And we are off!
I knew the 2020-21 School Year was going to be a wild ride when I was Battening Down the Hatches last month–and if these first couple of weeks are any indication, I was definitely correct. If nothing more, when things settle down, this will be the most unique school year of my life, hands down.
Despite initially proposing that all Chicago Public Schools teachers, staff, and students return physically to school using a hybrid model in July, the district was pushed by the Chicago Teachers Union and parents to begin the school year using a virtual model, which was released only a couple of weeks before teachers headed back on August 31st. While I wanted a hybrid model in the spring, by July I realized that this would be way too problematic on many levels and so wanted to do remote instruction, at least for the beginning of the year. I recognize it isn’t ideal, for families, for educators, for the 3rd largest district in the country, but the idea of returning to buildings with outdated ventilation systems; working with teenagers who have issues with dress codes already and expecting them to wear masks all day; expecting everyone to keep socially distant in classrooms where I have average class sizes in the 30s; and for everyone to walk through hallways masked up, following arrows on the floor, and not getting physically close to one another when the average Chicagoan struggles to remember doing all of those things at the grocery store, just seemed like a nightmare.
The challenge has been that the district allowed extremely limited input from the Union on how virtual learning would go (unlike the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the US) and so at the high school level, we are following a traditional CPS schedule of 50 minute live & synchronous classes x 8 (for students), 5 days a week, with one of those periods being lunch. For teachers at my school, that translates to being live 5 classes a day, along with 2 preps and a lunch. I accepted the additional challenge of teaching an extra class this year, as well, so I am live 6 classes a day.
Needless to say, after the first week of instruction, I am a little tuckered out. However, I also feel a HUGE sense of accomplishment and as I write this, I have a big smile on my face. We did it!!!!!!!
I felt that I showed up for my students like a new, novice teacher, complete with anxiety, enthusiasm and plenty of bumbling along the way (with most of those bumbles being tech related). I also had this weird feeling that we were no longer play acting in teacher ed classes or student teaching experiences (or in a week of professional development that had one CPS teacher posting that we had just crammed a graduate degree said week). But then I realized that the cool thing of being an experienced teacher, with more than 20 years of teaching experience, is that I have lots of resources, experiences and tools to bring to my classroom, even if it is a whole new virtual experience, and that awareness kicked in once we started rolling.
Many of my years of teaching and in education as a whole–and the beginning of the school year in particular–have been unique, however, and those experiences are ones that I have been channeling all week, some good and some bad, for motivation. One of the things that I’ve gained from my experience with rowing has been to recognize both the challenges and accomplishments in my life and own them. I was definitely owning my twenty plus years of teaching this week.
The beautiful commute from Marquette where I lived to Westwood High School in Ishpeming, Michigan where I student taught during the fall of 1991. The fall colors that year were spectacular! This suburban Detroit girl also experienced some major culture shock that semester, including recognizing the isolation and economic struggles of rural Americans. I remember that one of my freshmen students checked on his wild animal traps each morning, so that the furs could be sold to supplement his family’s income.
And while we are talking culture shock, of course I have vivid memories of being a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching in the West Indies on Antigua at the Primary & Post-Primary School in Bethesda–the oldest public school on the island and my classroom with the most amazing view of the ocean. I could write a couple of chapters on that experience, so I will leave you with a few pictures instead.
My one brief semester teaching in LA at Bancroft Middle School located in Hollywood and we could actually see the Hollywood sign from our school’s basketball court. It was the most diverse school I have ever taught at with significant numbers of students and teachers from Armenia, Mexico, Compton, Russia, and Asia. It was the one I also remembering struggling the least to feel a part of the school community. I was accepted right from the start. Isn’t that how it is always supposed to work?
9/11/01–A brilliantly sunny day in Chicago. I had just moved back to the Windy City after two years living in LA. I was in week 2 of my first year at Harper High School, in the Southside’s West Englewood neighborhood and one of the city’s most challenged high schools. I remember that day vividly, especially that morning. I was teaching a block schedule and heard the news on the radio in the computer lab, where as traveling teacher with three classrooms, I was spending my prep period. The other teachers in the room thought it was a joke, so I went in search of a tv, which I found in a fellow social studies teacher’s room who had the news on. I saw the first tower crash down.
One of my biggest reality check’s, which is very relevant with all that is happening today related to social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, was that many of my students felt disconnected from the tragedy unfolding. They felt that with all of the violence going on around them in their own community continuously, no one cared or tried to stop it. In turn, why should they care what was going on in New York or DC?
I spent 6 years at that school, my longest stretch teaching or working in one place and I would experience many ‘ah hah’ moments and wake up calls. Again, I could write a few chapters.
Teaching in NOLA from January 2010-June 2014, post Hurricane Katrina was a most interesting experience. Charter schools and contested spaces. Having the opportunity to take 13 of my junior students to Washington, DC compliments of the Cruise Ship Industry’s Philanthropic Committee for a week long program called Diplomacy in Action. Being given my only ‘write up’ in my career–in and out of education–for my 2nd week lesson plans being an hour late. Not understanding just how deep the trauma was for everyone who experienced living through Katrina. Finding out that I loved Mardi Gras and that we got a week of vacation to celebrate! Being diagnosed with breast cancer. Being given the opportunity to teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.
And Finally, Last Month
A couple of issues and situations related to teaching the past 5 years have left me a bit banged up and not as confident as I should be with the knowledge, experience, and self awareness I possess. However, I had a reminder of how effortless and rewarding teaching can be the week before teachers returned to school. I drove in to Michigan and visited my sister-in-law and her family for the day where I had the opportunity to help my niece and 4 nephews with their swimming techniques. I taught swimming lessons during high school, college, and Peace Corps, but I hadn’t taught anyone or coached any swimming in years. It was very cool to be reminded that teaching swimming to me is really second nature now, regardless of how long I am away from it, and that day with Family, sharing my experience and something I love, was so much fun!
Here’s to hoping our 2020-21 school year goes swimmingly!