The cold coffee song

 AKA – A parody on a familiar melody dedicated to teachers who finished as strong, after a tough year, if not stronger than the cold beverages in their cups.

Pt 1 (sung to the chorus of Escape, The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes)

Yes I like drinking cold coffee!
And ignoring my chronic back pain.

I am out of the classroom,
At home by pandemic and fate

It’s really hard to be teaching,
sharing through cold blue screens.

It’s become easy to breakdown,
seeing students struggling each day.

Yup, it’s been rough one folx. We have come so far together and we all know that the journey is just beginning. When we look back to the start of the year in September 2019, no one would have believed that we would only be voting on a contract now. No one would have believed  that we would fund our sub-cost-of-living raises by standing up for our rights on the picket lines for 6 days. And no one would have believed that we would not see our students in real life this year past March Break. Judging by what has transpired already, I am pretty sure that the future will be equally unbelievable.

Without a doubt, we’ve shared many highs and lows in our profession over the past 10 months. We have stood together. We have found ways to make a terrible situation nearly tolerable. We have worked from home in makeshift offices at the peril of our own physical detriment. We are all grieving the loss of milestones (graduations, trips, community, playdays, track, and farewells) for the classes of 2020. Yet, we still came up with innovative ways to honour them.

We have parented through a pandemic, and cared for our parents too. We have watched vulnerable communities further separated from opportunities. We witnessed the inequity that exists in presumptions around access and “emergency distance learning.” In all of this we have maintained the dignity and duty of care everyday. On occasion, we even remembered to look after ourselves.

And even though direction from the elected only spilled out like water from a kinked hose, we knew what to do because we knew our students. So when the messages changed it didn’t matter that they came out at the end of the day on a Friday after hours or at all. In the end, teachers knew how to do right by their students. This even meant going on treasure hunts to find marks to fill report cards using a very vague map to cover a number of broad areas.

For my liking, I would love to have scrapped the focus on any marks for this term, and worked within a pass/not yet model.

Pt 2 (sung to the chorus of Escape, The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes)

I am not into health spas.
I won’t ride on busses or Go Trains.

I am not into incomplete reporting
though the data sets must be gained.

I don’t like marking work til midnight
or going without sunlight for days.

I have been teaching from my basement,
and there’s no chance of escape.

The deeds are done and we can look back on them knowing that each teacher poured their heart and soul into their artistry as educators. Like any good gallery, the masterpieces ranged in complexity and beauty regardless of the eyes of the beholder. I’ll leave you with the last chorus to sing however you’d like.

At the heart of education,
We’ll stop at nothing to create,

To make the best of bad situations,
and challenges so hard to relate.

Can’t wait until we’re back in the classroom,
To learn, laugh, and say remember when?

It’s the year that no one planned for,
and hope will never happen again.

Thank you for all of your support over the past year. Wishing you a safe and relaxing summer. Celebrating you all with a cup of something cool and refreshing after I finish this cold cup of coffee.


6 Similes to describe how it felt to teach during COVID 19 Quarantine

Teaching during a quarantine was…

Like meaning with no  I, N or G. It was just mean. There were times when it felt forced, and meaningless because I was trying to make sense out of how to do this when it seemed more about keeping students busy and less about how they were feeling. 

Education during a pandemic was…

Like an infomercial. But wait, there’s more! More to do and definitely more to worry about.  Our students went AWOL – They’d gone absent without learning because they couldn’t connect. Their worlds had been turned upside down, and the one place where they could count on from Monday to Friday had been shuttered and now they were shut out. 

Learning for students during COVID 19 was…
Like making a pizza without a crust – there was nothing to hold all of the ingredients in place for students when life’s bigger problems consumed their ability to learn from home. Students needed their teachers to keep things together when things got tough and the class pizza, with all of its different toppings, got thrown into the oven.

Emergency distance learning was…
Like an ice cream cone with a hole in the bottom – the goodness melted away fast  and ended up on your shirt. Either way what was good couldn’t last long and usually there was something to clean up afterwards. I saw my students trying to make the best out of this mess yet there always seemed to be a scoop of some new flavour that no one wanted being added to the problem of learning outside of the classroom. 

Teaching from home during a shutdown felt…
Like performing a symphony where I had to write the score, conduct, play every instrument, and stack the chairs. There were so many little things that consumed the movements and moments of my day. It felt like I was simultaneously teaching a song to 25 individual performers all locked in their own rehearsal spaces.

Distance learning was…
Like running a marathon for the first time. You knew there was a finish line, but couldn’t remember how far you’d run or where you were going once you hit the wall. There came a point where fatigue set in and I began to doubt why I took this on in the first place? Some students hit the wall after the first day while others lasted until being told that the rest of their year at school was done. Even our strongest learners hit the wall at some point. Despite all of my training as a teacher, the toll that the marathon of teaching from home took on my mind and body was significant. I can only imagine how it affected our students.

I’m tired and a bit broken. The breath was stolen from my body when our students went home on March 13th. None of us imagined that we would be away for so long. I was allowed to visit my empty classroom 3 times since then and still hope that this has all been a bad dream. Walking down an empty hall in an empty school denied it’s life breath of students and their teachers was not how any of us would have wished this time in quarantine to be. 

From the onset and onslaught of learning in quarantine we had to work together, to grow together, and to continue learning together. It took time, patience, and grace. Each moment required a willingness to work meaningfully, to seek out those who had gone AWOL, bake a crust under that pizza, put a marshmallow in that cone to stop the good stuff from dripping out, play music until our fingers ached, and get up the next day ready to run the race again. 

The summer finish line has been crossed. We made it. Now where’s that pizza and ice cream?


The screens of silence

I am wondering whether the title of this post should be “The screams of silence” because that’s how it feels some days.

It’s week four of emergency distance learning and I am feeling weaker for it. Is anyone else feeling this way from staring at their screen(s) all day? If asked, I’ve been responding with thumbs up and all good, but in reality I am fighting the dissonance disrupting my days, and it relates to the way I feel about what is happening in education right now. To top it off, I am wrestling with self-doubt about whether my instructional act is all together. Add to that the pressure I’m putting on myself to wake up feeling fit and fresh because I am working from the “comfort” of my basement. Being cooped up, I mean observing physical distancing, doesn’t help. See what I mean about interchangeable titles?

Then there is the daily media segment about something or another to do with #QuarantineEducation. This week an article in The Globe and Mail shared Some overwhelmed parents are giving up on distance learning and abandoning at-home schooling. This noise is hard to tune out when we have been asked to stay in place and create something that has never been done effectively on a large scale so quickly. Maybe that’s what is holding my head hostage? Or maybe it’s that my hair is too long? Both make me want to scream sometimes

There is something to be said about the experience of facilitating learning in the vacuum of 2020. It’s cold. As I stare at several connected screens to keeping track of at least 17 other currently opened tabs on my computer, I have to admit this is all a bit daunting – even for this tech-happy educator. If teaching is my superpower, then the screens, meetings, and other digital dungeons trying to contain me have become my kryptonite.

I share this neither in angst nor anger, but out of an admission that the struggle is a real one. It sounds like I am not alone. This surreal situation we are now in was, is, and will never be a positive experience. We were starting to recover from a devasting January and dreadful February only then to be steamrolled by March when an uncontrollable virus unleashed itself on the world. Welcome April, a month that no one would have predicted to be the first of two months away from our schools…so far.

What did we do? We rallied, we pivoted to support our students and each other, and we waited patiently knowing we had to care for our own families too. We were lucky that the start of March Break landed when it did, as it may have helped us to avoid something worse had COVID 19 entered our open schools. Throughout this time we turned to our screens to watch for updates, data, and directions.

While we waited and watched for answers, our thoughts continued to race and the questions began to bubble up. How am I going to reach my learners? How are students who are marginalized by poverty and or other circumstances coping with all of this? What are the expectations from my board, admin, families, and most importantly students? What about my life at home? How will I manage when many of my teaching resources are at school? How much work do I assign? How about due dates? Do I take attendance? What happens when students don’t complete work? How do I assess anything without fear that someone else has done the work?

Everybody was working together. As our profession embraced the challenge of this reality, digital resources were curated, virtual meetings were held, contact was reinitiated with families/students, and a sense of temporary normalcy had made its way back into our weekly M to F routines. Cue some new silences.

The enthusiasm of returning to instruction, albeit asynchronously, signified that something was being done on behalf of families and our students, but the lack of connection through voice and vision has been hard to overcome for this educator. Speaking with many other educators who are feeling the same way, it is the meaningful interactions with peers/teachers and the chance of being heard that students are craving the most right now. We need to make sure they are acknowledged and heard, and the current situation is leaving them without a voice.

Teachers are the conduits for connection in their classrooms and will never be replaced by an emoji, meme, or brief feedback on a task to be viewed in silence on a student’s screen. However, it has been difficult to connect with students due security issues relating to conferencing platforms such as Google Meet and Zoom. This is extremely frustrating for a number of reasons. With those screens dark, students are left to keyboard strokes, Screencastify, and digital classroom posts for their content and updates. This is not the education any of us signed up to deliver. Despite my efforts to adapt and fill my screens with amazing shareable content to carry on, something is missing. The voices of my students. Cue the disconnects. Cue the silent screams at silent screens.

So you’re teaching from home. How’s your back?

Ouch! Each time that the government extends public school closures because of COVID 19, it hurts more and more. Although, concerns for the safety of our families at home and school are top of mind, it really hurts to be away from students, staff, and the frenetic spaces we normally occupy. It hurts wondering if they are okay or if they are struggling to cope with the turmoil and uncertainty wreaking havoc on our lives.

Well at least we are teaching and reconnecting with our learners again, but as I gaze at my screens, I feel the tension across my shoulders. As my eyes dart about, my ability to focus on digital content for extended periods of time becomes difficult. I feel my body rebelling against its natural urges to move about, write something on the board, and make eye contact. This pain hits the mind and body and I’m not sure which is worse. Ouch!

I am finding that my increased time in front of screens rather than my students is taking a toll on my body and mind that is different than face to face instruction. For one thing, I am sitting more, corresponding via email more, joining virtual meetings more, and aiming my eyes towards my screens more. If you are like me, you might have a work space at home that gets used on evenings and weekends. I use an old kitchen table and chair*. This space, which is normally only used for an extra hour or three each day, has now become my classroom and office for as many as 6 to 8 hours per day. Between the planning, prepping, office hours, and meetings the hours add up. By the end of the day, I feel it.

I never realized that my workspace would be the reason why I have been waking up with an aching neck and back after the daily grind of extended screen time – my spartan set-up has me sore, stiff, and in need of a stretch. I have already flattened 2 couch cushions beyond their intended shape. Decorating aside, this got me thinking about how other students and educators must be dealing with their non-traditional work/learning spaces in a time of physical distancing and social isolation.

I have seen pictures of students at kitchen tables that are just below shoulder height. I have heard of families, all working from home, having to negotiate work spaces between bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. All flat surfaces have been claimed by computers and books. TV trays are now doubling as desks, while bedrooms have become bastions for team meetings even though I have yet to be on a conference call when a child or pet doesn’t magically appear to add a little levity.

At my house it is 3 generations on 3 floors and even with all of that space, there are still moments that require the utmost patience and grace. I can only imagine what it must be like for families in apartments or condos with limited space where a comfy couch has become a conference space instead of a family refuge? I am also learning that not everyone has a place to escape to when things get crunchy.

The increased time spent in a non-traditional work space trying to do make traditional work happen despite non-traditional circumstances is new to all of us. So, it comes as no surprise that my new classroom hub was not capable of supporting me physically over longer periods of time. Knowing that continuing without making some adjustments was going to end up poorly, I made some adjustments. Here’s a quick list of things I added to help:

  1. Take movement breaks (stretch, exercise, elevate your heart rate).
  2. Hydrate (coffee/tea does not count, water works best).
  3. Take your eyes of screens. Think of the 20/20/20 rule.
  4. Adjust workspace heights. Consider adding a box to your laptop to make a standing desk.
  5. Take a break when you are tired. Call it strategic surrender.

Hopefully, these 5 things can help you to lessen or avoid the physical fatigue that we are experiencing. With so much more happening, I wanted to share some ways on how we can make emergency distance learning less stressful on our bodies. As we face at least 4 more weeks of emergency distance instruction ahead, it will be important for all of us to pay attention to our work at home ergonomics to be at our physical, mental, and intellectual bests.

If you have a story to share about you have adapted your home into a workspace, please share. Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay healthy.

Additional reading:

Some solid information that is easy to digest about ergonomics for students(slide23)

*The table has been in my family for over 40 years and has math work(my sons and my own) pencilled into the soft pine as a inter-generational reminder of many lessons learnt and shared over the years.