Last June, Will Gourley posted Before you click “End the call” after his experience with virtual learning in the 2020-2021 school year. I thought about this post often during the 2021-2022 school year as I wore the hat of Virtual Kindergarten teacher.
The thought of clicking “end the call for everyone” for the very last time leaves me with an unsettling feeling. Though we are ending on a high note in our class and filling the day with games, stories, songs and sharing, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.
I hope my students know how proud I am of them for how hard they’ve worked despite the many challenges that come with learning online. I told them daily how much they meant to me, but I hope they felt it in their hearts. I am not really great at goodbyes, I much prefer a “see you later” – as many of us do. I recently saw a post on social media (of which the author I cannot find), reminiscing on how educators work tirelessly to create a classroom family, only to say goodbye to their family each June.
Is this something that gets easier with experience? Or does it sting just the same 20 years later? As a new teacher, I cannot answer that question. Reflecting on my latest experience teaching virtually, I hope I have given my students closure and helped to co-create a happy ending to the virtual world we lived in each day together.
Virtual goodbyes feel different.
As I say goodbye to my students virtually this June, I am also sending out a virtual goodbye to the ETFO Heart and Art Blog readers as I type my last post. Thank you to the wonderful community of educators who come together to critically reflect on their practice, share their experiences and build connections with others. As I continue on throughout my journey in education, I am forever grateful to be surrounded by such passionate and inspirational people.
And to those people I say,
Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.
Everyone is on their own journey. Everyone has their own story. Each educator has goals, both personal and professional. Places they wish to go and things they want to do along the way.
Personally, I am an occasional teacher who is on a journey to becoming a contract teacher. Or, that is the plan at least.
Although not all occasional teachers have the goal of obtaining a permanent contract, many are living the same truth that I am.
When I graduated from the Faculty of Education in 2018, I thought I was fully aware that my journey from occasional teacher to permanent teacher would never be ‘quick’ or ‘easy’.
However, I was not fully prepared for the times I would feel I wasn’t good enough, inadequate, or the days my heart broke as short LTO positions came to an end. I knew there would be interviews I would not receive, jobs I would get declined, and times I would have to wait for something new. It is one thing to be cognizant of this journey but another to be present through it.
Each experience is molding and shaping my practice and allows me to grow both personally and professionally. I have been forced to self-reflect, even in ways that feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar. I am grateful for this journey, the people it has brought me and the opportunities I consistently have for learning.
I must continue to grow and evolve on this journey. There is no way to go but forward.
Let’s make it okay to talk about the raw emotions happening for all of us along the way. I wish someone would have assured me that it’s okay to feel sadness, it’s okay to feel disappointment, discouragement and heartbreak.
I see you OT’s, keep going.
You are valuable, you are worthy, you are irreplaceable.
However, you are human… and feeling is part of the journey.
My heart sank down to my stomach as I read headlines such as this one flood the news and every single social media platform that I am a member of.
I am, by nature, a worrier in general. So this year and all that has come with it has brought immense amounts of stress into my personal and professional life. When schools were locked down in March, I was so positive there would be a quick fix to the problem. Like many people, I figured a two week shut down would obviously solve the issue and we would be back with our students in no time. I often reflect back on how misguided I was in those moments. I wish I would have clung to “normal” life just a little bit harder and appreciated it just a little bit more.
As an Occasional Teacher, my unique situation of travelling from school to school and class to class leaves me extremely vulnerable in the times of COVID-19. I wear my PPE, I wash my hands, I socially distance, but the fear of contracting and/or spreading the virus hovers over my head each day like a dark cloud. Some days it feels like I am trapped in a small room, where the walls are inching closer and closer to me. Therefore the thought of a closure feels safe to me, it feels comfortable, it feels familiar.
On the contrary, it feels like another closure is equivalent to taking ten massive steps back. Educators have made enormous progress and countless sacrifices in order to welcome students back into school, and are simultaneously supporting students academic, social and emotional development amidst the current restrictions. Being with students is what sets educators souls on fire. It is the students that inspire me every day to keep going, keep persisting, and keep learning.
So much unknown. So much fear. What will happen to me? Will I continue to have consistent work? Will students be okay, academically? Socially? Emotionally?…
“Minister Lecce says extended winter break will not be necessary”
New news begins to flood my social media. No extended time away from school, for now anyways. As we move forward, through the cold and flu season while battling a second wave, the fragility of the system we have worked so hard to build back up seems more apparent now than ever. It feels like at any moment, things could come to an unknowing halt. Day by day, month by month we remain unsure, on edge, confused and exhausted in anticipation of what the future will hold.
My grandmother was an elementary school teacher for many years. She now has dementia and does not entirely understand what is happening in the world or comprehend the devastating impacts of the pandemic. Her and I often chat about teaching, as her short term memory is fading but memories of her work as an educator come easily to her mind. I explained to her my panic, my stress and my feelings of hope and despair all at once. She turned to me and said something I will never forget.
“Teachers will never know what their days at school will look like. We could plan forever and the outcome will still be different than expected. But, teachers are good at change, that’s what we do”.
As a teacher, the daily demands of planning, preparing, assessing, and constant learning occupy most of my waking hours. Thankfully, after several years at, what I call, the speed of learning I have achieved what appears to be a work life balance.
One thing I clearly remember, from the start, was a vow to never (emphasis on never) take a day off due to illness, PD, or any other reason. And for a while, everything went according to plan. Steadfastly, I made it 8 months before the inevitable happened. I had to take a day (NTIP will get you every time).
4 brain wracking hours of over planning later, I gave myself permission to believe I was ready to be away. Looking back, I had really over-prepared and I know it…now. From what I reckon, I planned about 3 times more instruction and work on that single day for the Occasional Teacher or OT who covered my classes. Well, better too much than not enough right?
After the experience I began reflecting about that day. My first thoughts were a tad egotistical, truth be told. Did my class(es) behave, were my plans good? Was I going to be outed for not knowing how to prepare for an OT? What if I messed up? I felt a bit vulnerable. What if my colleagues (all experienced teachers) had to cover for me? What would I do the next time?
I also thought about what it must be like for the Occasional Teachers who, on a daily basis, find themselves in a different school classroom teaching someone else’s students and lessons? Did they ever get a chance to feel connected to the lives they were impacting, however brief? I remember the first time I noticed a couple of OTs sitting by themselves in the staff room during lunchtime – little to no eye contact and even less interaction. I didn’t like how it appeared so different than the inclusive environments we were espousing in our classrooms.
Did it have to be this way?
We are all in the same educational boat, but it seems that some are sailing on a different part of the ship. Did I break an unwritten rule the first time I said hello, and invited an OT to sit with our staff to eat? Did I miss a class in teacher’s college that covered how this was supposed to play out?
Perhaps, this was a rite of passage that all OTs had to go through in our profession? If it was, I claim ignorance, but what I observed guided me more towards how I wanted to support these colleagues who were going to occasionally be part of my teaching life. I wanted the OTs that were me for the day to feel welcome and valued in the space in my place.
So, I started with my Day Plans; ensuring they were informative, concise, and easy to follow. As a prep coverage teacher, I made sure all of the resources were marked by subject, class, and time on the schedule. I included names of students who are helpful, descriptions of students who might need extra support, and all details related to any/all safety routines/plans. Thankfully, our school had a booklet printed up with most of the general info to leaf through as well.
I thought about what else could I do? Maybe they’d like a snack? So I included a peanut free granola bar with my plans too. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I had a number of teachers write a personal note saying that no one had ever left them a treat. It made me feel good because we all know as the day goes on a little snack goes along way to staying strong. To this day I have a drawer full of treats ready to share with my OTs. I knew that if a little snack works for my students, it would work for others too.
Now that I’m a homeroom teacher, I share my plans with OTs digitally via Google Apps for Education or GAPPS. This allows me to include links to any internet content like websites or video to be shared throughout the day without having to risk typing in the wrong URLs or mistakenly opening the wrong file(s). The easier I can make their job, the better the day.
Taking stock of my OT plans from last year, it struck me that, for various reasons(mostly giving/receiving PD), I was away over 25 days from my class last year. I had to rely on a host of OTs like never before and with their support not a lesson was missed. Each one delivering the lessons and sharing important feedback after each day.
With more days out of the classroom guaranteed in the future, I know my students are in good hands.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share your OT stories and keep the conversation going.