We have done a lot of getting to know you and procedural type of things this week. It's always hard the first few days when the students really want to get into learning (even if they won't admit it) but we really need to lay out the parameters for what that will look like. They keep asking me, every single day!, when they get to come to school. I wish we could be in person too but I know deep down it really is not safe enough for us to do that. (Plus I really can't imagine teaching all day with a mask on!)
At any rate, some key takeaways from week 1:
1) Middle schoolers are definitely a special group. I have only 7th and 8th graders and boy can I tell the difference! The 8th graders want to be "tougher" while the 7th graders definitely still have a sweeter side.
2) I taught elementary school for 13 years. After about 6 years, one of my colleagues said she always addressed her students as "friends" to help set the tone for cooperative learning and whatnot. Many of us began to do it also. it is HARD to break that habit after years of doing it! I said it the first day and said, "Oops! I'm sorry!" and then explained why I had said it. I have been doing my best to replace the word friends with the word scholars.
3) I am not a fan of Zoom over Google Meet. I don't know why we switched (I'm sure there is a reason; many of my colleagues and I speculate it is partly because Zoom already has breakout rooms and can be set up to record automatically). I prefer Google Meet. The students were all used to it from the spring and the teachers learned some tricks for making it work when we had to. The switch to Zoom has not been ideal; there is only so much room on my screen and I can't see all of the things I need to see at the same time. I am hopeful there will be some solutions for that coming soon.
4) At Home Learning is not ideal for most of my students. They are distracted by family, siblings, strobe lights in their room (not kidding; I have a student who has them on and I have to shut off their camera), pets, etc. Many of them don't have a quiet place to work except their bedroom so that is also hard because it's distracting in there!
5) It's really hard not to be able to connect with my students face to face. I miss that so much! Some of the students I don't even really know what they look like because I do not force them to keep their cameras on (at least not yet) because it actually makes their Chromebooks run better without the cameras on and I know some of them just are really shy about having them on.
6) The students probably would never admit this, but they are excited to be in school. I've had kids say they love their classes so far, they are happy to be in school and can't wait to actually be AT school. They are probably so bored from being at home most of the time. I've done a lot of getting to know you type things and I'd say 95% of my scholars have completed them all and I've learned a lot about them, probably more than I would have if we were traditionally face to face.
What I think is the most interesting about this whole job switch is this: before I accepted my ESL position last year, I had an interview in another district for a middle school position. One of the interviewers asked me if I thought I could connect with middle school students. I thought it was an incredibly odd question. They are just kids! They want to be liked, respected and listened to just like any other kid does. Showing up on the first day of virtual school this year with my crazy blue hair gave my students a glimpse of my silly side, but we've been all business since (with a few random jokes tossed in). But they know I have it in me to be silly and they seem to be enjoying that. (Might be a different story in person; they might be like "good lord Wood, would you just STOP IT?! lol)
Alas, I always think about that question. I have students emailing me to ask questions, commenting on their things they have turned in to make sure it was what I was looking for and more. I even had a student say he hoped he filled out his student survey correctly because he didn't want to disappoint me. Their anxiety is high from all of this uncertainty. Another student wrote on his daily check in that he was having a real hard time with COVID right now (not meaning that he's sick but meaning that it is preventing him from coming to school and seeing his friends and teachers).
I would like to think this first few days I have already shown myself to be a support for these scholars. I hope they see that I am there for them. I will bend over backward to help them because that's just who I am. I want them to be a success. If that isn't the first step toward connecting with scholars (of any age), I don't know what is.