Posted in differences, education, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Take the opportunity: band teacher edition

What a fantastic opportunity we have been forced into!

I know that could be interpreted sarcastically; I mean it completely sincerely.

I am a teacher. Sometimes, I am a phenomenal teacher. Sometimes, I am a mediocre teacher.

We all know teachers who have been teaching for a long time, teaching the same thing, plugging along more or less on auto pilot. (As much as auto pilot works in this gig.)

Not now!

We all know teachers who have completely resisted learning/using technologies.

Not now!

We all get in routines, have our way of doing things, etc., even if we’re consistently learning and growing.

Now? Now we have the opportunity to re-think ALL OF IT.

I teach band. I’m in band teacher groups on Facebook where I get and share resources and ideas regularly.

Man. There are a lot of people trying to figure out how to do what they’ve always done, just through an internet connection or a face mask.

Missing the opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s time-consuming. And we’re all at square one again. Everyone I’ve talked to feels like a first year teacher.

Being a first year teacher is rough. Really rough.

(I can’t imagine being a first year teacher this year…)

If you’ve been banging your head against the wall trying to make this year like every other year through Zoom and face masks and life-draining expectations, I’m here to tell you—it’s not too late to change the course. Rethink everything. Do something differently. Do everything differently. What do you have to lose?

“But then my kids will be behind!” Behind what? Your expectations for where they “should” be? Your fear of someone else’s judgement of where they “should” be? And by extension, judgement of your competence as a teacher?

There is a global pandemic. Let the expectations go.

Right now, nearly everything is hard for nearly everyone. Stressing yourself out trying to make kids—who have their own laundry list of stresses to deal with—jump through hoops to try to pretend that everything is normal is … well … stressful.

Also, kids have so much less autonomy in choosing how to deal with everything that’s going on, or even knowing what healthy coping mechanisms are available. Do we want to be someone helping or someone hurting? I’m not convinced anyone is neutral now, or ever.

“Band is some kids’ safe place!” Yes it is! It was mine. Does that mean it needs to be as close to what they did last year as possible? You are their safe place. The group is their safe place. Keep the space sacred, but the activities? They can be shaken up.

Take a deep breath, let some of the weight go, and see what you come up with.

Posted in ebb & flow, education

Pandemic teaching, two more bits

Two things that popped up this week.

First, I realized that the majority of my students are new to me this year, and I have never seen their faces. I don’t know what their noses look like. I see their eyes and their hair and that’s all. Many of them, if they showed up to online lessons, left their cameras muted.

It’s weird.

Also, it’s nearly impossible to read the room. I’m reasonably good at seeing interest, enthusiasm, and so on in the kids, especially if we’re trying something new or we’re working our way through something difficult. Now? I have to ask. And I do, and I hope to get honest answers.

Weird.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, follow-up, physical health, thoughtfulness

Reflections on the second week of pandemic teaching

The novelty of wearing a mask has worn off, and more kids are taking them off. I spent a fair amount of time during class this week showing empathy to their discomfort—I don’t like wearing one, either—and explaining why we’re wearing them. They didn’t seem to know. (That could be no one has explained it well. It could be they weren’t listening.)

One student took off his mask to sneeze. “But if I leave it on, the mask will get nasty!” I explained that they can go to the nurse and get a new mask, and take that one home and wash it. They had never considered this.

I also saw the custodian take off his mask, sneeze into his hand, wipe it on his pants, put the mask back on, and continue with his day.

People don’t get it.

One child came at me with “if oxygen to breathe can get through, the corona virus can get through.” Fortunately, I had recently read a bit about this and was able to tell her that the virus is about 200 times bigger. (I think it was actually 250, but 200 was good enough.)

In lighter news, some time this week, I stopped panicking mid-commute as to whether or not I remembered to comb my hair. Having appropriate clothes and combed hair before leaving the house has become a habit again.

We have fall break next week. I suspect the habit will weaken. I’m OK with that.

I used a different lid for my water bottle—one with a straw—and it helped. I realized, though, that part of when I would sip some water was when students had a minute to practice something on their own.

We’re not playing instruments. There’s no minute tucked in to grab a drink. But between classes it’s much easier, and when there are moments here and there, I do take advantage now.

We have a two-part plan in place at one of my schools: we’re playing instruments at home and bucket drumming at school.

Only a few 6th graders were motivated to take their instruments home right away. They started bucket drumming on Wednesday and were excited!

I realized that with masks on and earplugs in, it would be difficult to use voices to communicate, so I looked up a few ASL signs and taught those.

We have a lot of potential with those buckets! I need to come up with a good long-term plan, as I don’t have one yet, but what we were able to do in a couple of days was great.

And parents (or at least most, I assume) are happy that the buckets and drum sticks stay at school. If the kids are drumming at home, it’s been provided at home.

The 5th graders were excited to learn their band instruments, so we took a few days to learn how to open cases, put the instruments together, how to hold them, how to get them back in the case. I put videos for making a sound on their instruments in their Google Classroom where we had class for the first seven weeks of the quarter, with a link to FlipGrid. Half have already sent me a video of them producing a sound on their instrument. They’ll start buckets after break.

And on we go. While I wasn’t scratching and clawing my way to fall break this year, I’m not complaining one bit about having a week off! I’ll always take more time to do other things.

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, education

Reflections on a week of pandemic teaching

The district where I work had students in the grades I teach start back to school this week on Monday. It’s been … interesting. I can’t speak to whether this can be generalized to anyone else’s experience—this write up is just what my week has been like.

First, like many other things the last six months, it’s weird. Some parts are better than online teaching was; some parts are worse.

My district, like many others, has much more emphasis on sanitizing surfaces and students not sharing materials and less emphasis on aerosols. In their homerooms, students can have a pencil box or something with all of their tools in it—pencils, pens, markers, crayons, etc. I don’t want to acquire or store pencil boxes for all of my students but I have had to rethink how I do some things so they don’t need pencils yet.

We are all (or mostly all) wearing masks. I have encountered a handful of employees not wearing them or not wearing them much; it’s frustrating.

It’s hard to stay hydrated when wearing a mask all day. I’m frequently thirsty.

“Pull your mask up over your nose” or some variation of that is the current winner for statement most often used. Most of the students don’t pull them down—the masks just don’t fit well and fall down.

One student yesterday had a mask with tight elastic; it was hurting his ears and pulling them forward. I was able to rig up a strap across the back of his head using two paperclips and a rubber band. It looked a little silly, but he felt much better and wore it happily.

I’m a traveling teacher, and in the car between schools, I take off my mask, drink a lot of water, and sing all the way school to school. I don’t know if it’s the different breathing that singing requires or what, but it feels really good to put on some tunes and sing along for my car trip.

Some students are happy to be back. Others have said they’d rather do school online than school with a mask on and distanced from their friends.

Actually keeping kids six feet apart is an exercise in futility.

When I have enough space, I can seat them that way. Only a few have refused to leave their chair where I put it.

Getting them to and from my room is another matter. At six feet apart, a class could stretch out 30 or 40 yards. (My biggest class has 22 students.)

With students seated spaced apart and masked, the talkers just talk louder. It’s more difficult to know who’s talking. I’m mostly deaf in my right ear and rely heavily on visual cues. Some are still present—kids still look at each other when they’re talking to each other—and many are absent. It’s challenging.

I’ve seen each student three or four times, depending on which small group they’re in and whether they’ve been present in school. I don’t know most names yet. Both of my schools are uniform schools (students wear khaki pants or shorts and specific-colored polo shirts) which makes learning students’ names more challenging. Add masks, and it’s been a struggle. I’ll get there, but it’s going to take a little longer than usual, I think.

All that said, it wasn’t a bad week at all. Just challenging and tiring and different.

And long. I’m grateful to have the weekend to regroup.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, mental health, mindset, parenting, tips

Tips for school-at-home

School has started or is about to start ’round here. For the moment, we’re all online, and many parents are struggling with the situation.

Different households have different dynamics. Parents and kids have a wide range of personalities and interpersonal relationships. Be open to possibilities. Take what works; leave what doesn’t.

As a teacher with decades of mostly-successful experience in classroom management, I’m here to give you some tips that will work with most kids most of the time. My context is elementary-aged people; much of this will work with older ones, too. And with adults. Really, most of this applies to most people most of the time.

Warning: consistency is critical, and consistency is maddening. You have to do it. It will not work without. (That’s actually true of parenting in general, but I’m not going down that rabbit hole.)

Also, it’s important to remember that children are people and have wants, needs, feelings, opinions, good days, bad days just like adults do.

Enough intro. On with the stuff.

Give them space to work

At school, they have their desk or their spot at their table.

Find a spot that is their school space. If you have room, you can have it be a semi-permanent space; it doesn’t have to be. An uncluttered table top that is theirs to use for the day gets the job done. Kitchen table would work, if it doesn’t need to be cleared for lunch. Their own desk, a child-sized table, a portion of a large table, a folding table, whatever. Ideally, it will be something that is their size, but again, if you don’t have that already and don’t have space or means to acquire, use what you have. It will be OK.

Also, many don’t like to sit at tables or desks all the time (which is good—adults shouldn’t, either), so if they’re working on a laptop or a tablet (or working during off-screen time), let them have the flexibility of sitting on the floor. In Montessori, students use mats to establish their work space. A throw rug, blanket, or towel could easily serve the same purpose. This sets boundaries for the child (this is my space) and for anyone else in the room (that’s their space). Again, this can easily be put down and picked up daily.

Give them necessary materials

Typically, they have one or more notebooks, pencils, erasers. Maybe a ruler, colored pencils, scissors, tape, glue, a white board, markers. Make sure ahead of time they have all the materials they will need (ask their teacher if a list was not provided) and keep the materials together in the work space.

If you have space and want to be fancy and use different containers and label and/or decorate them, etc., go for it! (Hats off to you, Pinterest-y mamas!) Involve the child in the process. Remember: it’s their school space, not yours. If you just have an Amazon box that seems like it’s close enough to the right size, use that. (Letting them decorate a plain cardboard box can incite buy-in, especially if they are younger or artsy. Older kids could make collages with magazine cutouts, if you want to go there.)

One of the things you’ll see in any well-run elementary classroom is a place for everything. The kids know where stuff is. The teacher doesn’t need to fetch everyday items for students, and students don’t need to ask where something is every time they need it. You can have this fluidity as well. Create it.

Establish a schedule

Kids like to know what to expect and when. Routine and consistency are critical.

The schedule will, in part, be delivered by your child’s teacher. I am assuming that some of the work will be done in real time with the teacher “present” and some of the work will be done without the teacher.

So let’s say live classes are at 8, 10, 12:30, and 2 each day for 30 minutes each. The child’s schedule might look something like this:

  • 7:00   Wake up, do morning things (clothes, food, teeth, potty, etc.—whatever your normal morning routine includes)
  • 7:40   Turn on computer, make sure internet connection is working. Assuming all is well with technology, play time (ideally outside) until 7:55.
  • 7:54   One-minute warning that playtime is ending—helps the transition
  • 7:55   Get a drink, go to the bathroom, settle into class
  • 8:00   Class
  • 8:30   School work (maybe more specific, if you have more information). This will not necessarily be sitting still and might shift between the table and the floor, or different positions on the floor.
  • 9:30   Play, snack, drink, bathroom
  • 10:00   Class
  • 10:30   School work
  • 11:00   Lunch, play, bathroom
  • 12:30   Class
  • 1:00   School work
  • 1:30   Play, drink, bathroom
  • 2:00   Class
  • 2:30   Finish any unfinished work from the day
  • 3:00   Play, snack, drink, bathroom

And schedule the evening however evenings go.

Schedule some one-on-one time with them (during the day or in the evening), even if it’s not for very long (10-15 minutes), and give them undivided attention during that time.

Schedule yourself some alone time, even if it’s not for very long (10-15 minutes), and set boundaries around it. It is non-negotiable. (You need this.)

Having a schedule for the school day lets kids know what they’re doing when and for how long. If they can’t tell time yet, set alarms. (Or set alarms regardless. I’ve been able to tell time for a long time—I don’t even need numbers on the clock face!—and I still use alarms regularly.) Teach them how to turn the alarms off if they don’t already know. Let them practice that more than once in more than one sitting.

Put the schedule on a piece of paper and hang it in the school area so they have it available. If you put it in a picture frame, you/they can write on the glass with dry erase markers. So they can, for example, check off each time block as it passes. Or you can make a note next to a time block for something to remember that day. Or write today’s lunch. Or write a note of encouragement.

Establish procedures

Elementary teachers do this for weeks at the beginning of the school year. We set the procedures and we intentionally practice them. Kids don’t remember all the stuff in one pass, and they’re not going to by you telling them once, either. Habits are not formed in one try. The first Monday after the first weekend is the worst.

What do you need a procedure for? Everything. If you have a procedure for everything, and you practice them at the beginning of the year (or before, since you have that advantage), they don’t need to ask nearly as many questions once it’s all established. (That will take time.)

Refer to the schedule for starters.

  • If they’re working independently, what do they do if the computer and/or internet isn’t working?
  • How do they know when the times on the schedule are arriving? (Are you watching the clock? Are they? Are there alarms? Are they allowed to take the device with the alarms outside if they play outside?)
  • Where do they put their written work when they’re done with it?
  • Can they have a drink at their work station? What kind of drink? (Water only, please!)
  • What is available for snack? Do they get it themselves? Do they clean it up after? (What does “clean it up” mean/include?)
  • What do they do if they need help?
  • What do they do if they’re finished their school work before the “school work” time block is up? (Read, draw, write a letter, practice another skill.)
  • What can they do during play time? (I strongly recommend no screens and extra moving during the school day.)
  • Are they allowed to listen to music during their work time? What about TV?
  • Are they allowed to text or otherwise engage with friends outside of the class time during school time?
  • What if they need to go to the bathroom and it’s not bathroom time? (I put bathroom breaks on the schedule because the bathroom is a well-known and oft-used place to spend time when you don’t feel like doing your work. And since at home, they can’t ask to go to the nurse…)

Practice them. Role play them.

Young kids can have significant independence. Teach them how.

Change your hat

This is theoretical. I made it up. I haven’t tried it. Yet.

Our kids often interact differently with their teachers than they do with us.

So perhaps as part of procedures, establish when you’re the teacher and when you’re the parent. Maybe literally wear a teacher hat. (I mean, not a hat made of teachers, which I guess would literally be a teacher hat. But a hat that you establish as the “I’m the teacher when I’m wearing this hat.”) Maybe make a different name for that character. Something (or a set of somethings) to separate the role of parent from the role of teacher, both for you and for them.

(It doesn’t have to be a hat. It could be any piece of clothing that is easy to add and subtract to whatever you’re wearing. A jacket. A cape. Fake glasses. Cat ears. Whatever.)

Follow through and be consistent

Consistency is key. Patience is necessary. It will take them longer to learn procedures than you think it should. If you have multiple kids at home, having similar procedures for all of them will help everyone to remember them.

Because this is new (unless you got it all figured out last spring), the plan might need tweaks. Have an intentional conversation about the tweaks.

Outside of that, when they whine, refer to procedures. If you give in after they bug you long enough, they learn that they just need to bug you long enough and then you get bugged more. I tell my students (and my son, though not often because he learned this a long time ago, and his friends), “You can ask me as many times as you want. The answer will be the same.”

Skip shaming

Shaming is not good for behavior change. It also does not promote growth. (Have you made positive change in response to being shamed?) While snarky comments might be the first nine things that pop into your head in response to something not getting done/understood (or finally getting done/understood), please keep them to yourself.

You know all of those negative tapes that play in your head about yourself? Many of those were planted by people earlier in your life shaming you. Those are not the seeds you want to plant in your children.

(Sometimes this is the hardest one. Sometimes I text my friend and tell her I didn’t even get a trophy today for not saying xyz. Because there’s no pat on the back for staying quiet when you ought to. If you need one, let me know. I will empathize and give you an e-trophy. Because it’s so hard, and it’s worth it.)

A last note, just on mindset and vocabulary…

This isn’t homeschooling. When you homeschool, you create (or find and adapt) lesson plans, scope and sequence; you create assessments; you grade the materials. Parents with kids in remote learning, you don’t have to do these things. Silver lining: those tasks are not on your plate.

I’m not saying that what you’re doing isn’t hard. Just that it’s not everything.

And also: you can do hard things. Good luck.