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... 

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