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Blog: What gratefulness means in 2020

Michelle Pearson is a middle school educator in the Adams 12 School District.

ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. — Editor's note: Michelle Pearson is a Colorado teacher and parent who will be blogging about the upcoming school year in Colorado. Her full bio is at the bottom of the story.

12/24/20 

Covid Gift-Giving Ideas: Middle Schooler Approved

It came as a series of chat messages in the last class of this week.  My students and I were discussing the holidays and their holiday plans.  The discussion turned to holiday gift-giving. I changed the question a little and asked them: if they could have any non-material gift for the season, what would it be? I thought it was a simple question but it created a truly rich discussion and gave some insight as to how my students are unwinding in their time away from school.  Several of the immediate responses were unexpected and some were surprising. Then I gave the students a challenge: wrap up the season in memories rather than in “stuff” and “pay it forward” by doing something with people you care about.  Then report back in January.

On the way home I thought hard about the comments I received, especially one from a middle schooler who had been with me on a field trip to a national park prior to COVID. What she said made me think again about something that has been hard to do during the pandemic but that we need to commit to doing more.  We need to continue providing experiences for our students and our children and to changing what we are accustomed to doing to fit our needs now. It is critical to remember that experiences don’t have to be a vacation trip or something expensive.  Experiences can also be time spent together, being creative, talking, or changing how we look at the world. As we take time to recharge during winter break, maybe it is time to put away the cell phones, turn off the computers, and give our kids a holiday or post-holiday gift of a change they want to see in their lives now. How? Consider some of these wishes or ideas from my students.

A wish from my third period class: “I want to go somewhere and not just be in my house. I want to walk, hike, and be outside. I would even be up for learning something!”

I laughed at that comment but then I thought about it on a different level. Even learning is ok, huh? A simple walk in a neighborhood can bring a change of heart. Get outside, get walking, and have a conversation while you are doing it. Need some quiet but still want to explore? Slip on your tennis shoes, listen to some music, a podcast or an audiobook, and get your steps in on an outdoor trail. Remember that places matter. Being a global citizen is important but so is being a national and a local one. Also, historic places have a special story to tell. Explore one together, on foot, without it being a school assignment, and learn about it together. Visit your national, state and local parks.  If you need a pass, your library may have one you can check out for free!

A wish from my fourth period class: “I just want to be able to read a new book, and not one that I have to read for school!”

Students wanting to read books voluntarily?  That idea sounded funny at first but as the conversation evolved and more students spoke up I discovered that my students want more downtime to read or listen to literature they are interested in, without a computer screen, for pure pleasure. One of my students said she was rereading all of her favorite picture books from when she was little and completed the Caldecott Challenge at school (I was silently thrilled for her accomplishment).   One student mentioned that his family still reads books together and many students said they wanted to read as a family, too, and then discuss the books at the dinner table. One of my punny 8th graders said, “that’s a novel idea.”  Yep, I’d agree.

A wish from my fifth period class: “I want to not have to be quiet during the day in my house and I don’t want to have to be in my room.”

What? Replay that statement. A middle schooler not wanting to be hidden in his or her room by himself, chatting with his friends online and in text? After a few more students’ comments another “COVID repercussion” came to light. In the era of working from home and learning from home my students are having to be quiet even when they don’t want to. They can't goof around or be loud with their puppy whenever they want, or, as another student said, listen to music without their earbuds in out of fear they might be bothering someone else in the house. Boy, that is hard to think about.  But it is true. My students just want to just have some fun time and goof-off time without always having to be totally quiet. They want to dance, sing out loud, play a video game with the sound on instead of muted, or play with their dogs without getting told that their noise is interrupting a parent’s work Zoom meeting.

A wish from my 6th period class: “I just wanna cook, and make stuff and draw. That makes me happy.” 

Drawing in a sketchbook, making found-object art, painting rocks, building with Legos, painting, and knitting a beanie hat all came up as projects that kids like to do in their free time.  Those project ideas also show that kids still need non-technology and non-screen activities to recharge and reboot their creativity. Now that school time and home time often meld together, and in many cases are indistinguishable, my students said they want to carve out time to be creative. But some of them are also looking for ideas for new things to do. Those projects don’t have to cost something. Their ideas  made me think about all the projects I did as a kid, and projects that were generational, like making Modge Podge candles and papier-mâché. Today’s kids want and need time to design and create.  One of the best things we teachers and parents can do for our kids is to encourage and enable this creativity as much as possible. Creativity helps us think in different ways and gives us a natural brain break. What if we sent every student into the world with a sketchbook and let her or him draw and write about the world as she sees fit? I bet some amazing things would be recorded and written about and we would see our kids through a new lens.

When I look back at this list, not many of these wishes are truly different from those in a normal year, if I were to ask middle schoolers in other years the same question. I realized, though, that the need for free time and creativity is more important than ever. As we know, this pandemic is making all of us more isolated and is changing how we use our time. My students were more passionate than ever about the things they want to do with their time.  Maybe we parents and teachers should take note and make a few of those wishes happen this season, and the next, and the next.

12/7/20

In the last week and a half, I have had the chance to spend some time (as many of us have, I am sure) to be grateful. I have always looked forward to this season of gratefulness and for me it really encompasses the last two months of the year. 

People often call it cliché or downplay all of the Facebook posts, comments and events that focus on gratefulness. In this time--more than ever--there was a mix of feelings when Thanksgiving came around and the term #grateful came up. Our world is so different now.  It’s filled with laughter, stress, frustration, challenges and small celebrations. In some senses gratefulness has taken a backseat to everyday trials and tribulations. But in other ways it has made many of us look for the small things that make a difference in our happiness and sanity. What are those things? 

Sometimes it is the chance to collaborate with someone or to try something new to give a different experience to the students we are teaching. 

We teachers have always had to think outside the box to provide innovative experiences to our students. But this year we have had to do that even more. With the shifting expectations, constraints, and yes, sometimes even freedom, engagement in the classroom is not up to a single teacher--it takes a team. 

I am grateful for the teachers, community members and students collaborating across computer screens to build amazing experiences that promote critical thinking in students. Whether it is virtual tours, a guest speaker, an opportunity for an online learning challenge, or something else, the new collaborations I see in our teaching and learning are amazing!  And yet there is so much more that we could do. What would happen if we truly harnessed the power of innovative learning and stopped following the page-a-day learning style and opened up the world of inquiry more often?

Sometimes it is the chance to build, create, make, and do. Teachers, schools, community partners and clubs across the country realize now more than ever the importance of the “Make and Do” idea in education. Trust me: teachers have been saying this for a long time, but now, in the face of overwhelming screen time, it is more critical than ever. 

The learning that happens away from a computer or television screen is critically important and there are beautiful examples of how that learning is happening. 

Maker kits, coding activities, Lego challenges, architecture challenges, sketchbooks and home experiments are surfacing again to provide the hands-on activities with which we all (not just students) crave to learn. I am grateful to see the spark in my students' eyes as they share the things they are making, exploring, and doing with their hands and brains right now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if educational funding allowed for this to happen for all students in the future?

Sometimes it is the chance to say yes to an opportunity instead of saying “district policies don’t allow that so we cannot support it.” It is so hard to continually fight the roadblocks to learning. Those roadblocks can be something as small as turning off access to a software application that allows for collaboration, not allowing a technical software application for students that promotes peer-to-peer feedback because it will take four months to review and approve, or the approval for use of a website like the History Channel or the National Constitution Center until three months later. 

I encountered another roadblock today: a notice from two local school districts that teachers should not apply for a free computer monitor from a foundation that supports better teaching (even though many teachers have gone without the needed equipment for months) because the districts don’t support outside equipment. I understand the concept and the meaning behind it, but districts have been asking teachers to do a whole lot with very little, and now the districts shut down the opportunity to help? I am grateful that I have a school administration and a Board of Education that makes this a priority when they can, but not everyone can or will. What if funding technology infrastructure for education was a priority across the state? What additional opportunities would this infrastructure provide our students’, or for that matter our collective, future?

Sometimes it is understanding that a suggestion is often interpreted as a requirement. The changing requirements of educating our students and of moving from a remote to a hybrid classroom setting and back again have a distinct impact on teaching and learning. We know that it is hard for our students and parents to transition and the impact the transition has on family well-being, mental health and learning. 

The transitioning has a huge impact on the mental health and well being of educational teams as well.  

Many educators are stressed to the limit right now, for a variety of reasons, most importantly trying to reach the needs of every child every day and worrying about those that we cannot reach effectively. That said, suggestions made to teachers for structuring learning, parent communication, design of lessons and delivery of instruction which are meant in the most positive way are right now striking a nerve of many teachers, when at other times teachers would not blink an eye at those suggestions. 

I am truly grateful for the constructive feedback and the chance to reflect on my practice and to improve, as it makes me a better teacher. But I think people forget that in a setting where teachers are trying to reach for excellence, and are working hard to get as much right as possible in their 12-15 hour online-and-in-person days, a suggestion can be interpreted as a requirement even when the person saying it has stated otherwise. 

Why? Teachers are perfectionists in so many ways and professional evaluations in a year such as this are nerve-wracking whether any teacher would admit that or not. Wouldn’t it be amazing if district and school leaders would trust those in the classroom to help craft solutions to challenges and would not add anything else to the buffet table of requirements this year before asking if teachers may have a solution that requires less time, is more proactive for students, and results in success for the future?

Sometimes it is the YES to the simple request of time. Time for all of us, both students and teachers, including: time to be off-screen; time to read; time to walk; time to listen to a podcast; time to connect with family and friends; time to make lunch instead of skip lunch; time to stand instead of sit; time to play a game; time to complete a craft; time to do something creative; time to be out in nature; time to play; time to daydream. I am so grateful for the stolen minutes of time even in this alone time of COVID-19. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our schools and communities revisited the importance of play and unstructured time on a regular basis? In that way we could all rejuvenate. I hear it in my students’ voices when they talk about something they are doing that is creative or innovative or fun. Imagination is coming alive when it is allowed to be used outside of the structured time of the day.

In this season of gratefulness it is the little things that make a difference. For some, the list I’ve given may seem like big things. But I think when we all come together as a community we can start focusing on the small things that lead to the big things--those small things that will sustain us until we get back to more normal times.

11/13/20

“I wish they would just stop telling me to take care of myself and unplug. Do they get that there is no way to unplug if you want to try and stay caught up? They don’t get the questions, the pleas for help, the parent emails or updates for what’s going on tomorrow. I’m just over it. And… REALLY…. if I read that one more time at the end of some message I will seriously tell someone what they can do with their email.”

That was the last comment I heard from a colleague on the phone tonight. It made me pause and stare out the window at the nighttime darkness in a daze. I looked at my watch and realized it was 6:30 p.m. and I probably needed to get off the computer as well.  But I have a project to grade, a Screencastify video to make and a parent email to write. And don’t forget loading  Schoology lessons while the computer system is quiet. Now it is 10 p.m. and my brain is stirring: I can’t stop thinking about what she said.  I’m bothered by her comment, maybe more bothered than normal because there are so many reasons she made it.  And so many of those reasons are absolutely true for colleagues here in Colorado and across the nation.

We had been discussing how on some days one thing just leads to another. Sometimes that process is good, like how one question in a chatbox with our students leads to finding out their favorite t-shirts, learning what they like to eat at lunch and discovering what movies they think we should watch.  Other times that process makes my teaching day nuts. The latter process is more frequent lately: in fact, teaching during COVID kind of mirrors the beloved children’s story “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” In that story a mouse starts something, then something else happens, then something else unexpected happens and the story continues.

If you ask a teacher to compare the teaching process right now to that story you would hear a scenario that easily mimics the storyline, much like the situation my colleague and I talked about today. It would sound something like this: if you plan a perfect lesson, Schoology will go down and no one will be able to see it. But several of your students will email you to tell you they can’t access the Zoom call, remind you that Schoology is down and ask for the instructions via a link in email. When you email the links for the instructions, the website you linked to will be blocked for half the class because someone in the IT department changed the filter and half the students cannot access the iCivics presentation. When you give the students an alternate website, the other half of the class can’t access it and asks for an extension on the assignment (in email, after the school day has ended).

Storyline or not, that situation happens all too frequently lately.  My colleague told me that these types of scenarios make it incredibly difficult to stay ahead. In the best interests of students, teachers are doing their best to respond, to assist, to help relieve frustration, and to bring some humor to a day that can quickly go wrong. She rightly asked how we as teachers can make time for all these extra tasks when we still have accommodations to make, meetings to hold, special needs of students to meet, assignments to grade and lessons to create.

How can we find time for all that? How do we balance the expectations of school districts and the state while at the same time trying to meet the needs of students who want an answer NOW to their one-line emails sent like text messages? How do we support parents at home so they can support their students when the only time the parents can talk is after their work hours and ours? When do we get training on the next learning scenario the district is going to try, that needs some new technology setup? My colleague admitted that we try. 

But then she observed that realistically, can teachers turn off the “Give a Mouse a Cookie” narrative in their heads when they just want to take a 20-minute nap? Most teachers are perfectionists, which means they are always spending extra time to make sure something is as “right” as they can make it so that learning happens for their students.

Our school district leadership, our administrators, our families and our friends all tell us to be firm about our boundaries, to take care of ourselves, and that they will support us in doing so. That is kind, meaningful, and well-intentioned. But as my colleague and I both concluded tonight, the only way we can do that is if everyone will help us take something off our plate--our COVID platter--of things we are mandated to do. Then maybe we can actually finish our story by taking time to rest without worrying about what comes next. Except maybe a cookie. There’s always room for one of those in a day.

10/29/20

I was so excited last week. Exhausted, like so many of us are, but just plain happy. As my students romped into my room, and I heard the laughter each day as they sanitized their hands and plopped down in their seats. They just made my heart happy. Their personalities are showing: it would almost feel like a normal day if we were not “sanitize in, sanitize out” and were all wearing masks. 

My remote classes make me happy too, and we have had an ongoing conversation at the start of our sessions about the things we like and dislike, and the things we love and hope to do when this COVID time is over, and always with a smattering of who is eating what for lunch. We were three weeks into in-person learning and the week was rolling along pretty wonderfully. Then it happened: the request for a seating chart.

You see, I have a love-hate relationship with seating charts. As my students and I develop working relationships that let us learn together and build rapport in our classroom, my seating charts change. As a teacher I do use them but I don’t keep them the same all the time. I mix them up. I change them regularly. I let the students build their own (as long as they can work productively in teams).  

I require seating charts at certain times and don’t require them at others. But starting with the 2020 hybrid school year, with some students in classrooms and some remote, that idea changed dramatically. Contact tracing--the nemesis of many a school teacher, district professional, or administrator right now--stripped the classroom of that flexibility.  It required district-mandated, turned-in-to-the-office, color-coded, written-in-pencil and note-covered seating charts to be used daily.

Gone are the seating charts with student group tables and paired-work opportunities. Out the window are some of the kinesthetic activities that put students close together but offer a different way to learn. Gone are some of the paired-inquiry activities with the manipulatives (hand-held objects) my students enjoy. No longer may I stand next to my student to help him or her with a question without the Health Department warning of “stay at least three feet away” ringing through my head. 

Rule-following teachers are now regular “rule breakers.” Often the needs of our students require us to break that distance barrier for both our littlest learners and for students in older grades who are desperate for connections in person or who need special support in their learning.

Gone are the seating charts with rows far enough apart that I can move freely through the room to encourage my students and to collaborate with them to think and work. 

How can I read a Chromebook screen to help one of my struggling students? That is hard enough even with glasses to help! Now my students are spread as far apart as possible, separated and facing forward, and not allowed to turn around to talk or move. That’s not quite what any of us expected coming back to the classroom, even though most of us teachers had an inkling that that was what the safety requirements would mandate. 

Today we have the COVID seating chart. The one that requires me to have three special desks marked because they are closest to the three electrical outlets in my classroom, where kids can charge their dying Chromebooks. The one in which there aren’t really any rows because distancing rules require we have desks spread as far apart as possible. The same seating chart that made my heart sink after the message from the office. 

I kept a happy face on for the kids, but that day I didn’t feel like eating lunch. I had a feeling I knew what was coming. I wasn’t sure, but call it a mom’s intuition, a teacher’s “gut” reaction or something else: I knew something was up and it was. When my administrator came to check the seating chart with me after lunch and confirm the student names I went ahead and asked. Yep, one of my students was positive for COVID-19. Two hours later I got the message in my email inbox from my district COVID health professional and my principal, stating:

“Based on contact tracing done with our public health partners, you meet the criteria for close contact and exposure, so you must self-quarantine for 14 days from the date of exposure. Following the guidance from public health, the self-quarantine period begins immediately.

Public health guidance says close contact and exposure is determined based on the amount of cumulative time (15 minutes or greater) a person spends within a predetermined distance with the individual even if face coverings were used.”

Well, that news ruined a perfectly good day--and frankly was about to ruin a few more. As much as we tried to be safe, someone was ill. That is never good news. And depending on how you look at it, that seating chart is either a curse or Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket of safety.  Regardless, I don’t know that I will ever be able to look at a seating chart again without remembering how that particular seating chart, paired with diligent contact tracing, landed my students and me as statistics on the school district COVID dashboard. What a way to make a good day turn sour and throw a bunch of happy people smack into quarantine! I guess there is one good thing that came out of it though, maybe one. None of us are in an annoying, social-distanced, forward-facing, non-group-working, COVID seating chart for two weeks!  

10/12/20

The return to school last week was days filled with joy and heartache, all in one. There is nothing like seeing your students return to school with smiles, a bounce in their step because they are returning to school -- a place where they have spent so much of their childhood -- and grins behind the masks as they wave hello across the crosswalk. I love working drive lane duty with my colleague because it just plain makes my heart happy as a teacher to see the joy in my students’ faces in person instead of across a screen.

A lot of the time students have more resilience and problem-solving know-how than we give them credit for, and these last two weeks my students have shown just that. They offer a smile and a thank you when I ask them to sanitize their hands coming in and going out of a room. They have shown patience when they have to turn forward and face the white-board, even when they really want to have a conversation with their friend behind them. They try hard to enjoy lunch even when they are not allowed to sit next to their friends, for distancing reasons. They are flexible when their Chromebook runs out of charge in the middle of a lesson and they have to move to a safe place to charge it. They wear a mask; they try to socially distance; and they work hard to follow instructions that are new, ever-changing, and never quite explained to anyone’s satisfaction.

It is wonderful to be able to see parents step back a bit because their students have figured some things out. The students definitely know how to log on after the entire network blips and goes down, and throws them out of a class meeting. They rally around each other and help each other with technology to make sure everyone can do what they need to do in class. They text each other to let the teacher know that their internet connection is slow but they still have an answer to the morning trivia challenge question to share. 

They buddy-up with someone who needs help understanding a concept and rally around each other online. At school they walk a friend to breakfast, not because they need a friend themselves but because that new friend doesn’t know where to find the door to go inside. These are the small things but they are the moments we hope for, the ones that show compassion, fun, and a sense of normalcy that we all wish were a reality right now.

Then there is that ugly thing called the Tri-County Health report. The one the school district looks at and that the majority of parents and teachers follow regularly. You know: the report that until this spring no one paid attention to on a regular basis. Forget that now: it's on the radar of many people within an hour of its release. In some neighborhood online groups it’s the hottest topic going this side of where the best takeout food is in town. It’s painful to watch the debates about numbers; whether school will return to remote, whether we should or should not be in person--and it is downright scary. Why? Because COVID-19 numbers are all over the map. 

In some places they are higher than when some districts originally went to remote learning. 

The Colorado COVID-19 dial dashboard gives some information but it is hard to deconstruct the data, and people are not sure what to make of the information contained in that report.

I see this data weigh heavily on all of us, and our nervousness continues to rise. I see staff members spending hundreds of dollars to protect themselves and purchase needed equipment for teaching that school districts can’t fund. And while you are at it, ask me how many Plexiglass barriers my Eagle Scout and I made last weekend to share with my fellow staff members who feel safer with one than without. And while we are at it let’s be clear: NO, my school district doesn’t have enough of them, nor the funding to get one for every teacher who needs one. COVID-19 protocols are basically like another unfunded educational mandate.  Almost any teacher can tell you exactly when his or her room has been cleaned or not, disinfected or not, how many Clorox wipes are left in his or her can and can spout the EPA numbers of appropriate cleaners since he or she is researching them to make sure they actually clean. 

Why? Because our capacity-limited and over-tasked custodial staff cannot manage to keep up with the cleaning protocols alone. They are exhausted. Recommended cleaning protocols are posted and suggested for teachers and students but let's be realistic: to be safe, teachers are treating them as mandated, otherwise they may get sick along with their students. Come on: how can we not, when we have so many kids in our rooms? As one teacher said last week: “the normal size petri-dish called middle school just became a king-size germ factory in six months.”  And we are starting to see it. Schools are quarantining students and staff. Is this just the beginning or is it the new normal?

I am not sure of the answer but I do know that it places us in a quandary. How do you measure the life of a colleague or a student?  How do you balance constant worry with the joy that you see in the faces of the students you teach?  Honestly there is no easy answer.  It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. For all of us: students, parents, teachers and the community.

Last night, while I was setting up lessons for today and helping a colleague with a technology issue, I got a message from a former student. It made me pause: then I realized that the quote really sums up where my head and heart both need to be right now.  

Maya Angelou was spot-on when she said, “We need joy as we need air, we need love as we need water, we need each other as we need the Earth we share.” 

This next week I will keep that in mind because as my students bounce in and out of class, and I clean my desks when they leave, I know the joy will remain as long as we get through this mess together.

9/25/20 

Walking into my classroom a month ago was like, as one colleague said, “walking into a frozen moment in time.” 

The date was still on the board from the day we so hastily left in March; the objectives from my last unit were still on the wall; the vocabulary words from my visual word wall hung there, eyes staring at me, standing in the middle of the room. We had one day to remove everything personal from our room, anything that was not school district property and anything that could not be cleaned and sanitized. 

Although we understood the necessity, it was a stark piece of reality. 

Honestly, for some this task was simple: for others it was not only physically, but emotionally, draining. It hurt to take home the things that made my room feel inviting to students, and the instructional materials that no one would be able to use for a long time, which I knew made a difference for my students. Thanks a lot COVID! Thanks am not sure teachers have forgiven you for not not letting us share. You are making us:

- Box all of the books which we have collected for a personal classroom library, to share with students who don’t have their own at home.

- Put away the shared markers, scissors and colored pencils, even though we know some students will come to school without them and we’ll worry about who won’t have a pencil because we can hand one out, but we can’t collect it to use another time.

- Leave our walls bare of pictures, non-laminated posters or anything that could be damaged by disinfectant sprays or fogging.

- Get rid of the flexible seating and rugs that help make reading and learning inviting.

- Say goodbye to the shared manipulatives and the hands-on resources that promote tactile learning, unless we can purchase enough resources for everyone to have his or her individual set.

- Say “see you later alligator” to hands-on labs because we can’t sanitize lab items between class periods, when we now have to escort kids from class to class.

- Lean on the use of digital devices for collaboration in the classroom, because paper is discouraged, and stop providing hand-written feedback on paper (instead of on a Chromebook) that personalizes comments for a student.

Those are just the tangible things--the items that we bring to learn with, share, collaborate with, and smile over in group work. But worse: let’s think about the non-tangible things that COVID has stolen from the classroom: those things that can’t be boxed up, taken out on a cart, or put away in a cupboard. We rely on those things as much as the others. I am so mad at you COVID!

You made me box up my hope of having a hands-on architecture modeling class this year with Lego pieces. Nope, we can’t share Legos. You’re gonna lose on that one COVID: we are moving virtual.

You take away the opportunity to let my students come in for lunch or stay after school for extra help or for a much needed chat.

You have squelched in-person clubs and activities that cannot be held in a socially-distanced way and field trips that provide meaningful learning opportunities.

You tie my hands, making me unable to soothe tears with a hug, or congratulate a student’s accomplishment with a fist bump. Yeah, yeah, I can “air-high-five,” but it doesn’t seem the same.

You keep my kiddos separate, facing front at all times instead of working together in groups.

You make my students feel alone at lunch because separated is the only way they can eat a meal at school right now.

But all of us know one thing.  As our students return next week, nothing can steal the smiles of eyes even behind a mask; the laughter muffled by several layers of fabric; the lightbulb turning on when a student understands a new concept; the buzz of socially-distanced activities that fill the school that has been empty for so long; or the collegial collaborations that make us better teachers and learners.

COVID has dealt us a nasty hand of cards in this game of life. School districts across the country have required us to depersonalize who we are as teachers in our physical classrooms. However, nothing can take away who we are, individually or as a school family. Nothing. 

So tonight, as I close my door to the classroom that doesn’t really feel like mine this year, I know I will quietly shed a few tears on the way to my car, like I have already several times this week.  

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  Right now it feels like I am standing in the dark. I’m going to call a colleague back east who is dealing with the same issues, and laugh, commiserate and problem-solve, and decide we need to change more things in the world. 

Once again we’ll convince each other that tomorrow will give us another day--one filled with the hope that someday our classroom will fully become ours again.

9/21/20 

It’s the phone call that freaks out a parent any day, let alone on a weekend: “Mom, I don’t feel safe.” That was enough to make me ask my husband to pull our car over to the side of the road, so that I could get more details from our kid at CU Boulder.

“I’m scared I am being exposed. I think I want to come home,” he said.

Wow. This is from the child who has been working this semester, who has been trying to quarantine and who is on campus because he feels he needs to fulfill his obligations to work. When I asked him what was wrong he literally went into a panic attack.

Do you know what kind of fear this puts into a parent? How do I protect him? How do I allow him to be an adult, yet ensure he is safe? I can’t even bring him home yet because members of our family are highly at-risk and we have to prepare a quarantine space. Every little grumpy and swearing emoji should be placed right here because this mom is MAD!

RELATED: CU Boulder to shift to remote instruction for at least two weeks

CU Boulder announced Monday that all classes will be remote starting this week for two weeks to help slow down the infection rates. Yep, but this should have been done several weeks ago. My son called me to let me know of the decision and is worried. He said he is most concerned that now all of the students are in the dorms and in online classes, and there will be more craziness going on.

That said, he is appreciative of the way the housing staff are trying to help and be proactive in supporting safe spaces, and made mention of a video sent out by the chancellor outlining the importance of following community guidelines. He said he is concerned the students will continue to disregard the rules and even more people will get sick. He is crossing his fingers. But honestly this mom, and a whole lot of other parents, are not. We are worried and frankly a little angry more proactive measures have not been taken earlier.

So call the remote classes CU. That is the first step but not the only one. You need to support your staff in helping students stay safe inside the dorms as well and provide them ways to eat, study and be healthy. And this time I point right at you, CU. In this whole situation my son has supported you out of loyalty to the Buffs, to his program and to his friends who are working hard to make the campus safe.

That’s fine, but you know what, CU? Be careful how you continue to handle this. We understand you are in one of the most challenging situations you have ever been in, and the decisions are immense and hard. But please make sure you make decisions for the safety of all of your herd, not because you need the money. First and foremost OUR HERD comes together to protect itself and we will bring our students home. Hopefully not permanently, but at this point in time, that question remains to be answered.

9/11/20 blog

Last night I spent over five hours listening to an online school district Board of Education meeting, mostly about the decision to return to school.  

As I listened I also watched side-chatter about it on Facebook and Twitter. The chatter was about “return to school” decisions like this one being made across the country. Watching the social media discussion felt somewhat surreal and exceptionally scary.  

Looking at the comments -- some positive and others filled with vitriol -- I stopped a moment to think about my school board members. What a spot they are in, and a difficult one at that.  

The decisions being made are not just about curriculum, about budget, or about policy.  As one community member said directly to the board of education, “If someone dies, their blood is on your hands. Remember that.” 

Do you think those board members aren’t aware of the cost of their choice, in the chaos of hundreds of emails and a slew of public commentary? I beg to differ.

Lately, boards of education across the country are usually met with a teacher’s skeptical eye. We teachers are in touch with board members more than ever, asking the board members for accountability, for pro-public-school decision making and for wise choices with budgeting. How could we not be? In an era of ridiculously low school funding coupled with school choice, liberal and conservative ideologies, and board decision-making that has been less than helpful in supporting great public schools, we have to be in touch. If we don’t speak out we cannot ensure that public schools will even exist in the future.

But sometimes we forget the board members are putting in as many long hours as we are. They are putting those hours into a job that they were elected to do, and that in this year, in particular, they weren’t necessarily prepared for. Who expected that once again they would be looking at issues that have no quick or easy answers? The decisions are harder than ever. 

Put yourself in their places for a minute, though. How would you answer the following questions?

Who gets laid off when we lose school funding because a parent decides to homeschool his or her child during COVID-19? 

How do we feed students and support their mental health needs when schools weren’t originally designed to serve all of their students’ educational needs and serve their social needs as well?

How do we follow the ever-changing school health guidelines for COVID-19 when even our state and federal governments don’t know how to deal with it?

Where is all of the personal protective equipment (PPE) the governor promised?

How do we ask people to do more right now when we don’t have the money to pay them more?

How do we cut money in the budget when there is nothing else to cut?

What can I not say in a board meeting about the future when I know decisions will get harder and will impact more people down the road?

What school schedule serves the largest number of students while keeping all of them safe?

And the one mentioned by that community member and by a teacher last night" Will someone die if I send people back to school?

I bet you have some clear and distinct answers in your head and you know exactly what you would say. But now I ask you to stop again and reflect on your answers. Do your answers represent all viewpoints?  Do they support everyone on the school district staff or do they support mostly yourself and your family? 

Do they support the wealthy, the poor, those who are struggling, and those who are fine? Are you looking for the easy road or are you willing to take the hard road because it serves more people and supports the educational mission of the school district and public schools?

For good or bad, the Board of Education in my school district is held to this standard: the board members are asked to ensure they are thinking about all of these factors.  All. The. Time.  I don’t always fully agree with their decisions but I firmly believe they make a true effort to make the best ones, even in the face of public scorn. 

They try hard to represent their constituents and consider the needs of their employees. But honestly I can’t--and I won’t--say that is necessarily true for some of the other Board of Education members in this state (And by the way, Board of Education members from other school districts, if you are reading this and wondering If I am talking about you, yes, I am. You might want to look at some other school districts as positive role models. BIG HINT!)

The decision made by my Board of Education last night is the best for some, the worst for others, and was enough to make my stomach turn. The thought of the amount of planning it will take to flip our learning model from remote to in-class in three weeks, gain parent input, shuffle students in classes and figure out these COVID-19 safety protocols will give me many sleepless nights. 

I know it will give the board members the same. But that’s ok. It means they care.  And in the end I thank them for that If your school district’s Board of Education members are ensuring your students are learning and your students and teachers are safe you can thank them too.  The real question is: are they? That’s for you to decide.

9/4/20 blog

The last seven days have been a blur: a blur of collaboration, planning, navigating new learning management systems, learning student names, welcoming students back to school remotely and constant tech issues. 

I feel confident in saying every teacher, every student and every parent has experienced bumps in the proverbial road of remote teaching.  

Half of those bumps seem to be Chromebook-related this week. 

Let’s be honest: those compact little black and silver “mini-laptops,” as one of my students called them, are a blessing and a curse to all of us.

This week’s Chromebook issues started on Monday. I was dumb enough not to turn off my iPad Sunday night, and Monday at 4:48 a.m., I heard the ping of a message from my email. There’s nothing like looking at the clock before the alarm rings and realizing the week was starting. There was no going back to sleep at that point so I checked my email. 

No joke: a student emailed me to tell me she may not make it to class if her Chromebook dies because “her new puppy chewed up just part of the charger Ms. P. The rest is ok and isn’t flaming my room.” Flaming her room? What? After reading it twice to make sure I saw the words correctly, I told her in email to unplug the charger and we would get her a new one. Then I added that item to the tech to-do list and groaned. Who knew that dogs could still affect homework in remote learning? 

But it didn’t stop there. Updates were pushed out by the school district IT department and didn’t install correctly on the teachers’ Chromebook Plus machines, which made functions on the Schoology software application go nuts. Welcome to the Monday morning craziness!   

“How do I make the print bigger? I cant see my kids on the screen,” asked one teacher. “I can’t connect to my home WiFi,” said another. “My doc camera doesn’t work with my Chrome anymore,” said the third teacher in four days. “I need to convert a Word doc and need a desktop because Google Drive messes up all of the formatting,” said yet another teacher. 

By noon my teacher geek buddies and I were stunned. But we figured out how to solve most of the problems by the end of the day, squeezing solutions into the spare minutes between teaching our normal core classes. As a social studies teacher, this is feeling a bit like the Industrial Revolution on steroids. 

Honestly, at this point a lot of us should be awarded a degree in “technology desperation fixes” simply because our Information Technology department has no capacity for fixing these Chromebook teaching emergencies when they pop up 25 seconds before a teacher has to teach his or her next class. “Text a tech buddy” is the motto around here--and in many school districts lately both here in Colorado and across the nation.

But wait: that didn’t even include the student challenges. Like the students who couldn’t connect to their home WiFi networks for an extended time period; or submit their assignments; or connect to email because they forgot their password and they couldn't reset it. Don’t even ask about connecting to Zoom, or getting accidentally booted out of Google Meet because the WiFi or computer device failed. Thank goodness for patient parents, cell phone coaching sessions and school staff who have rallied to support all of the students’ questions and challenges. 

It has taken a team effort and a lesson in patience for parents and caregivers. But thinking about it, in the context of handing out literally thousands of devices in my district and others across the state, this may not be all that bad. Maybe. Just maybe. I am not holding my breath. I am waiting to see if the devices last.

Chromebooks were not designed for this type of use. Ask any IT geek and they will tell you that Chromebooks are the low-end computers on the bottom of the hardware list. More like a portal than a laptop, many view them as machines with stripped down hardware, an OK processor, no graphical desktop and a small screen. They are good for use in a normal year where access to Google Drive and the web are their primary functions. But hold that thought: the designers of the Chromebook had no idea COVID-19 and remote learning were going to hit. 

NONE. 

They would have designed them completely differently if they ever had a clue. If they did, maybe we would not have a love-hate relationship with the devices right now. But let’s face it: Chromebooks are somewhat of a blessing and have helped resolve many remote learning inequities when we can get them into an area with a solid WiFi connection. 

“Solid” is the key--and that is another whole blog post. 

Many would say, and I agree, that without the ability to rapidly deploy probably millions of Chromebooks to students across the nation we would be in worse shape than we are now with remote and hybrid learning.

Out of curiosity I asked my students and my colleagues what they loved about Chromebooks and what they hated about them. 

There are some similarities and differences in their likes and dislikes. Students and teachers both love the portability and the lightweight nature of them and agree Chromebooks are generally easy to use and to charge (even if your Beagle ate part of the charger). 

My students love to use them on the couch, on the bed, and yes, I even heard in the backyard on the trampoline. But start down the list of dislikes and students and teachers agree on many points. 

Small screen. Limited connectivity. Hard on the eyes. And hard to read multiple tabs. One student said the best thing she did this week was learn how to set up her Chromebook to display on her TV so she could make things on the screen larger. Conversely one teacher said, “have you ever tried taking class attendance off of a Zoom list and toggling three windows on a screen smaller than a piece of paper? Who in their right mind authorized a technology refresh for teachers by purchasing these things for teachers to use as a primary machine? They need a head refresh!” Well maybe. 

But, to be fair, we didn’t know this was coming.  And the IT professionals made that purchasing decision last year in my district, several years back in districts across the Front Range, and in the last few years in other states as well because of funding. Budget over functionality. Now a curse in daily instruction for many. In what other profession would you be handed a Chromebook to do your job on when so much of what you need is based in PDF and Word?

So now we deal with the problems. We figure them out.  We collaborate to meet the challenges.  We learn from this experience.  And I’m betting that by the end of this year we are going to have some seriously tech-savvy kids and teachers. 

Wait: did I say that? I think many of the kids are already there, and teachers and parents are trying to catch up.  Blessing or curse, Chromebooks are what we have to work with right now: they are the best tool we have to make remote learning possible. Maybe someday in this nation people will decide that to prepare our students for the future, they need to use the tools of the future. That takes commitment, training and proper educational funding. 

That last part? Well that’s another curse for another day. Right now, I’ll just count my blessings that I didn’t have another charger eaten by a puppy, or that I received an email that the Chromebook fell off the trampoline.

8/28/20 blog

School the last three weeks has felt like a funeral and a rebirth. For many teachers, the time has felt more like the former than the latter ... day after day after day. 

A time normally filled with happiness, anticipation, joy and determination was instead filled with stress, sleepless nights, frustration, and yes, a smattering of happiness in between for myself and for so many of my colleagues.

In my 29 years of teaching, this year is the first time that all at once I am watching my colleagues leave the profession through no choice of their own, to be forced to consider other careers because of the safety of their families, to suffer outright anger (both open and passive) from their communities, and to once again, through the denial of adequate funding for education, effectively be told that they and their students don’t matter in the world we live in. Oh, I have seen these issues before, but never together in the firestorm we are seeing right now as we begin the school year. Never before with the undercurrent of fear which exists right now; the fear of sickness, loss of job and home, poverty and yes, death.

 As teachers we work to prevent these things from happening to our students, but today these things are happening more often than not to us. Yet regardless, we move forward into the unknown, into a future we should have had more of a voice in designing.

The teachers of Colorado asked for a voice in this current reality. They asked in online groups, in virtual meetings, through their networks, and in their districts. They asked for a seat at the table to plan for the future. That's a natural occurrence in our profession, actually. You see, teachers plan everything. We are trained to do just that! 

We think on our feet daily. We look at data, we evaluate possible outcomes, and then we act in the best interests of our students. In the decision-making process this year, though, many teachers across the state were effectively shut out and shut down.

As we moved from spring to summer, and the possibility of a change in the way schools would operate was upon us, many district administrators, boards of education, and others were forced to wrangle with the difficulties of figuring out how to make the change work. Many of my colleagues argue that the majority of districts in the state employed a top-down approach to decision making. When asked why, administrators’ reasoning included: that decisions needed to be made fast; that data changed daily, and that budgetary decisions were at the forefront. 

They had to follow guidelines and there wasn’t time. Hmm. Really? I don’t think that was the case exactly.

A letter from a group of Colorado Teachers of the Year which was sent to the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) and Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) in the spring asked that teachers be included in planning this change -- early on, not late in the game. Some districts were ready and willing to include teachers but others ignored the request entirely. Dare I say now that “hindsight is 20/20” as the school year begins?

A week before school starts it is clearly evident which districts gave teachers a role, alongside district and community leaders, in the design of the school year. Districts that embraced teachers as thought partners and brought them to the table now have solid systems in place that are supporting their students. Credit is deserved, and should be given, to the districts that empowered teacher-leaders to envision and design what this year would look like. 

Yes it took our summer, but now the blood, sweat, and hours of our work show the end result was worth it. Options for learning are available; electronic devices are in the hands of students and access to WiFi and learning supports through hotspots and learning pods are now in place. Innovative meal plans, family support services and mental health programs are ready to go, and in many cases are already operating or have been all summer. Teachers have the equipment they need for effective instruction, have access to WiFi, have creativity and support in developing meaningful learning for their students based on the teachers’ expertise, have a choice in learning management systems and have schedules which can make a positive difference in instruction. 

Is the stress still there? Does the frustration still exist? Sure, but everyone is collaborating for the best outcomes for the students.

In other districts it is clearly evident where teachers were, for the most part, left out of the conversation. The school year is starting and those districts have learning management systems that are not in place, or were recently released, with a huge number of technology challenges. There are struggles with registering students and with providing them with adequate devices. Teachers are desperately trying to learn a new curriculum which was selected and mandated for them to use instead of being allowed to craft the curriculum best suited for instructing their students.

 Teachers were forgotten in the conversation about adequate devices and WiFi and many have less access than their students, and are working with devices with limited capabilities. Because of this, instruction is now exceptionally difficult. 

With an overloaded system that cannot handle so many Zoom or Google Meet sessions, a Chromebook or antiquated laptop, or even regular access to devices and software tools that support good instruction, they are spending countless hours working to prepare for what they hope to be a good year for their students that they are looking forward to seeing this week. As you read this, you may think this is not in my community, but you are wrong. This is a reality: not just in rural areas but in urban and suburban ones as well. 

For the majority of my career I have found that teachers are creative, have grit and determination, and just make things happen. They have hearts bigger than you could imagine. This year has changed that. The grit is disappearing. I am starting to see my colleagues leave. They are retiring early or quitting from frustration and exhaustion or leaving because their personal safety is at risk. 

They are banding together to make things happen but are being threatened, in person and online, for speaking out to have remote teaching,or speaking out to be instructing in person in a hybrid model for safety.  They have been bullied and accused of being greedy and self-serving when in reality they are trying to survive through education funding’s lowest levels in over 50 years. 

If you need proof of these accusations just read online discussions or listen to one of many recent, taped school board meetings across the state and nation. 

Do all of the challenges mentioned above stem from not having teacher voices at the table? No, but the majority of the challenges could have been reduced or eliminated if leaders really did ask, and truly did listen, to what teachers felt was needed to make this year the best possible for their students. Teachers have always been on the front lines they know what is needed and what works. Maybe trust in that is needed now. 

Those who have trusted teachers see in rare form the determination of teachers preparing to greet their students and start the school year. Teachers are showing their creativity in the ways they are trying to work through these challenges. Just look at the basement classrooms, the online bitmoji classrooms, the welcome back to school kits being stuffed, the school library book remote checkout programs, the backyard and school distanced planning sessions and the many other ways they are getting ready to greet their students. 

And understand that most of them are doing all of these things with their own money or for free because most of them barely earn enough to survive in a state where salaries rank at 49th in the nation, and where some teachers qualify for public assistance. Yep. It’s true. Calculate the hourly wage of a teacher in this state or across the nation any year and it would be less than minimum wage, in this year it is even lower. 

But ask any teacher, pandemic or not, we knew this was coming. We have seen our schools woefully underfunded for years, and seen the challenges of doing less with more continue to surface. We have advocated for changes in our funding systems and continually asked for teachers to be involved in the center of the discussions to help craft the ideas that will sustain us in the future. But some things are like deja vu. Just like in preparing for this year, some people have listened and worked diligently to build collaborative conversations and networks to bring about positive change. Unfortunately, in the last four years, most have not.

In a school year where it is easy to throw up our hands and be frustrated, and start calling it a failure before the end of first semester, we must think about how we can use this to be stronger together. For good or bad, the pandemic has exposed the excessive cracks and potholes which exist in our systems of planning, innovative design, budgeting and creative funding. In many cases it has elevated these cracks to national awareness. 

We have the ability to repair the damage by bringing all of us together at every level of decision making to help craft the solutions which will bring a rebirth to our school systems and create buy-in from all stakeholders to propel us forward. 

Only then will this school year be a success not a failure. 

8/21/20 blog 

It started with what, in any other year, could have been an innocuous text message from a colleague, then moved into a covert operation at lightning speed.

“Look what I found…” was the simple statement in green on my iPhone. Nothing else appeared. I was in the middle of an online project for school and set my phone back down, waiting for the rest of the comments or a picture  to come through, although honestly I wondered what it could be at 10 a.m. on a July day when we were all quarantining for COVID-19.

Then the picture popped up: a large-sized container of Clorox lemon scented disinfecting wipes. I just about dropped my phone in shock. I frantically texted back, “Where are you? Get me two containers PLEASE!” 

I waited impatiently for the response. It finally came: “Come quick. I’m hiding in the furniture section of the store because people keep trying to take them from me. There are only three left.”

No one has seen this mom move faster. I threw on my shoes, told my college kid to come with me and off we went. We arrived at the store and started our covert operation to find our friend, divide the bounty, and each move out to purchase one container (the limit).

I needed one container for my classroom, she needed one for her classroom, and we needed one for the college kid to take to school. GOING TO SCHOOL! That was one discussion we were not ready to have openly but were preparing for in the back of our minds.

This would be the start of preparation for the COVID-19 college year.  And what preparation there has been: on many fronts.

As a teacher I have worked through the majority of my “summer vacation,” with my colleagues, preparing for the return of students in fall. But as a mother I have been dreading my son going back to college. The thought had been in the back of my brain since I received what I am sure was meant to be a reassuring email to parents from the college chancellor.

This email (eloquently, in great generality, and in no specificity) outlined the safety measures the university would be taking for the return of students; ensured classes would be online and in person; reassured parents that measures of safety were being taken to “cohort students, limit interaction, provide testing, ensure safe operations, and be data-driven.”

Based on my experience as a teacher, on my role in designing these types of operations via focus groups in collaboration with my school district and nationally with these issues, the language of that email was less than reassuring. It was actually unnerving. My husband and I discussed the issues and concluded we needed to talk to my son and allow him to weigh the choices.

He needed to consider the data not yet supplied by the university, consider the data supplied by Tri-County Health to my school district, and to decide if he would return to school in person.

It continued with a discussion with my son, one that considered not only his role as a junior at college but also as a resident assistant who would be interacting with dormitory residents just as he did in spring. This discussion was calm but direct and we were pleased he had been thinking through his choices. 

I have to admit that his choice to return in person has scared both of his parents but his reasoning was solid, even if the way he delivered it made me cringe in frustration at the lack of options.

He needs his scholarship, he has to attend his studio classes in person, his prior professors were woefully underprepared to deliver online instruction in the spring, he wants better instruction now for his program, and he was already talking to his residence hall staff and he felt that appropriate safety precautions are in place.

Ok, I thought, he’s being thoughtful and has a plan for his own safety.

Then his dad and I moved in to support his plan and hopefully provide a little extra safety. How so? First we had to help him get a COVID-19 test, for which our doctor didn’t want to write orders but which was required for him to return to school.

Getting the test authorized required a lot of phone arguments with our health insurance provider since he had to complete it in advance of the free testing offered at school.  Next we helped pack his pile of computer parts, clothes, sheets and blankets into storage totes; collected needed drafting and art supplies and books; threw in a stack of homemade masks, a box of nitrile gloves, extra (pre-wrapped) snacks, and the prized container of Clorox Wipes.

We decided to give him several parental warnings for good measure. What were they? Oh, some of the same ones we got when we went to college, and some warnings our parents would never have dreamed of needing to give us. Be safe.  Maintain physical distance from other people.  Make sure the bathroom is clean.  Follow instructions.  Don’t do anything careless that could endanger your life.  Make sure you eat decent meals.  Let us know if you need anything.  And could you shave your wild beard so COVID-19 droplets won’t stick to it? 

Unfortunately we are still arguing about the beard and I am getting ready to covertly call his girlfriend to ask her to add some pressure on this topic.  But we helped him haul his totes to school and this week he moved in. Now we are back to our regularly scheduled school-year tradition of limited calls, infrequent text messages, and almost dead silence as he and the other Residence Life staff prepare for students to arrive on campus this week.

So far we’ve heard: the dorm room is great; the bathrooms are being cleaned regularly; the pathways are all marked to support physical distancing; the Residence Life staff is being vigilant about safety protocols; he’s happy to have his bike back on campus; his new cell phone isn’t activated completely; he scored some treasures in the lost-and-found from residents who moved out last year; and he has “no idea how anyone will be able to get lunch on time with those kind of physically distant lines--it will take hours! Half the people are going to starve!” Now we have more silence from him as he is in one of the most hectic times of the year: student arrivals.

As I sit in the silence at home I think and read. I scour the internet for data about other colleges, I dig through shared chat messages, and I call a few other moms with college kids who are returning to campus and starting school at the same time.

The same words surface: we are scared, nervous, worried, hopeful and vigilant, while being determined to stay in touch with our kids, to make sure they are safe and well. The worry is even more amplified for moms sending students away to college for the first time, for moms who don’t want their students to lose the chance to attend but who are scared stiff their children will get sick.

Then there are the parents of students who didn’t have a choice and were forced to start remotely, who are watching their students have a totally different college experience, in isolation, with online classes that may or may not meet their students’ needs. All of this is happening in a school year that is supposed to be filled with discovery, decisions, celebrations0 and learning. It’s happening in a year that will definitely be memorable but not necessarily in the way they wanted it to be. A year that will hopefully not be memorable for getting sick.

Now we wait.  Waiting is one of the hardest things we have to do as parents. I don’t want to bug him when I know he is exhausted from moving students into the dorms but it’s pretty hard to not call and collect my own data. Who showed up? How many students are in the dorms?  Are you wearing a mask?  How’s the food?  But I know I have to wait. Then I receive a text from a friend, in the form of an article link, and I read the headline. Six cases of COVID-19 as students move in. At his university. Gulp!

I think I’m going to pull the “mom card” and call him. Maybe just to collect a little data, mostly to say I love you. Saying I love you is always worth a phone call. Always.

8/14/20 blog

In front of a grocery store on Monday I dug around in my work bag for a face mask and found not one, but -- holy cow -- three! 

That’s a rare thing, but this time I lucked out. I paused and quickly thought about whether I should wear the floral mask, the one with books on it ... or the one with Captain America and Spiderman. Glancing at my blue shirt, and thinking about how I may run into a former student or neighbor, I picked the one with books. I tied it over my face, thinking about how, a year ago, wearing a mask for COVID-19 wasn’t even a thought. Who knew masks would now be a fashion statement?

With my mask on I put one foot ahead of another and walked into the store. Entering public buildings is still a real struggle for me as my paramedic brain says to stay out of crowds while my mom brain knew that if I didn’t come home with milk my sons may not let me into the house, and my teacher brain knew I needed to get supplies for a project to ensure every new sixth grade student would have a book in his or her hands as a welcome to our middle school. 

Then it hit me: the school supply displays. You know, the ones with new boxes of crayons that smell just like the first day of school when you open the lid; the freshly-sharpened colored pencils to color maps; the $0.25 Pink Pearl erasers that in several weeks will be worn lopsided; the folders in every color, ready to hold primary source papers, reflection writings, and journal entries; and the lunch boxes. I turned and walked out to my car, rubbed sanitizer onto my hands, took off my mask, and cried.

I cried for the students I could not have in my room for “lunch bunch,” to share a laugh with and to learn from, because we would not be at school together.

I cried for the extra school supplies I would be buying but not handing out in person to the students who need them.

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I cried for my students who are alone and need the one-on-one support that school can offer them, and who are being forced to grow up too fast.

I cried for my students who are not playing in-person with their friends, who are isolated, who are alone and need conversation that doesn’t come through an electronic device.

I cried for the hope that school gives to so many families in need, for the food and support it gives families on the edge of survival.

Then I just decided--enough! I pulled myself together, sanitized my hands again, tied on my mask, walked back in and bought what I needed. When I got home I went to work just like all my fellow teachers have over the last four months. 

Because that’s what teachers do: we look for a solution and make it happen.

I bought those school supplies for my students who will need them in their learning pods in my school district so that they have reminders of their new year.

I ordered fresh vegetable crates with a friend. We will deliver them to those in need.

I am filling up book bags for students to hand out at our sixth graders’ socially-distanced Back to School Night next week.

I emailed my students and checked in with colleagues and shared a laugh and a listening ear.

And then I started to plan: plan for school, plan for my son going back to college, plan for teaching remotely plan for how we as families, as teachers and students, and as a community, will continue to document our story of this time. 

After all: this story is not just about COVID-19 but about beginnings and endings, sorrow and joy, nervousness and discovery, resilience, and most importantly hope.

One of my former students reminded me this summer that in the hit musical (and dare I say COVID-19 summer sensation) "Hamilton:The Revolution." 

Hamilton says, “History is entirely created by the person who tells the story.” 

Well, my name is Michelle Pearson, and this time is not just my history, it is our history. I am committed to sharing the stories that reflect our challenges, our resilience and the hope we carry forward in these difficult times. I promise to bring my students, colleagues and community together in this blog, and together we will tell our story.

Michelle Pearson is a middle school educator in the Adams 12 School District, technology geek and historic preservationist. She helped establish the Preserve America Youth Summit Program connecting students to historic places and public lands, and collaborates with the Library of Congress Teaching With Primary Sources program, History Colorado, the National Park Service and several museums to support the use of primary sources, historic artifacts and historic places in the classroom. She's the author of several books, numerous curriculum and lesson plans, and is half the team of Two Geeky Teachers ( @2geekyteachers, @tchpreservation) online. She is the 2011 Colorado Teacher of the Year. Most importantly she is a mom to Connor, Alex, and Drew, and ball thrower to three border collies along with her husband Kirk who is a better writer than she is most of the time.

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