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.