Building HEROES: A Letter from Miss Danielle

As we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19, working and learning at home has become the new “norm.”  But, it’s not normal. It’s not normal for our children to spend all day at home. It’s not normal for parents to stay home all day.  Things just aren’t normal. It’s abnormal. We’re navigating uncharted waters, and we’re all putting our creativity to the test as we try to move forward with our lives amidst these unexpected circumstances. 

 

Over the years, I’ve had to concur numerous challenges that I couldn’t possibly anticipate, both personally and professionally.  If you’d asked me two months ago — a year ago — five years ago — about my plans for online schooling or online classes, I would have quite simply said, “I don’t have any.”  Parents across the country have called to ask whether or not I offer online classes. Inevitably, the follow-up to that question, “Do you plan on offering online classes in the future?”  No. No, I do not. I’m not an online school. I don’t want to be an online school. I’ve spent thirteen years building my dream school — my dream job — a community of students and parents, and online schooling was never in that picture.  Yet, here I am, trying to run a temporary online school.  

 

I didn’t plan for this. Pandemic preparedness wasn’t in my business plans.  I didn’t take any special training courses to prepare myself for this day. No one did.  I’d say that some were more prepared for this than others. So many schools rely heavily on technology already.  It’s much easier to assign apps and online textbooks for home use if you’re already using them in the classroom. I’m not saying it’s easy for those teachers, but it’s certainly not the same.  We don’t use technology in the classroom. For the most part, I require students to handwrite everything. This is a practice that I strongly believe in, and you can read about this philosophy more here.  We don’t let our students use calculators. We don’t use multiple choice questions. Everything is open ended. Our walls are lined with cabinets and shelves, containing games, manipulatives, and other materials that we rely on when we teach.  We’ve made many of these games and activities ourselves to suit our needs.  

 

We set ourselves up to be a tech-free school.  I voice my opinions on technology frequently and openly.  I believe in limiting screen-time for children. I don’t believe in video games.  I don’t believe that online tests and assignments with auto-graded questions are a sufficient way to assess student learning.  I don’t believe that apps can replace a teacher. I do believe in the classroom environment. I believe that real-life engagement with other students is a necessary aspect to education.  I believe that students need to experience new material with all of their senses. I believe that technology is often a crutch which students rely too heavily on. Technology can be a useful tool, but I don’t believe students should use technology as an aide until they have mastered the task without the aide of technology.  

 

Yet, I am now running my school online.  Or, at least, I’m trying to. I’m doing the best that I can.  It’s not easy to throw a school online on a moment’s notice. If you’d asked me how long it would take to put courses online, I’d have allotted myself at least 6 months to a year before launching.  And yet, here I am. In just a few days, I threw my school online. I’m honestly not sure how I did it, but I did. Kind of. Online schooling is just as miserable as I thought it would be. I’ve tried to stay positive, but the forced smiles are exhausting.  I’ve tried to be optimistic, but I’m struggling. I try not to complain. There are people in far worse situations than me. There are people dying. There are people without jobs. There are businesses in far worse shape than HEROES. At the end of the day, this isn’t the school I dreamed of.  This isn’t my school. I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe, but I’ll make it through — somehow — some way. I always do.  

 

We took a partial Spring Break last week.  While Ms. Voit and I still worked every day, we didn’t grade any assignments, take any phone calls, or answer any e-mails during this time.  I was able to write more curriculum for my new temporary online school that I had imagined. It was somewhat peaceful. It was also frustrating.  If I wanted to design worksheets all day, I could probably make more money in fewer hours selling worksheets and lesson plans on TeachersPayTeachers, but that’s not what I want to do.  That’s not my dream. And yet, here I am.  

 

We returned from “Spring Break” on Wednesday.  By noon, I wanted to quit my job. I can’t quit.  There’s no boss to notify. That’s me. I have responsibilities, and I have a dream.  The e-mails and phone calls started at 7:00 AM.  

 

My child uploaded an assignment three days ago.  It hasn’t been graded yet.

I think to myself, I know.  We notified everyone that we wouldn’t be grading during Spring Break. I don’t write e-mails for myself.  I send them to you because I want you to read them. Please read them. 

 

My child wants to do Lesson 3, but it says they need to do the previous assignment first.  

Yes.  Your child must complete Lesson 2 before they complete lesson 3.  It’s sequential. Lesson 3 requires mastery of lesson 2.  

 

I just uploaded my child’s assignment.  Can you check that you received it? Technically, yes I could.  It is possible, but if I e-mailed every parent for each assignment that I received, I’d never have time to actually review and grade the assignments. 

 

One hour later — the same parent e-mails again.  My child’s assignment hasn’t been graded yet.  

Yes, I know.  It was uploaded an hour ago.  50 or more assignments were submitted this past week.  I’m working on it. This is not an automated system.  

 

Ten minutes later, I receive a text message from that same parent.  I’m still on hold with the township. I’m not ignoring you. I just can’t take two phone calls at the same time.  

 

Another parent asks, My child uploaded their assignment just now.  Can you just approve it so that we can move on to the next assignment?  Again, I could, but I won’t.  I actually open each assignment.  I go through each and every question.  I check each and every answer to ensure your child adequately understands the concept.  If your child doesn’t understand the concept, I’ll even take the time to write up a new lesson and activity to help them out.  If your child doesn’t understand this concept, they’ll never understand the next concept. It’ll be a waste of time. 

 

Another parent suggests a different platform.  Yes, I’ll just scrap everything I’ve been working on 10 – 12 hours per day 7 days a week for a month, learn a new system, and magically upload all of the content.  Then, I’ll just e-mail everyone and tell them that we’re moving to a new system. Sorry, I know you’ve spent the last few weeks figuring this one out, but we’ll have to start from scratch again.

 

Another parent wants video lessons.  

I’ve actually been considering implementing some video chat component to these classes, but I honestly can’t answer all the e-mails, answer the all the phone calls, write entirely new content, create the new worksheets, upload all of it, grade all of it, AND conduct video chats with each of the classes I teach.  I’ve almost given up on sleeping already. I often forget to eat. Unless Hermione’s Time Turner stops working, something has to give. 

 

Another parent e-mails me their child’s assignments. Can you just upload it for me? 

I literally can’t.  The functionality just doesn’t exist.  And I can’t approve an assignment in the online course unless it’s been uploaded.  Again, the functionality doesn’t exist. I’m not trying to be difficult. I know you think I’m trying to make your life miserable, but I’m really not.  It just isn’t possible.

 

Another parent calls me.  Can’t you just e-mail me my child’s work instead?  We don’t want to go on the website for it.

I really can’t.  I adore your child, but your child isn’t my only student.  I can’t provide the curriculum to each family in their own unique preferred way.  I’d never have the time to actually put together lessons for your child to complete at home.  

 

Another parent calls and unleashes all of their week’s stress on me.  

I know you’re stressed.  I know everyone is stressed.   I know I told you it’s okay and that I understand, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  I’m not a therapist, and I’m stressed too.

 

Of course, I don’t actually say any of these things.  I want to, but I don’t.  It simply wouldn’t be good “customer service.” 

 

This isn’t about one parent.  I’m not talking about anyone specifically.  Each one of these interactions occurs with multiple parents each day.  I need to prioritize. Educating my students is my highest priority. I’m not telling parents to stop calling or to stop sending e-mails, but please, think before you do.  

 

If you have a technical question, please use the technical help forum.  I answer the same questions over and over and over again. It takes time.  It takes time away from writing lessons. It takes time away from grading.  

 

If your child has submitted an assignment, trust me, I see it.  You’ll see a notice that says “pending approval” on the assignment page.  I do see it, but I’m not an automated system. I’m a person. A human being.  It takes time.  

 

If you’re having trouble uploading, please check that you are uploading a PDF.  I’ve had to restrict uploads to PDFs because so many pictures come in entirely illegible.  I can’t grade it if I can’t read it. I’m not stockpiling student assignments; I’m actually reading them.  I promise.  

 

If you’re having trouble downloading a document, please try clicking on it first.  If you’re still struggling, please tell me EXACTLY which assignment you’re having trouble downloading.  Send me a screenshot.  I can’t read minds.  I have over 60 students, and there are literally hundreds of different assignments on my website.  

 

I put a printer/scanner on the supply list at the beginning of the year. If you don’t have a scanner, there are dozens of FREE Scan to PDF applications that work pretty well.  Adobe has a Scan to PDF app too, and you can absolutely create a multi-page PDF with it. It takes less than a minute to download. It’ll stay on your phone until you delete it.  Clean, legible, PDFs save me TONS of time. This means that I can create more lessons and activities, I can grade more, and I can (maybe — hopefully) get some sleep some day soon.  

 

I know you’re stressed.  I know your kids are stressed.  We’re all stressed. I’m trying very hard to take your stress away.  I’ve tried to be the shoulder for parents to cry on. I’ve listened as parents beg me to help them with their child’s work from regular school even though I really don’t have the authority or access to do so.  I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. I’ll keep trying, but please be patient. Please try to understand that I’m only one person.  

 

I miss my students.  I miss seeing them each week.  I miss their smiles, their laughter, and the energy they give me.  I miss teaching real in-person classes. I miss my school. I miss the satisfaction of seeing that I made a child happy.  I miss feeling appreciated. I miss it all.  

6 thoughts on “Building HEROES: A Letter from Miss Danielle”

  1. Mohamed Nasser

    Danielle,
    Thank you for your thoughtful, compassionate view from the side of a very gifted and talented teacher. I hope everybody takes the time to read your post, as we know your are juggling many things on your plate right now. I think we are so used to you grading everything in a week that we are freaking out when we can’t progress our kids. We are all in this together, so if we as a Hero’s Academy family can assist you, please let us know. If I have an urgent question I’ll send you my Batman signal.

    1. Mohamed,
      Thank you for your kind words and support. I don’t think everyone will take the time to read it, but simply writing and sending it has proved beneficial to my mental health. it’s very difficult not seeing our students each week. To try to offset the disadvantages of online learning, we have opted to provide grading and feedback throughout the entire week. Aside from this past week (Spring Break), we have been grading on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We will continue doing grading along this schedule. These were meant to be one-day-per-week classes.

      With fewer interruptions, less transition time, zero time waiting for other students to answer questions, and far less time allocated for games and other activities due to virtual limitations, students should spend far less time “schooling-at-home’ than they would in a regular classroom environment. To replace an entire school day, elementary students should expect to spend about 2 hours per day doing course-work.. Some schools may be sending more work home, but that doesn’t mean that all of the work the children receive is productive work. Many schools are also going the extra mile to include specials and gym virtually too. We’re replacing a two hour class with school-at-home. It shouldn’t take them two hours at home to complete this work. The students that have been submitting two to three assignments per week are on track to finish their grade level work by the end of the summer. Zain is one of our most active students in our “online-school.” He’s doing a GREAT job, and he’s on track (actually ahead of schedule!) to maintain his class placement for next year.

      We have cut some of the enrichment lessons and activities such as logic, games, and puzzles to reduce the work-load for students and parents as we know that managing a child’s education while working at home (or still going to work) is difficult and stressful. The online classes focus exclusively on the content needed to maintain class placement for next year. We’re looking into adding these lessons and activities back on a volunteer basis. Students would be able to choose whether or not to participate, and these would be provided outside of their “digital class.”

      We’re keeping track of student progress. Students that are not participating in the online classes may be in danger of losing their class placement for September. These students will still be welcome to return to HEROES in the fall (of course!), but their class placements may change. These parents will be notified on a case-by-case basis. Don’t worry, Zain certainly isn’t in that situation!

  2. Thank you for your honesty. As parents we need to relax, it’s saddens me reading this post. I can’t imagine the stress that this brings both you and Mrs Voit. Yes I’ve uploaded my child’s work and yes we we’ve been waiting for approval but you know what……we’ll just have to wait.

    Parents take a step back and imagine if you’ve had to move your business to a completely different plan than what you’ve been accustomed to and then your vendors and clients are hounded you and all you’re trying to do is YOUR BEST TO MANAGE.

    I’m a frontline worker working in the ER at a level 1 trauma center in the inner city so high stress situations are a hourly occurrence but not everyone functions that way. As Danielle stated she trying to maintain a good “customer service” but realize this post is her way of vending so moving forward CHILL OUT and relax. If this quarantine hasnt taught us anything else, it’s should be teaching us that we do not and can not control everything. Give people a chance to respond. Danielle sending you and your mother nothing but love and patience and a big social distancing hug 🤗

    1. Dianelle,
      Thank you for your kind words and support. Most importantly, thank you for all that you do as a front-line worker in the ER. I can’t imagine the stress that comes with working in a hospital these days. Please stay safe and healthy!

      In many ways, I suppose you’re right. This was somewhat of a way to vent, but I also feel like our families may simply be unaware. An e-mail or a phone call to check whether you’re child’s assignment has been received really isn’t unreasonable. It took less than a minute to type and send, and it seems like it’d take a short time to reply to. I don’t think that anyone has ill-intentions; I doubt anyone is trying to create stress. In some ways, that’s my fault. I have high expectations for myself, and I desperately wanted to try to maintain the same level of service and responsiveness throughout this time. It took me almost a month to realize that it’s simply not possible, but I’ll do what I can. I understand that everyone is concerned about their child’s academic progress; I am too. Your kind words mean a lot to me. Without the weekly contact with our students, I’m left with e-mails, phone calls, and curriculum development. I don’t get the satisfaction of seeing happy students and parents. It’s rare for me to talk to someone for any reason other than to resolve a problem. It means a lot to me to hear positive messages from a parent like you.

      PS: I don’t see any assignments to be graded from Nathaniel. He did make a submission before Spring break, and it was graded before Spring Break. If you’ve tried to submit something since then, please let me know.

      *virtual socially-distanced-hugs*

      Miss Danielle

  3. Sharif Muhammad

    Danielle,

    As always, your written words capture the truthfulness of the situation as well as the underlying emotions that are felt from many sides. Unfortunately, many do not understand the thoughtfulness and meticulousness that goes into your lessons plans. Many do not understand the outcomes that lie behind the assignments that you challenge students with. Many don’t see that there is a “method behind the madness” in the way that you want assignments done. Why some assignments are handwritten in pen vs. being typed. Why you demand that children show the process (brainstorm, research, outline, draft, feedback notes, updated draft) that supports the final product of their writing. We have been there with you for six years, and although I don’t always completely understand or agree, I have always trusted you and your methods when it comes to educating and challenging our child.

    We truly understand the enormity of the situation and empathize with the emotions of many that are dealing with this new normal. While it is easy to project stress and frustration to develop normalcy for our children, I hope that people realize your plight as well. The emotional roller-coaster that goes along with taking a significant risk of moving, acquiring a new property, being on a path to develop it for a school year that may or may not come, and all the while scrambling to service the kids that have been thrown into days filled with uncertainty and change. While I am sure that you have experienced a spectrum of responses from parents, let it be known that we understand. We’re all in this together and as my high school motto says, “Whatever hurts my brother, Hurts me”. We’ll get through this, but I hope some come to understand that how we get through this is as important as getting though the challenge in and of itself.

    We wish you the best and stand ready to support and assist in anyway that we can. Thanks to you and Rita for all that you do at HEROES. Be well and be safe.

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