• Melissa Westemeier

first one done

The report from Room 209:

This first week of the school year was ... really different. My students' desks are arranged in rows per CDC recommendations, spaced so that they cannot ever touch each other. I teach in Room 209 2 hours with 18 seats, in the lecture hall for my SUPER-sized class. What a day--three sections of English 101.

Students cannot use lockers this year--the hallways are quiet without the slamming and banging and we haven't had to rush out and help the freshmen with lock combinations and jammed doors. Students are discouraged from congregating--move it on out to your next class, everyone! When people are in hallways, they're in motion. No one has to elbow their way through clusters of kids. The morning announcements are brief without clubs or activities meeting. These strange changes makes the vibe calmer and less chaotic, but it also makes the building feel disconnected and unfamiliar. Instead of posters encouraging students to buy tickets for the Homecoming dance or check out FFA, we read posters reminding us to stay six feet apart, masks up, hands washed.

Usually the start of any school year is stressful, I have to adjust to new routines, new schedule, etc. My feet ache from wearing shoes all day. I have to plan eating and bathroom breaks and I can't just wander around and do whatever I want whenever I want as one does in the summer months. I had to pack the lunches (and miscalculated the effect on our pantry--by Friday I was rolling tortillas for G's lunch and scrounged for a cup of quinoa for myself because we were flat out of bread).

Trying to remember so much new information made me forget something every day. Day one I'm pretty sure I forgot to apply deodorant--that or I was more nervous than I realized. Day two I forgot to apply mascara (my only makeup). Day three it was a book. I'm not used to making lists because life has been so slow for so many months.

My students are ... quiet. I feel like the masks sort of muzzle them. They're less inclined to whisper (who could hear?) and sitting at a social distance makes socialization more challenging. They also might be just really quiet kids. A lot of the nuance in conversation gets lost when we're masked. I really crinkle up the ol' eyes to show I'm smiling these days (which might make me look more Clint-Eastwood squinty and tough, actually). And I have to project and enunciate more wearing a mask so the cheap seats can hear me.



I also realize how much I rely on reading lips to understand what people are saying to me.

Happyland High decided on 5 full days, regular schedule, full-throttle. I guess about 10% of our students opted to attend virtually, which means I teach IRL and online simultaneously. My dream is to get two full weeks of instruction in before the COVID case count rises. Obviously I hope for no COVID to shut us down, but two weeks allows for two really important things to occur:

  1. Kids get used to using Socratic Seminar as a discussion tool. If we're bounced online and they're used to running their own discussions, then we can create small group discussions using Google Meet.

  2. I can train my students on HOW to peer edit/respond effectively. Once we do one hands-on session with their first paper (due Tuesday), we can manage the rest of the work online. It's hard to know if a student can identify passive voice in a peer's paper unless I actually see them circling the verbs in front of me.

So I feel really lucky because I think we'll get as far as I NEED to, logistically speaking.

Back to the masks. Generally students have been rock stars, which I expect as they are juniors and seniors. I just have to remind a few kids to pull up over the nose (the other holes we breathe through, duh). But everybody needs a break. I want to take my classes outside as much as humanly possible so they can unmask, but our school grounds are fairly barren. There's outdoor seating for about 12. Total. On the entire middle/high school campus. My colleague had the brilliant idea to tell the kids to stash a bag chair in their trunks. Last week we went outside for 2 of 4 classes. I lent my stash of bag chairs to the kids who forgot or couldn't bring one and we set up our discussion circles by the small woods where the trees block the wind pretty well. Once they had their chairs set up at appropriate distances, masks could come off and we could talk. I used Facetime to engage the online kids in the conversations. It worked. We plan to set up camp outdoors for half the week minimally. There's a little bit of noise and distraction to contend with when teaching outside, but it beats the alternative right now.

I also started creating videos of myself teaching--whenever I have to deliver content, I pre-record my "lecture." This way people can SEE me talking to them and get my full facial impact (which as you can see below is GLORIOUSLY AWKWARD) and my online kids aren't forced to watch a masked woman talk at them--SO WEIRD, right? It's humbling to be forced to watch and listen to oneself teach, but I'm focusing on the bright side. Now I don't have to deliver 3 lectures a day, I just press "play" and let YOUTUBE do the work. And if I play my cards right, my work gets a lot easier down the line when I have a series of videos prepared to use and then I can focus on other things. Plus I might become a famous Youtuber. I hear that's a thing.


(With a preview image like this I just KNOW people will want to view!)

My editing skills leave a lot to be desired. My videos always end with me searching the screen for the icon to click to "end" the recording and "stop" the sharing.

I'm still troubleshooting some technology issues with the virtual students, but my IRL students have been wonderful. Three girls assisted in getting our first Facetime call set up with my phone the second day of class. The IRL kids are very patient about waiting for the online connections to happen. The virtual kids are patient about having to jump through extra hoops to access our classroom.

I felt extremely tired each day after school, but I also felt like we accomplished something important. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good.

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