Full disclosure: I love teaching. I love my school. I love my kids. But this is insane.
Are you curious why so many teachers are “complaining” in your news feed or looking at other career options? (Because, trust me, most of them are.) Teaching has always been a difficult job. My responsibilities have grown from explaining to kids why Catherine the Great was, in fact, Great to being a mentor, therapist, counselor, parent, coach, protector, human shield, and now, sanitizer. I don’t want to leave the profession because this is the thing I’m the best at. I literally train and mentor other teachers and I’m really good at my job. So this post is part therapy, part expose, and part “You’re not crazy” manifesto to every other teacher dealing with this right now.
Here is an account of ONE day – 6 hours – as a teacher right now. And to be clear, I am a Type A, highly organized teacher. Normally, I can tell you what I’m doing in each of my classes two months in advance – and everything for that lesson is already up in Google Classroom. This year I’m a complete mess. I’m forgetting important assignments. I can’t keep track of whether I let them use notes on quizzes. I can’t remember who is in each class period to take attendance. I have never felt more overwhelmed and terrible at my job than I do this year. And I literally train and mentor other teachers; I’m really good at my job. Thank God these kids know me well enough already to know that it’s not me, it’s 2020.
For context my school is tiny. There are 125 students in the entire high school. We have a beautiful campus with tons of outdoor learning space and our class sizes are amazingly small. What I’m saying is that my school is the best equipped school I can think of to handle whatever craziness 2020 is throwing at us. So take what I’m saying and then multiple it by 10 when thinking about your friend teaching in an underfunded public school. Or any public school. And most private schools.
I arrive at school 45 minutes early so I can get settled. I’m masked up; I’ve got my lunch that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or microwaved (or *spoiler alert* eaten at all.) But I realize I forgot to fill out the health screening form so I pull it up on my phone before I enter the building. No I don’t have a fever. No I don’t have any symptoms. No I haven’t been around anyone who tested positive.
Our school schedule has changed week to week (sometimes it’s all freshmen, sometimes it’s all juniors, sometimes it’s only upperclassmen, etc.) so I literally never know where I’m supposed to be on any given day. I try to pull up the insanely complicated (and beautiful – I’m an Excel nerd) spreadsheet that has figured out the maximum capacity of every space on our campus and tells each teacher where they should be teaching at any given moment. I search for every keyword I can think of but can’t find it in my Google Drive. Finally I bashfully ask our school secretary who is also busy taking every kid’s temperature. So sorry to bother you but I’m a grown woman who has no idea where she works now.
In theory, this morning was supposed to be my office hours but there’s now only 25 minutes left before class starts and none of my kids would know where to find me anyway since I don’t have a set classroom or desk. Oh well. I hope no one had any questions!
Then the day begins.
Block E in Main Building Classroom 3 (8:45 – 9:50)
- Subject: AP World History
- Lesson: LEQ Writing Workshop on the impacts of the Columbian Exchange in the Americas (we’ve had to skip entire civilizations to keep up with the pace from last year)
- Students: sophomores all on Zoom (+ 2 eighth graders shadowing, excited to see an impressive lesson to convince them to come here next year!)
We’re doing a writing workshop today and I have all of the steps set up in a PowerPoint and posted on Google Classroom. But I forgot that we have two students shadowing my class who don’t have access to Google Classroom so I send them the link in the chat. But the sharing settings automatically are set to anyone with our school email so they can’t access it. I go in again and change the sharing settings but then they can’t edit it. I go in a third time and change the URL to force a copy so that they can participate in the activity. We go through introductions so the shadow students feel welcome-ish. It’s awkward. I have to force students to unmute to introduce themselves.
We take a reading quiz that no one seemed prepared for and it takes twice the amount of time I had budgeted. I offer to send anyone who needs more time into a breakout room so we can start our lesson but then I realize that ½ of my class is now not in the main room so it’s pointless to start explaining anything because I’ll just have to repeat myself every time they join back in. So we wait. These poor 8th graders. It’s awkward.
9:20 Halfway through the class, now we’re starting the Writing Workshop. It goes fine. Not great. But it’s fine. That’s the best I can hope for these days.
At the end of the lesson I spend 5 minutes explaining their homework: they are going to create an essay outline. The assignment in Google Classroom is titled “Essay Outline – Homework” and the document I created for them has detailed instructions on how to create an outline. I even made an outline for their outline. A student hangs back into the passing period and asks me to explain the assignment again. They seem stressed that I told them to only spend 10-20 minutes on the assignment. How can they write a whole essay in that time? I explain that they’re just telling me the arguments they would make and the evidence they would use – they aren’t writing the whole essay. “Ohh.. so it’s like an outline?” Yes. Yes, it’s exactly like an outline.
Now I have 5 minutes to sanitize everything I touched in that room and get to my next class.
Block F in Main Building Classroom 4 (10:00 – 11:05)
- Subject: U.S. History
- Lesson: Test over the Progressive Era (we’re two week behind schedule compared with last year)
- Students: ½ on Zoom and ½ in the classroom
We’re taking a test today. Easy! Except that way more kids chose to stay home than I was anticipating so now ½ my students are taking the test online without any way for me to monitor them. The entire reason I scheduled our test for this week was because I knew that all or most of them would be in person so it would be more fair. Not anymore.
I also realize that I forgot to make an online version of the test. That one’s on me but, again, I had been under the impression that only 1 student would be online so it honestly just slipped my mind. (Please see my note in the intro about how I’m normally very organized.) So for the first ten minutes of class I am frantically creating a way for them to submit their answers to me online while the kids just watch me. A few of the kids can tell I’m stressed and they start comforting me, telling me that they understand that it’s stressful. They really are the best.
Instead of copying each of the questions (they all have a document stimulus that would be a nightmare to upload) I just share the test with the kids. Like, they all just have access to the Google Doc of the test because I can’t figure out another fast way to get it to them. Time is ticking. Hopefully they don’t save a copy and share it with their friends. Whatever.
I also forgot to assign letters to the terms from the word bank so kids have no way to fill in our Scantron. I just tell them to write on the test and I’ll grade them all by hand. Again, my bad.
I keep everyone on Zoom muted and I silence my computer so that it doesn’t disrupt anyone else taking the test. Halfway into class I sit down for the first time and start working (test day = work time!) I don’t have a second monitor because I’m constantly moving around so the document I’m working on covers up the Zoom and I realize that the kids on Zoom have been trying to get my attention but my computer was silenced. Have they been talking to each other this whole time? Who knows? Not me.
Kids are asking questions about the writing prompts that they were given in advance. Like, it’s clear that some of them haven’t even looked at the writing prompts until now because they’re asking basic definition questions that they could have clarified during our entire review day but whatever.
The test goes fine. Not great. Just fine.
I sanitize everything anyone touched in the classroom and then leave as students come in and start touching everything again.
Admissions Meeting during Lunch in ?!?! (11:05 – 11:45)
I immediately take all of my stuff, including the tests I now have to grade by hand, and look for a place to log into an Admissions Meeting. It’s lunchtime and it’s rainy out so everyone is fighting for a spot to eat with their friends and stay distanced. I eventually just have to kick kids out of a classroom because I’m late to the meeting (that I’m running – everyone else in there is a student).
We get the Admissions Meeting going but the audio for the applicant isn’t working great and there’s a ton of noise because it’s lunch. Again, poor 8th grader. It’s awkward. We get through it and I have 2 minutes until my next class starts. No lunch.
Block A in Main Building Classroom 1 (11:45 – 12:50)
- Subject: AP World History
- Lesson: LEQ Writing Workshop on the impacts of the Columbian Exchange in the Americas
- Students: sophomores all on Zoom (+ 2 more eighth graders shadowing – gotta put on a good show!)
I set up in my fourth room of the day to teach another Writing Workshop online. I have to wait for four boys to finish eating/cleaning up their lunch before I can set any of my stuff down because I have to sanitize everything they touched because they don’t do it themselves. Two minutes until my class starts.
Two girls ask if they can do study hall in there because there’s nowhere else to go. Sure – they’ll just have to hear me teaching my lesson as they work. My silent audience grows.
A student from another class period checks in with me because they get extended time on the test and are going to start it early during their study hall. I grab a copy of the test and walk them to an open room. Class has already started and I haven’t opened my computer.
This lesson goes better because it’s the second time around but I can’t get anyone to talk about anything. Well that’s not true. When a student randomly asks everyone what their favorite number is in the Chat there is a rousing discussion about why the number 8 is the “ideal number.” This is going on while I’m trying to introduce the lesson (and introduce our shadows… it’s awkward.)
We get through the lesson. It’s fine. Not great. Just fine.
I sanitize everything I touched, grab all of my stuff, and head to my last class of the day.
On the way to my next class a fantastic student asks me if I have a few minutes. I reply, honestly, “No I actually don’t.” She’s checking in about a recommendation letter for an amazing (and well deserved) educational experience that I literally have not even been able to think about yet. We walk-and-talk like we’re in an Aaron Sorkin show and I promise that I’ll get to her letter as soon as I finish college recommendation letters for my seniors.
Block B in Main Building Classroom 5 (1:00 – 2:05)
- Subject: U.S. History
- Lesson: Test over the Progressive Era
- Students: all juniors in the classroom except 1 on Zoom
Last class. I made it. And it’s another test and now I have the online test ready to go so everything should be smooth sailing.
Nope – more students showed up in person than I was expecting so I have to go make more copies of the test. Some students ask if they can study a little more before they start the test? Sure, fine. I’ll just hold onto their test and give it to them when they’re ready.
The student with extended time is still taking the test and they log into Zoom so they can check in and ask questions without having to walk all the way down the hall. Totally fine. But I don’t want to disturb everyone else taking the test so I leave the room with my computer so that we can have a private conversation. Are they all talking to each other about the test while I’m gone? I have no idea.
When I come back into the classroom, another student let me know that they never got a test. I forgot about the kids who wanted more time to study! I give them the test to start now – ¼ of the way into the class period. Good luck!
I sit down and look at my computer alone (without muted faces staring at me) for the first time all day. My battery is at 7% and there aren’t plugs near the teacher desk. I move to another desk and make a note that I need to sanitize the first spot before I leave.
I finally start to do some work (grade assignments I gave out the past few days, look over what I’m doing tomorrow, respond to the 27 new emails I’ve gotten since the day started, update late grades, you know, all the parts of my job that don’t involve being in the classroom with kids – oh crap, I haven’t taken attendance all day. I’m so sorry, school secretary.) I’m so exhausted, and overwhelmed, and angry that I can’t focus on anything else so I write this instead.
Class ends. It went fine. I sanitize everything anyone touched.
On my way down the hallway I run into a few of my favorite seniors. They just voted for the first time! They ask if we’re having another Election Emotional Support meeting (something I’ve been doing over the last 6 months to help students process the chaos of the news cycle.) I say, “Of course,” recognizing that the only time we can meet is during my one free lunch of the week. Happy to do it.
I’m done teaching for the day but I haven’t gotten any work done. I try to find a room where I can set up but they’re all taken for electives.
I sit in my car and scroll through my email on my phone, eating my lunch finally. After 20 minutes it’s time to go pick my three-year-old up from preschool. They end their day 3 hours early right now so their teachers can have time to clean and regroup for the next day.