Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Struggles with Motivation During Quaranteaching

Over the course of nearly a month and a half, I have been teaching from home.  While I would say that I have gotten into a groove at this point, I cannot say that I am used to it or enjoy it.  The days are long, staring at a computer screen is exhausting, and even though I get up and go for a walk or a bike ride, I feel lethargic at the end of the day and do not want to do much of anything.  On top of that, I have a young daughter that doesn't want to participate in the work that her teachers are providing, and my wife and I are struggling to motivate her.  Which brings me to the theme of this post: the struggle with motivation during this time.  I tend to be a highly motivated individual, but I am struggling immensely.  

A typical day in "normal" circumstances consists of waking up to shower, pack lunch, make coffee, and drive 35-40 minutes to school, eating breakfast and drinking the coffee on the way.  I will routinely wake up around 5:30 in order to get to school by 7:00.  Now, my commute is the six steps across the room to my makeshift office that I have set up on a folding table with a surge strip.  The view into the front yard of my parents' place where I have been isolating for the last several weeks is nice, but I don't move around nearly as much or see people like I normally would.  

My average class has about 25-30 students, most of whom are present every other day when I see them on our block schedule.  Quaranteaching has been much different.  In the first week or so, about half of my students would show up for a Google Meet session.  A handful of others would complete a check-in video on Flipgrid so we could interact.  Then a few more would send a quick email or message on Google Classroom.  As time has gone on, those numbers have dipped significantly.  As of this writing, my co-teachers and I will have entire days where no student will log into a Google Meet session.  The number of students checking in on Flipgrid has dropped to about 5 per week, down from the 25-30 that were doing it in the beginning.  Phone calls and emails home go unanswered.  I even have some students that I have not been able to contact during the entire shutdown of 6+ weeks, which really makes me wonder if they are okay.  

Now, before one asks, how have you tried to contact them?  Believe me, I have tried EVERYTHING short of going to their house, which I am not comfortable in doing.  I have called several times, leaving voicemails.  I have emailed.  I have sent text messages.  I have used our student information system, Infinite Campus, to send messages.  I have involved counselors, administrators, student safety professionals, probation officers, and many more.  And even those students that I have had contact with are starting to avoid contact.  

The situation with contact has only gotten worse since my district has rolled out the policy on issuing grades and credit for the semester.  It was determined that students would be assessed on a pass/fail model.  Final exams will be still be administered, but the final can only help a student to pass the class, it cannot hurt their grade (by the way, I 100% agree with this approach on finals).  Basically, if a student is passing, they will earn credit for the class.  If they are failing but get 70% or better on the final, they will pass the class.  But what it boils down to, without specifically saying it, as long as a student was passing going into the shutdown, it will be very hard for them to fail the course.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not in favor of making students complete a standard workload during this crisis, nor am I advocating for failing students if they do not complete the work that is assigned during this time.  I only point this out to emphasize this: students are not motivated to complete work, check-in for attendance, etc. (and who can blame them with so much going on, especially those students that are unsure where their next meal may come from, taking care of siblings, or a host of other things).  The issue now becomes one for me as well, as my motivation is stunted as well.  

There are several things that are sapping my motivation.  The lack of attendance for class meetings is disappointing, especially when I sit for hours on end, available for students, and nobody shows up.  The lack of participation in activities and assignments is disheartening, but again, I understand why one wouldn't do them.  As a school, we have agreed to create common assignments so as not to overwhelm students and provide consistency across the board, so the ability to make creative lessons is hampered; even supplemental activities are discouraged so as not to elicit anxiety over what appears to be a larger workload, even if it is optional.  After sitting for hours in front of the computer each day, it makes me very lethargic and I struggle to want to go for a walk or bike ride; I have to force myself to do these things.  And behind locked inside each day with a full fridge and pantry makes it tough for me to control my diet.  I liken it to telling an alcoholic to go to a bar but not to order a drink, I know eating a lot, especially snack foods, is not good, but if it's there, I struggle to avoid it.  

What also makes the struggle even more intense is the process of moving.  I have known for months that I was going to be moving at the end of the school year.  The lease at my apartment is up in June and my family and I cannot continue to live in a 900 square foot apartment.  What was uncertain was where we would be moving.  As my wife completed the requirements for her graduate program, it became apparent that the opportunities for her were more abundant in our previous school district in Las Vegas, as well as the desire to move back to the city we called home for 13 years.  So as the pandemic began to set in, it became more difficult to find work and housing from a distance.  However, both my wife and me were able to interview via video for jobs in Las Vegas and we have both accepted jobs!  We are very excited about that!  But as of this writing, we still have not found a house and the pandemic is making it very hard to get in contact with realtors and landlords, and some landlords, because of the economic impact of the pandemic, have been requiring double security deposits, making it even harder to find a place and adding to the stress of our impending move.  I know we will find something, but it still doesn't ease my mind as the days go by.  

I know the pandemic will eventually end.  I know that we will be stronger as a profession and as communities as a result of this horrific turn of events.  I know that I am damn good educator and that my students appreciate the work that I do.  I know that I am surrounded by colleagues and people within my professional network that are working extremely hard and are going through some of the same struggles as me.  What I also know is that it helps to be able to vent sometimes and that is exactly what this post has become.  If you are still reading at this point, thank you for allowing me to let loose and relieve some stress that I am experiencing.  Thank you for your support and if you need to vent, I am available to be an ear for you to do so.  Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep your head up; we will get through this together! 

Until next time... 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wins & Challenges of Remote Learning & Teaching

At this point, I am about one month into working from home, brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak that has shuttered schools, businesses, and in general, life for nearly all people in the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world.  If you are reading this, I am sure you have been working from home in some fashion for the past few weeks as well.  It's been quite the learning experience, from video conferences with my students and colleagues, countless numbers of emails sent and received, and hours upon hours of time spent on the phone.  Needless to say, sleep comes easily each night after the long and exhausting days, more tiring than a traditional day at school.

Infographic courtesy of
Throughout this time, there have been a number of challenges, but a number of victories as well.  And while it has been a learning curve to get through some of the challenges, the wins most certainly outweigh those challenges.  And while a lot of those challenges have been highlighted in the media, it's important to recognize that wins that have come throughout this process, especially when a challenge has presented a learning opportunity.

Connecting with students over distance has been a challenge.  Tools like Google Meet and Zoom have become common vocabulary for nearly every teacher.  And in the beginning, both of these tools took off as teachers and students everywhere were meeting with one another.  However, it didn't take long for the first challenges to present themselves, especially "Zoombombing," which I predict to be on the list of words in the running for the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year.

While several instances of stories where teachers' sessions on Zoom and Google Meet were "hacked" and people were posting inappropriate images, saying things of an inappropriate nature, etc., and students having the ability to access sessions before or after the teacher has attended the session, the biggest issue was the lack of security features in effect.  However, while these were legitimate concerns, several wins have come from these challenges.  Zoom and Google both have boosted their security features that allow for teachers to have more control over meetings, such as the ability to turn on a waiting room, password protect meetings, and remove any users that are behaving inappropriately.  Google has integrated Meet with Google Classroom that prevents students from accessing a session before the teacher and cannot rejoin after the teacher has left.  Eric Curts of Ctrl Alt Achieve highlights this new integration in a great post, Google Meet is now integrated in Google Classroom! and Joe Marquez highlights some great Chrome extensions for Google Meet in his 5 Best Chrome Extensions for Google Meet in Education video.

And speaking of video conferencing tools, who else has had the challenge of making consistent contact with students?  My school is requiring the following in regards to availability, two-way communication, and attendance for students:

  • For each class period, teachers must be available online via Zoom or Google Meet for one hour
  • Students' attendance will be tracked by two-way communication with teachers, which can be through video conference, phone, text, email, messaging through Google Classroom or Hangouts, or another form (I also post an "attendance" topic in Flipgrid that students can use to check-in)
  • Students are required to check-in for attendance at least once a week
  • Any student that is not checking in and is in danger of failing the class must be contacted by teachers (my students with IEPs have a different standard, I am required to make contact with students each day)
To say it has been a struggle to have students show up for video chats, respond to emails or phone calls, etc. is a gross understatement.  It has been even harder to get in contact with parents/guardians.  And ultimately, I get it.  This is a tough time.  Students are dealing with a lot of things that they shouldn't need to, such as taking care of siblings while parents continue to work, sharing devices and Internet (if they have access to either of those things) and most likely going a little stir crazy staying indoors for days on end.  

However, while this has been a struggle, I have seen some amazing things from students during this time as well.  One of my students has taken the extra time to learn how to tie balloon animals and filmed herself tying a giraffe in a video on Flipgrid.  Another student has been trying to learn how to play bass guitar and shares the new riffs they have been working on in video chats.  Another student shared some of her drawings that she has been working on, and as a person that can barely draw stick figures, her work is quite impressive! Ultimately, education is about more than the standards and the books and this has been a great time to showcase the skills that students are working on that typically would not be addressed in the regular environment.  It's been awesome to see how kids are growing and making the best of this time away from school.  

Seeing this view of Mount Shasta on my
bike rides and walks never gets old!
Another challenge has been taking care of myself during this time.  When it was announced that everything was going to be shut down, I was visiting my parents who live about 3 hours away from me.  Knowing that I would be working from home, my wife would be working to finish externship hours for her degree program from home, and our daughter would be completing school work from home, we decided to stay with my parents.  Their house has a large backyard, the street is very quiet and gives my kids the ability to play in the yard and ride their bikes and my mother can help us out with the kids while we work.  While I appreciate everything that my parents have done to help during this time, it has been very hard to watch what I eat, get a consistent schedule for exercise established, and limit the beers that I consume (not that I am drinking several on a nightly basis, but beer consumption has increased since the lockdown, partially from virtual happy hours and partially from the mental toll of the lockdown).  

However, since I now know that this is going to be the norm for the remainder of the school year, I am starting to make a conscious effort to do the following:
  • Go for several daily walks and/or bike rides, especially during the workday to break up the screentime
  • Drink more water! It is amazing how much better one feels when hydrated!
  • Limit my food intake after dinner, something that was hard to do with the supply of junk food and leftovers of my mother's cooking in the first few weeks of quarantining with my family
  • Visit the Happy Feed app and document three things that made a positive impact on me each day (Happy Feed is a journaling app, check it out in the App Store or Google Play Store)
  • Interact with people via text, phone call, or video chat (how were the virtual happy hours not a thing prior to this?)
I know that you, the reader, have experienced a myriad of challenges and wins over the past weeks.  Take some time to reflect on those, what you have learned during this time, and how you are going to apply what you have learned to your teaching once we get through this, hopefully, sooner than later. 

And I want to thank John VanDusen & John Wells for their thoughts on challenges and wins.  While writing this, I posted a Flipgrid topic asking for thoughts and both Johns came through with their thoughts.  If you would like to share your thought and see their responses, please visit and submit your own thoughts!

Until next time...