning, I am planning and thinking about the best ways to deliver quality instruction with the current plan while keeping myself, my students, and my colleagues as safe as possible. I know many of you are experiencing similar situations as educators or have loved ones who are facing the same challenges. I hope to be able to provide you additional updates of this journey that feels frightening and daunting but that I’m going to face one day at a time as I pray for wisdom, guidance, and safety. This particular post is probably one of the most difficult I’ve written in over 10 years of blogging, and I appreciate your taking time to read my reflections.