Teaching in a Pandemic (I CanNOT Survive This Twice)

Being a teacher this year has been one of the hardest experiences I have ever had to push myself through. I have written a bit on here about my journey being a 7th grade English teacher this year, amidst virtual learning, then hybrid learning, and now still hybrid but really like 80% face-to-face and 20% virtual.

Every part of this year has been so difficult. Let’s break it down.

Beginning of the Year

Starting back in July, as a small team of teachers and my principal began planning for how we were going to prep teachers for a new method of teaching (called “Blended Learning” but it’s not hybrid – it’s complicated) ON TOP OF virtual learning, I realized that this year was going to be tough. My anxiety was already through the roof, mostly because I had created these extremely high expectations of myself, and put so much pressure on my shoulders. I sought out my therapist, and so the school year began.

First and foremost, everything had to be turned virtual. Gone were the mostly-optional choice boards of Covid Spring 2020. We were back to full on curriculum learning, just through Zoom and Google Docs and Canvas, instead of paper and pencil and textbook. It was good and bad. Obviously, twentieth century learning should incorporate more technology. We are moving towards a society where almost everything is online. BUT we have to recognize that the amount of screen time for children/teens is ridiculously higher than it should be before we even make school completely online. From a teacher’s perspective as well, pushing everything onto a completely new online management system (we used Canvas) was a nightmare. We had virtually no training on it, so Google was my best friend.

Of course, I was willing to go above and beyond to make my Canvas great. Easy to access. Easy to navigate. Other teachers begged me to help them, and I never said no. I was drowning in Starbucks gift cards and anxiety because I had too much on my plate.

God bless my therapist, Lauretta. We worked on boundaries. I learned how to say no (or at least “not right now”) and was able to get my bearings straight before school started. God bless my principal as well, for listening to me fully while I explained my mental health situation and checking in as frequently as she could.

Virtual learning sucked. My classroom was empty. I was teaching to black screens. The engagement was so low and I struggled to figure out if it was something I could change and do better, or if we were just asking too much of twelve year olds to be fully engaged in school from a computer at home for 8 hours a day.

Middle of the Year

In October, select students were allowed to start returning to school face to face. After a month or so of this, more students were allowed to return. At its peak, my biggest face to face class period was 15 (with 18 more at home still learning virtually). We are A/B day blocked, but my students have ELAR for two class periods, so I see them daily. My class sizes are 30-34 students each.

It started to become so so draining at this part of the year. Trying to maintain an equitable education for students while half are present in my room and the other half are at home behind a black screen was incredibly stressful. I truly wanted no child to be left behind. To maintain my sanity, I was basically still doing virtual learning. The only difference is that the students in my room had immediate access to me, and could quickly get redirected if they weren’t focused.

If you’ve never sat in a classroom where students are in rows, somewhat socially distanced, all wearing masks, and staring at their computers non-stop barely talking, I suggest you never experience it. The height of my depression came when this was the environment of almost every classroom on my campus. I began to have very dark thoughts because this just wasn’t how things were supposed to be. I was miserable in every way. I pour myself into my job no matter where I am, and it felt like I wasn’t making the difference I had before.

March – Now

After Spring Break, many parents sent their students back just in time for the last quarter. Some were essentially forced, but others knew it was time. Once again, at its peak, my largest class (34) has 28 on campus, with 6 at home. Some go back and forth, or don’t show up at all for periods of time. Once this day came, I knew I had to make some changes so we could all enjoy the last quarter of the school year together.

For my face to face students, things started working back to normal. I started printing assignments on paper again. I lost 150 pencils in less than one month! As irritating as that is, I’m not going to lie – it’s a problem I missed! Students are sprawled out in the hallways, creating posters. Two weeks ago I had students in the courtyard, recording videos. I missed my middle schoolers and all their drama. Seeing their faces, hearing their voices.

I’ve always tried to be the most supportive and understanding teacher throughout this tough school year. I struggled with it so much myself, who was I to believe these kids were doing any better? But I didn’t feel like I was seeing the return – the smiles, the “thank you”s, the “this is my favorite class this year” and the best — “you’re my favorite teacher.” I’ve learned how much I seek validation, and oh how much better things feel now that I have it again.

There are still tough days. Duh. I teach 7th graders! There are still unengaged students at home (and a few at school but we’re working on it). I still have a lot of students failing. But I am trying daily to find the good things.

One Monday I sat down after work with a new journal that I had dubbed my “gratitude” journal. The plan was to write down all the good things that had happened that day before I left work, so that I could go home with a good attitude. I could only think of two things. I stopped by my principal’s office on my way out and cried about how that was it, but she had the right words: two things is sure better than none! (My new therapist said the same thing that week.)

Tonight, I needed a pick me up. It was a tough week. I spent some time going through the projects that had been submitted by my virtual students, and boy some of them blew me away! I even texted one mom who was recording the video while her son presented his poster, encouraging him the whole time. I was so thrilled by it!

I also went and watched the video recordings from two weeks ago. I had presented an alternate option to my virtual students, but some took on the challenge and acted out/read the assigned scene from the story we’d read in such an engaging way! One student even recorded with her mom, and I swear they need to record some audiobooks! I wrote some cards for those students that I hope to mail out on Tuesday with my “Academy Award” trophies I bought on Amazon.

I’m still struggling to get through this hot mess of a year. I am finding things to look forward to next school year (while obviously also looking forward to summer – trying to figure out how to pay for a 5 year anniversary trip to Cancun currently) to help propel me through these last six weeks.

Pushing through this school year has taught me more about myself than I ever probably really wanted to know. I have overcome so much, and have so much to be proud of this year. Next year will come with its struggles too, but there are so many great things coming my way. I can do this. I have all the support I need to make it happen.

Shameless plug: Teacher Appreciation Week is coming soon, May 2-6! If you want to donate some pencils to my class, feel free to check out my Amazon Wish List (they’re at the bottom). If you have a child in school, please please please show those teachers some love this year. Even a letter/email will 10,000% make their whole year.

3 thoughts on “Teaching in a Pandemic (I CanNOT Survive This Twice)

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