I finished teaching my first week with students. The week tested me in a way that I’ve never been tested as a teacher--I don’t even think my first week of my first year was this hard.
And I was teaching middle school at the time.
The running theme of my week was a constant series of “roll with it” moments. There was zero certainty, and my plans were constantly uprooted and I had to figure out how to “make it work” (the only wonderful thing about this is that every time I said “make it work” I imagined a supportive, yet no-nonsense Tim Gunn standing next to me eyeing my peculiar choice of using velour for an evening gown when that is just not what you do).
This whole week of teaching was one “that is just not what you do” sort of week.
But within the chaos and tumult, I began to notice myself living in the uncertainty differently. And there were actually some moments where maybe I was like the contestant on Project Runway who managed to dazzle Tim Gunn with a salmon velour evening gown.
Over the weekend, I watched a rerun of a talk show that featured Brene Brown. Her message to viewers: learn to be okay with uncertainty. And that’s what inspired me to begin this series.
I’m not going to promise this post weekly because, you know, uncertainty. But this year, I want to use my blog as a space to share how the uncertainty of the year is transforming me as a teacher. And since this blog is all about how to enter into learning, I’m going to model bravely and vulnerably how to get on the on-ramp for this year. (Even if I am rerouted by multiple detour signs along the way).
So, in no particular order, here are things that went sideways that actually turned out to be pretty decent.
I got moved to teach a huge section to a lecture area instead of my classroom.
(and the lecture area had no technology, and you know, this whole year is basically digital).
There are two ways this sideways moment went in a way that it needed to go in. On my way down, I saw a hall monitor trying to help a student who was struggling to keep it together while trying to show a student where to go. I took the lost student for him.
She was wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. As she went to her room, I told her to have a great day, and “I like your shirt.” She smiled and went on her way. Later, our secretary saw her and did the same. We both agreed, kids who wear BLM shirts need to know we see them.
I’m glad I went a different route that day.
In the lecture area, my ninth graders were, in short, amazing and patient. That whole image of my being a teacher who has it together was totally shattered as we worked through the kinks of the no technology thing. And you know what, they were unphased and understanding.
If a kid couldn’t get the link to work, they asked for help. I would help them, and we moved on. I think we tend to fear moments like this in our classroom. To an extent, it's probably why I've avoided some digital resources.
Takeaway: If your kids have a device, create a Zoom meeting link to share. Then share everything on your screen with them. We managed to get through our lesson, collaborate through Jamboard and begin to develop some class norms.
And if you get diverted, you might just end up getting where you needed to be.
I realized some materials I had developed were redundant while teaching.
(so with my students, we began changing it)
Context: I teach a course where I train students to be writing consultants, and in the first week, we begin to unpack some of our values. It’s a really important day because it sort of frames our whole year together.
The first few years I taught this course, it was important that I had a clear vision because after all, I was going to be the one who was here for the long haul.
As my small group of consultants and I went through our notes about the values, one of the kids said “this kinda feels similar to the value we just talked about.”
And he was right. The distinction between the two was incredibly fuzzy because they were just so interconnected! So we began to brainstorm about a new fourth value, and then the next group of consultants spent some time thinking about it too.
Even though this was not what I intended, it was better. It gives my consultants a way to see their voice in our values.
Takeaway: being vulnerable and admitting something wasn’t quite right wasn’t painful. None of my students scoffed. If anything, it became a powerful way to show them that the work of being a writer is vulnerable and involves being open to feedback.
I’m always talking about the habits of mind of a writer. Instead of telling them, showing them was a way to establish this important norm.
And it created a natural and organic way for my two groups of consultants to have a purpose to meet when we have our first “virtual Wednesday” day next week.
I realized that parents don’t expect perfection or that we have this all figured out.
(really, they just want us to know they are here for their children)
I ended my day on Friday reaching out to a few families to talk about our plan for academic support. (Context: in addition to teaching ELA 9 and working with peer consultants, I am also a MTSS Student Support Coach the other part of my day).
This week, our team spent some time organizing a schedule for support. Like a lot of districts, we have students who are hybrid and in-person part of the week and students who are 100% virtual. Did I also mention, I really only have two periods of the day to do this work?
I have to admit, I was a little nervous to begin the phone calls, worrying that families would be upset that we couldn’t do more. I think it’s a common feeling that all of us have right now as teachers: we are worried we aren’t doing enough.
Well, if you need to read this, here it is: stop it. You are doing enough. You are doing a lot.
Takeaway: Even though I didn’t have all the answers to the questions that the parents had, they weren’t upset. In both cases, the parents were extremely grateful that someone had reached out to them to let them know that their child wasn’t going to go unnoticed.
With each parent, I made a plan for support. For one family, it’s a regularly scheduled appointment over zoom. For the other family, it’s knowing that I’m ready for support when the first writing assignment rolls around.
Parents and students want to feel noticed right now. They do not need you to have this all figured out. They just want to know you care about them.
What I’ll Hold Onto From This Week
Onward to week two!
Lauren Nizol is a literacy interventionist, writing center director, and National Writing Project Teacher Consultant who loves books and takes too many pictures of trees when heading for the woods with her family.