School opened this week.
School opened, and this made me glad--it makes me glad in almost any context. Even. Possibly. Sure. During a global pandemic.
I will avoid any bloviating about Covid--about shoulds and coulds--and focus on the first week of school.
There were some good things.
We had known that we would start the year on a hybrid schedule: half the kids attending school four days (Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday) while holding online classes for all students on Wednesday.
I knew the new schedule would dramatically alter my lesson-planning, but I wanted to avoid the slow pace of my spring quarter, where I estimate that 60% of my normal curriculum was presented to only a fraction of enrolled students.
I quickly determined that my classes would do away with “work time,” i.e. time I gave students to complete work in class--usually 15 to 30 minutes after review and lessons. This meant that the “on” days, with students in class, would feature two days’ worth of review as well as two days’ worth of teaching.
That also left Wednesday as, well, an abnormal day of teaching. That day I would set aside for something special.
How Teaching Worked
The first week is never a normal week. It’s not a time to overplan or overplay one’s power as a teacher. With a push for all teachers to get started with Google Classroom--something which I usually wait until the third day to do--there wasn’t going to be a lot of time in opening days to
Go over dress code
Explain the school attendance policy (which had been shredded by Covid anyway)
Go over classroom procedures
Go over procedures again
On the first day of school, knowing that I wouldn’t see these kids for three days--and wanting to set up the Wednesday online meeting, I zipped through the opening-day/week activities, ready to set up my lessons:
In German, this would be a worksheet on famous sites in German-speaking countries--something I do to begin every year. And while I logged kids into Google Classroom, I made the homework a handout, just to ensure that everyone would be able to complete it. As an end-of-class exit ticket, I asked students to write five sentences about themselves in English, beginning each sentence with the words, “I am.”
In English, I started my first unit, “What is an American?” I sent home an essay for homework. Normally, I would have assigned this for in-class reading. As it turned out, all but 3 of 24 students completed the assignment in the given time frame, even without my help.
(One drawback: learning students’ names is usually a priority the first day. This would be difficult since (1) I wouldn’t see students for another three days, and (2) students were masked. I’m still not sure how this will work out, but I’m confident that it will.)
Wednesday was an important day, and I was determined to seize control of Zoom meetings and make every minute meaningful. I didn’t like planning every lesson online last spring--and I don’t think that online education is equivalent--but I believed that hybrid teaching could enhance both the physical and the online classrooms.
In my two German lessons, I went over the Sehenswürdigkeiten worksheet I had given out the first day of school. Only this time, I had a blank map of German-speaking countries, so as we went over the answers (which I had done in previous years), I also located the places on the map, going over new words like Nord, Sud, Ost and West in the process (which online teaching made possible--see the photo my principal snapped of me in action).
Next, I created a “game show” with the “I am…” sentences students had written on the first day. This time, I translated the clues into German, writing key terms like Junge (boy), Mädchen (girl) and others on a Google slide, so students could see my “Scratch Pad” as they learned.
The hour flew by. I barely had enough time at the end for the review: students whose lists hadn’t been translated said one sentence in German about themselves: “I am a girl” or “I am from Tennessee” or “I am 15” were some of the answers I got.
In English, I just wanted to enhance students’ reading of the assigned essay, Edward Hudgins’s “What is an American?” My goal wasn’t to go over homework: that would be due before the next in-person class, but I wanted to raise questions to enhance students’ reading comprehension.
My real goal for online learning was the chapter project: an informative essay on the subject of American Identity (which they will share with students at Integrierte Gesamtschule in Ingelheim, Germany), and an argumentative essay responding to questions the Germans will pose them about issues in America.
To that end, we watched the video, “America Around the World,” which interviews people about their perceptions of America. This led to a discussion about which observations were true, and which were wrong. Surprisingly, students were pretty open to the foreigners’ opinions, even when they used words like “obese” or “active” to describe us.
The final project focused on American symbols. As with my German class, I used a “Scratch Pad” to look up symbols and add them as we discussed what they represented about our country.
Adjustments for Covid in the 1st Hybrid Week
At first, I didn’t understand why students were coming into the room five minutes before the bell. I’m used to kids congregating in the halls, then rushing to beat the bell to class. They weren’t congregating at all.
I was able to create social distancing in my classroom by pushing some desks up against the wall and spreading the others around. With a maximum of 12 students in my classes, due to the hybrid schedule, it wasn’t hard to provide plenty of space for students and for me. I did not bring a tape measure and get the exact distance (see photo below)
Mask-wearing wasn’t a problem in my German (10th-graders) or English (11th) classes. I always thanked them for having masks on. A couple kids dropped their masks below their mouths, but straightened up when I asked them to. I overheard a couple boys in the hall, maskless, trying to explain their “gotta be me” rationale, but this was a small minority (and a total cliché).
I stuck to my goal of using 50% of teaching time to instruct in German. I removed my mask when I spoke German with the class, so they could hear me clearly--a colleague gave me a plastic face shield, which I used on Friday (I don’t have any illusions about its effectiveness in stopping infection). I posted my temperature on the board each day, hoping to show my earnestness in (a) taking Covid precautions seriously and (b) focusing on great instruction as well.
I take students’ temperatures every day around 11:15. I made sure to disable the alarm function on the pistol-style thermometer, and I talked with the school nurse about notifying her. We finally agreed that if a student’s temperature was high, I would email the nurse directly, and she would have the student called to the office without any explanation of why. That way she could verify the student’s temperature without creating alarm and maintaining the student’s privacy.
We have buckets of wipes spread out among the classrooms. I don’t have one in my room, so every day or so, I go to the room next door and fill up a Ziplock bag with wipes. We wiped down every desk at the end of each block, usually splitting 3 to 5 wipes among the 5 to 12 students in the room.. (I wasn’t sure what to do about the computers.)