My two cents (Week of Apr 19, 2021)

For each school day of the 2020-21 school year, I will be writing two sentences to capture some of the impressions, feelings, experiences, or thoughts I had that day. This is the 27th post in the series.

Monday (Apr 19)
Thoroughly enjoyed my lunch banter with some students in the courtyard (SHEESHHH!). My morning walks with BD are routine and therapeutic; I see them as an investment in self-awareness and self-care.

Tuesday (Apr 20)
In the silence that pervades most of my Zoom classes these days, I had a crushing moment during 8th period when we spent 25 minutes working to state 5 noticing/wonderings about an anonymous piece of student work. On the other side of things, I had two touching moments of connection (one was with a former student — AS — and the other was with a current student — WF).

Wednesday (Apr 21)
I was zapped of motivation today. Was hard to stay positive, upbeat, and with it today; I stuck to content and wasn’t proud of it.

Thursday (Apr 22)
Still feeling defeated by remote learning, I dragged myself through my classes, and my students sensed it. I’m coming to terms with what it means to have sustained this level of professional stress for this long; today was really hard.

Friday (Apr 23)
A quiet day in the building that I used to regroup from a shattered week that put a huge dent in my remote learning armor. Onward I go.


My two cents (Week of Apr 12, 2021)

For each school day of the 2020-21 school year, I will be writing two sentences to capture some of the impressions, feelings, experiences, or thoughts I had that day. This is the 26th post in the series.

Monday (Apr 12)
After brainstorming with my cogen for three weeks, I was proud to unveil my new and improved math poetry assignment today. It went from being strictly haiku-based last year to now having four different options for students to choose from: a haiku, Fibonacci poem, free form poem, or math rap.

Tuesday (Apr 13)
To encourage more participation, out of no where, I started doing pushups in ninth period (I’m teaching in the gym). I’ve been slacking on doing my daily pushups…why not kill two birds with one stone?

Wednesday (Apr 14)
An emotional day; started off feeling isolated and ran through a gauntlet of feelings as the hours passed by. I held back tears in conversation with a colleague about the end of the school year; I realized that I’m concealing a lot of dismay that will probably come back to bite me in June.

Thursday (Apr 15)
Though it felt rushed, I got a little closer to mapping out a lesson on predatory lending at the final CHRE workshop with two trusted colleagues. In the evening, I attended an excellent talk by Sian Beilock on math anxiety through MfA‘s Thursday Think series.

Friday (Apr 16)
Had a thought-provoking conversation with two colleagues and a student about The Glass Castle this afternoon…interestingly, the student informally enticed all of us teachers to read it individually (both last year and this year) and then got us all together to chat about it for 45 minutes; it was an incredibly unique way of connecting during these crazy times. In an impromptu venting session, my AP shared an impassioned plea to not tell the stories of our students, no matter how inspirational doing so may seem to us; they don’t necessarily want to wear their struggle on their sleeve for all to see — we shouldn’t force them to.


My two cents (Week of Apr 5, 2021)

For each school day of the 2020-21 school year, I will be writing two sentences to capture some of the impressions, feelings, experiences, or thoughts I had that day. This is the 25th post in the series.

Monday (Apr 5)
I got my second dose of the vaccine today and as a result I spent a half-day in the building; I created a weird, poorly-planned video for my classes as a substitute. I cheerfully created my first two in-person handshakes with students this year; one involves throwing a football and the other involves pulling down a facemask.

Tuesday (Apr 6)
Had a student, J, drop by office hours unannounced to see how he could begin making up work from earlier marking periods. Played a super fun game of POOF! in the courtyard with the students during lunch.

Wednesday (Apr 7)
Had a pre-observation meeting with my colleague whose doing the case study on me for her grad class. I admitted to her that I’ve felt a bit exposed and insecure from all the attention she’s given me these last few weeks; my thoughtless, mediocre teaching has been on full display to someone that I deeply respect.

Thursday (Apr 8)
Today was the third session with Ghouldy Muhammad. I’m reminded to start with genius, beauty, and joy….always.

Friday (Apr 9)
Impressed and proud that my school had the courage to organize and facilitate our first whole-staff affinity group sessions today. Affinity groups have been a long time coming; it wasn’t optional…and it got expectantly messy.


The great debate: cameras on or off

Since last spring, teachers everywhere have been debating cameras. Should students be mandated to have them on? Does such a requirement cross the line?

I think this debate has died down a lot in recent weeks, but it’s still out there. In the fall, I heard teachers openly refer to this issue as a “fight” that they were not going to lose. I’m sorry, but it’s highly disturbing that the word “fight” was actually used to describe this situation. A solution they had was calling home in the middle of class anytime a student’s camera was not on and insist that it be turned on (or be given a legit excuse from their parent as to why it’s not on). Some colleagues didn’t feel this way in September, but do now. My school even made cameras being on a school policy for remote learning. The policy failed. (Personally, I would have liked an acknowledgement of this, but that’s another issue.)

Given all the variables that have dominated our students lives’ over the past year, many of which I will never understand, I’ve found requiring cameras to be on to be a wee-bit obsessive and authoritarian. Colleagues have told me that they find it useful to observe crinkled eyebrows when a student doesn’t understand something. It enables teachers to connect with their kids because they can see their faces. They’ve also mentioned that some students are sleeping in class and having their camera on would help these students be more engaged.

I get the fuss behind it all, I just don’t buy it. I’m not saying that seeing my students wouldn’t be valuable. It would be, I’d love to see them. I just don’t know if it’s worth the tradeoff of all the energy (and class time) spent trying to demand compliance on something that’s largely out of my control. Besides, I’m already balancing enough…I’m trying to ensure all my Chrome windows are open, manage breakout rooms, make sure that I’m unmuted, and keep my computer from falling off its stand — let alone facilitating learning around math! And don’t let me get started on the workload outside of class and how that has at least doubled my grading and planning time.

Of the energy I have left, I’d much rather spend it finding creative ways to reach students that meet them where they are. I’d rather work towards building trust with my kids to the point where they want to be seen on camera. (It’s still not working, but hey.) And, for what’s it worth, I’m not sure that having my students cameras on would impact my “teaching” all that much. I use quotes here because I don’t consider what I’ve been doing to be worthy of being considered teaching in any sense of the word.

I also think that requiring cameras to be on disregards students’ social and emotional development. It’s a very teacher-centric policy. It overwhelmingly benefits me, not my students. For young people, there’s a heavy social risk to comes with having the camera on — especially for middle and high school students. For these kids, image is everything. This is true with their in-person interactions, let alone those that happen online, which is an even bigger deal for many of them. Requiring students to have their cameras turned on — even in a controlled setting like a Zoom session — fails to honor this. It ignores the steep vulnerability comes with being seen online. It fails to consider the fear that kids have of being screenshotted by a classmate they don’t know and turned into a meme that goes viral.

I would close there, but there’s another aspect to all this camera talk that I find utterly fascinating…and it has nothing to do with the feasibility or morality of the camera on or off debate. It’s how losing my ability to see my students has affected my other senses. For example, I feel like I’ve been able to pick up on the slightest variations of voice when a student decides to speak in class. Did they just pause? Are they speaking slower than they did two days ago? Why? The same is true for the chat. I’ve never paid more attention to my students’ writing than I have now. My other senses have definitely piqued because I can’t see them.

I’m probably over-reading my sparse interactions with students these days, but can’t help it. It’s all I have. To drive this point home further, I do wonder how my implicit biases have surfaced as a result of not seeing my students. Despite my over-analysis and lack of research into the matter, I feel there are very real implications for my teaching in this area. Given that I’ll never actually get see some of my students, I may never know how my biases have shifted in the virtual world. It’s interesting to speculate, though.