April 2020

Teaching in the time of COVID-19

By Jill Minarik:  Brearley High School English Teacher

Day 1: Let’s do this! Trip to AC Moore where I hit the Clearance section to grab all the spring crafts for my daughters, Josephine (3.5 years) and Cora (1.5 years). Set up a daily schedule to include teaching for me, educational activities for the girls, a Honey-Do list for the husband, and plenty of time to be creative and have fun together! Finish setting up Google Classroom, then remind my students to collect their gear from school tomorrow (Friday the 13th, go figure), and I will see them soon, fingers crossed.

Day 2: I explore the Google Suite, and realize how much technology can help advance my classroom when we return to school in a few weeks. Enter a Hangout with my co-teacher and feel like we are on the other side of the desk now, which is both compelling and also intimidating. I rarely use technology like this in our current classroom, and the options are a bit overwhelming. We agree which assignment to post, and encourage our freshmen to continue exploring Romeo and Juliet on their own for now, hoping the links and online resources will help. Remind my oldest daughter that no, she won’t be going to school today, or for a while, but we can complete the fourth craft of the morning as soon as I’m finished with my meeting (and my second cup of coffee). Go to bed, feeling productive with everything on our to-do lists done. 

Day 5: Pose for my Spirit Week picture and imagine students in their homes, sitting at the window, trying to find the right light for their own. Trying to remember how they did it when I caught them sneaking selfies in class all those times before. Head tilt? Check. Half smile? Check. Filter? Obviously. Peace sign? Too much. My thoughts drift to the poses and faces I will see on Brearley’s Instagram later today. I pen emails and send reminder messages to my students, checking in on daily life and everyone’s health. Then I help my girls chalk a rainbow on our driveway.

Day 8: Put a child-safety lock on the pantry so little hands stop reaching in for three hundred snacks a day, which prompts a series of tantrums in front of the door while voices scream “But I’m SO HUNGRY, Mommy!”  Distract them long enough to inch open the door and grab three Oreos, which I inhale in the solace of the bathroom before going back to grading Macbeth research papers. Spend three hours making comments on their essays and then realize that I didn’t actually hit the “comment” button at the end, so the work is all lost. Take an additional 30 minutes to figure out how to export grades from Google to the Grade Portal, and realize that is actually easier to do by hand. Think fondly of the multi-colored grading pens sitting in my desk drawer at school, and the way students poke fun at my handwriting. 

Day 13: During my first Zoom meeting where I can teach the students in real-time, Josephine walks up to proudly tell me she used the potty all by herself, but “Look, mommy, I have poopy all over my hands!” And legs, and, somehow, face. Put the students back in the “waiting room” and grab the quickly-depleting Clorox wipes, mildly concerned about my students’ ability to cope with the traumatic experience they just endured. On the bright side, our decision to only have two children has been cemented. 

Day 17: The girls and I go on a dewy morning walk to look for signs of spring before my virtual classes begin, and I hope students will rise out of bed early enough to join in. See lots of pajamas and bleary-eyed expressions as I ask how everyone is faring. Responses run the gamut from boredom to anxiety, classwork to current events. My husband is already upstairs working so the girls beg for my attention before I let good old Netflix take over so I can have the office (my dining room) to myself. Josephine refuses to practice her letters unless she can watch “just one show, I promise,” and my resolve is wearing thin enough to allow it, again. 

Day 22, morning: Found another gray hair this morning, and the coffee seems to be weaker than before. Forgot to plug in the computer after Facetiming with the grandparents last night, but the neighbors left seeds and dirt on our front steps yesterday, so we start our spring garden while the computer charges. The marking period is ending so I keep up with my inbox, where students are concerned about grades and assignments that are still sitting in the ACE testing center, waiting under Ms. Ostrom’s desk for our return.  Find myself annoyed that they didn’t make up the exams when they were given ample time, and put zeros into Genesis for the missing work. 

Day 22, evening: Finally get the girls to bed, after our third dance party and sixth argument of the day. Eat leftovers for dinner and gaze at the “sorry, mommy” painting Josephine gave me before going upstairs. Look at the grade book and send out emails telling students that we all did the best we could this marking period, let’s let everything else go for now. Realize that I need to be flexible and considerate with all of my kids, including those in my virtual classrooms,  if we are going to get through this.

Day 27: Trying to prepare for Easter Sunday so that the girls have some type of normalcy on a holiday where they expect to be surrounded by family. Start baking, which leads to mess #32 of the day, but those little eyes light up when I hand her the piping bag to give the little cupcake bunnies their noses, so I consider it a win while I scrape icing off the floor. Spring break has officially begun, which I thought might be a waste but now realize is MUCH needed. 

Day 30: Our daily schedule has devolved into chaos, so I decide to fill it with whatever we need at the moment. One moment it’s a snuggle, the next it’s separate rooms so tempers cool off. Another moment it’s an obstacle course outside and the next, it’s PBS Kids for three episodes of Sesame Street in a row. One hour it’s a family walk and the next hour is alone time for Mommy to read a book. In speaking to friends and students with a wide range of family situations, I realize that we are all coping in our own way, and that’s ok.  To-do lists and Great Expectations be damned.  What our daily lives look like changes by the minute, and as long as we can be there for each other, we will make it through. 

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