Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.
The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.
Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance.
As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem.
When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”.
When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”
When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.”
In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose.
These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.
I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on.
Masking Awkwardness With Humour #TeacherLife #humour #blogpost
After nine weeks of only seeing my students in little squares on my computer screen, a two week term break, and a final week of online classes, we resumed face to face lessons today. Things were a little bit different than they used to be, though.
The desks were distanced from one another as practically as they could be. The bottle of sanitiser at the front of the room had been joined by another and, this time around, the students didn’t need reminding to use it. Most obviously, though, we were all wearing masks.
We used to talk about “putting our teacher hat on” when we walked into the classroom, and taking it off again at the end of the day. I guess now it’s our teacher masks we have to consciously think about wearing, as this seems to be the new normal— in Victorian schools, at least— for the foreseeable future.
The wearing of masks is something disliked by many students and staff alike. Personally, I don’t mind wearing one, and I am happy to not be breathing in whatever germs are floating around the room. Most of my students seemed to manage without any difficulty, but getting some of them to wear their masks properly and not keep touching them proved to be yet another new classroom challenge.
Still, there were some good things going on.
The tone and humour in my classrooms was generally positive. One kid who doesn’t even like me much told me it was good to see me. I laughed and told him to give it time, and everyone laughed at that because we all knew it wouldn’t last.
Marking the class roll was significantly easier and quicker than online: once again, I could see at a glance who wasn’t there. Marking the roll in online classes was something I always found arduous. Today it took two seconds.
I could see right away who wasn’t doing what they should be, and I could move around behind them and see their screens. There is no more effective way to make someone work than to be able to see their screen.
At the same time, I could instantly encourage those who were working hard amd staying on task. It’s so much easier to be positive when you can be both natural and proactive about it. The added bonus is that when you praise and encourage one student for doing a good job or making a great effort, it tends to make those listening more inclined to want to do better and get some praise, too.
Those few kids who have avoided doing much at all since we returned to online schooling finally had to do some work. Those who did not engage in online lessons found themselves no longer able to just sign in and zone out or leave the room. And because I was wearing a mask, they couldn’t see my wry grin as I watched them working.
I was able to move around the room and look over the shoulders of my students. Delivering instant feedback and reminders about spelling, punctuation and paragraphs is significantly easier than trying to give that kind of advice online.
All things considered, while the day was not without a few issues and challenges, it’s fair to say that the positives outweighed the negatives. It’s hard not to be satisfied with that.
As a teacher, I know there is no substitute for being in the classroom, engaging with the students and supervising their work, making suggestions or guiding their thinking. When you create a constructive, productive learning environment, students thrive.
Over the past few weeks, my school has worked really hard to reproduce that in an online learning environment. My colleagues and I have put a great deal of thought and preparation into making our students’ experiences of learning from home in online classes as interesting and beneficial as they can possibly be. From where I stand, we’ve done a great job of preparing for teaching and learning from home, and I really hope that our students and their parents feel the same way.
Today was our first day of teaching and learning remotely. My students were well behaved and cooperative. Most seem to have coped with the challenges of doing school at home, some of them sharing an environment with their siblings who were also doing their lessons at home, quite well. We got through everything I had planned for those initial lessons. Judging from the work they handed in today, the kids generally worked as well as they usually do in a classroom environment.
I don’t know how they all felt at the end of the school day, but by the time 3.30pm rolled around, I was exhausted.
Make no mistake: online teaching is really hard. It’s mentally demanding in ways that physical presence in the classroom is not. It’s harder to hear students when they speak, and it’s harder to be sure that everyone understands what you say or what you want them to do. Even marking the roll poses new challenges when you can’t simply identify empty spaces in the classroom. Things that have become instinctive for teachers are now impossible, and we find ourselves reinventing pedagogy, teaching, communication, and the delivery of lessons and lesson materials.
You can no longer maintain classroom management by circulating around the room or standing in strategic places so you can see what kids have on their screens. You can’t just look over a kid’s shoulder and remind them of a principle or fact that they need to consider. You can’t make a teaching point of quickly correcting an error or oversight.
To an extent, one has to just accept that and move on. If a student is easily distracted or willing to be inattentive, that is understandable: there’s a lot going on, they’re at school without being at school, they’re in their own environment, and some of them are genuinely anxious about the dangers and the restrictions that Covid-19 has brought about. Really, the best you can hope for is to find a way to gently bring their attention back to the task and try to re-focus them.
It’s a tricky set of circumstances for the kids as it is, and adding learning at home to the strangeness of social isolation and distancing is a situation that some kids — and some teachers — will undoubtedly find awkward at best.
Still, it’s good for all of us, kids and teachers alike, to have a routine and a variety other things to think about. It is healthy and constructive use of the abundant time we would otherwise have on our hands at this point in time.
As tired as I was, they day did end particularly well. After spending 90 minutes with one of my classes this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when three of my students thanked me for the lesson. In the past, wishing each other a good afternoon or a pleasant evening was not unusual, but having students actually thanking me for double English after lunch on Tuesday is totally new.
I spent the rest of my regular school day responding to the work they submitted, and giving my students some feedback on their ideas and responses. It was nice to be able to
At 4.15pm, I made myself a cup of coffee and almost cried into it with gratitude for my good but mentally exhausting day, and for the caffeine upon which I would rely for the next couple of hours while I cooked dinner and did everything else I needed to do.
When dinner was done, I looked at my husband and asked if it was too early to go to bed. “It’s 6.15pm,” he said. “So probably, then?” I asked. “Yeah. Probably.”
Maybe I’ll just spend the time between now and bedtime thinking about what gift I’m going to buy myself for Teacher Appreciation Week. Whatever it is, I will have earned it.
One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome #teachingfromhome #TeachFromHome #TeachingOnline #teachertwitter
I’ve mentioned here before that I enjoy a good pun. Today, to my delight, one of my students came up with a pretty good one, so I responded in kind.
It happened in history, where my students were mapping the three arenas of WWII.
Student A: Syria. Sy-ri-a. *grins* Are you…syyyyyyrias? Me: Hey, I was just dam-ask in’… Student B: That’s SO bad.
Well, we laughed hard. And then student A explained it to the rest of the class, and they laughed too.
Poor Student B, though. As Student A explained, he put his head on the table and moaned, “It’s like having my dad in the room… twice!”
Still, it it wasn’t enough to stop him from piping up a little later.
Student B: Did you know that it wasn’t just Darwin, Broome got bombed too? Me: Yes, the Japanese swept right across north-west Australia… Student A: Haha! That’s genius! Student B: No. NO. That’s awful! Me: I didn’t expect you to bristle like that. Student B: I’m leaving. *walks out of the room* Student C: Where’s B? Me: *just as B is walking back in* I made a joke and he flew off the handle. Student B: No. *walks out again*
It was a fun moment which we all enjoyed, but it also made the facts the students were working with more memorable. Once we’d had a laugh, they all just kept on working.
Opportunities like that don’t happen all the time, but when they do, they are welcome.
Humour is such good medicine, and it makes excellent social glue. It was wonderful to be able to laugh together during a week when the world seems far more uncertain and a lot less enjoyable than it did a couple of weeks ago.
I’m thankful that my students have the confidence to express themselves in my classroom, and that they do it in ways that are clever and fun. It really is a huge blessing to be able to have such great rapport with my students, and these kids make it easy to keep going to work every day.
These anecdotes were retold here with the permission of the students involved.
I’ve been largely out of action here this week, because I have been on my annual personal personal pilgrimage attempting to scale Mt Marking.
You may not have heard of Mt Marking. It is a steep and imposing mountain, located right near Mt Grading and Mt Evaluation in the End-Of-Year Reporting Ranges. It is difficult to climb, and can quickly turn into a slippery slope if one does not pay attention to one’s preparation, time management, and self-discipline.
After several very long and arduous days, I have made it about half-way up. It is getting somewhat harder to breathe, and it is exhausting, yet I must persist. I find myself relying more and more on coffee and, while I have been careful about nutrition in past weeks, I find now that I need to supplement my diet with chocolate to keep my strength and attention at sustainable levels.
And when Miley Cyrus sang that “it ain’t about how fast I get there” and “it ain’t about what’s on the other side”, it was not Mt Marking she was climbing. There are deadlines, after all, and the dangerous, rapidly-flowing Reporting River is what awaits on the other side, with the broad and intimidating Planning For Next Year Wilderness beyond that.
I will be able to see it all once I stand triumphantly on top of Mt Marking. On a clear day, you can see almost all the way to the end of the term.
If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher.
Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love.
The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Treasure Island’. My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’.
Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.
If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you.Leave a comment and inspire me!