So much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend

I never wear no-sleeve dresses, but I have one on. I never drink Italian sparkling water (I save them for guests), but I’m sipping a green bottle of Whole Foods’ finest as I sit under the shady gazebo protected from the 90+ Sunday afternoon temps. It’s rarely quiet at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. But it is this Labor Day weekend. No breeze. No instigating of my wee g-boy lads or vocalizing of Baby Millie. I’m here by myself and my two lovely pups, Monet and Finn, without much of a plan other than to write, create art, perhaps take a nap and re-connect with God and myself, which has been lost and frenzied of late.

One of our union reps reminded her Facebook friends to be sure to take time for ourselves, that many individuals worked hard for this much-needed day to step back and re-coup. I admit, I was going to work, dream up more innovative lesson plans, think about how I’m going to teach remotely the last two weeks of September. But her good advice made me stop. Doctor, heal thyself. Passenger, remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. That’s this weekend for me. Time to breathe-in gratitude. And take a much-needed brain break. I don’t have to solve or fix anything. I just need to be OK, not turn on the news, and say thanks for life’s blessings, create a stay-at-home spa weekend, sans the pool and pink Cadillac umbrella drinks.

* * *

It wasn’t a quiet day in Lake Wobegon last week. It was weird. The pinhole-through-a-computer-screen classroom is weird. Not enjoyable. But doable. Easy. Hard. Puzzling. One step at a time. 172 days left of this unusual school year.

But here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I can Zoom. I am nearly an expert. Me, the person who was in tears because I was so incredibly nervous, is almost like an old pro. “Look at me! I can screen share and put students in Breakout Rooms!”
  2. Zoom Gloom is real. The technology is great for about 30 minutes a day, then it’s a brain-duller. Just a fact. Turns out, to keep students’ online attention you have to be some sort of Youtube sensation. To help liven things up, I just ordered a piglet puppet to help me jazz-up my on-screen personna. A teacher’s gotta do what a teacher’s gotta do.
  3. This week I learned that my students are terribly fearful: In a snazzy, Padlet exercise, 99% of 13-year-olds reported that they are afraid they will die. Think about that. My eighth-graders are worried that they–and/or their loved ones–will die.
  4. In that same activity, students wrote about what they are passionate about: Climate change, racial inequality, the economy, Covid-19, police brutality, the negative political energy–the same things that concern many adults.
  5. This week it became clear to me that no matter the venue or format–in person or remote–their teacher, me, is going to harness my students’ fear and keen interest in current events and channel those emotions into action. As such, I decided to postpone a groovy, hip Nearpod lesson on Story Elements/Plot and replace it with “Dear President Trump/VP Pence, presidential candidates Biden/Harris” letters. My students need to know that their voices count and Republican and Democratic leaders need to know how profoundly America’s youth is being impacted by their action and inaction.
  6. And finally I realized, now is The Best Time to be a public school teacher. Our kids need us.

My former principal, Sallie T., is smiling right now. She knew I’d find a way to do what I do. Be me. And in doing so, my very scared students will get a chance to share their truth, their reality–that they didn’t cause or ask for–and realize that in learning how to effectively participate in democracy, that they have The Power to positively change the world. I hope. I pray. That Biden, Harris, Pence AND Trump will take my students’ concerns as seriously as I do, and my fellow teachers, parents and grandparents. Adult decisions are breaking their hearts.

We CAN’T LET THIS HAPPEN!

In a few minutes I will be composing a letter to our political leaders on behalf my students, and myself as their teacher. I’m sending it via snailmail (USPS needs the $$$) and email. It will be the same letter, the same request. Apolitical. A plea. Stop the rhetoric. Stop the magician coin tricks. A whole generation of kids are counting on the nonsense to stop. Time out! Go to your dunce cap corner, take off the headphones, and listen for a change. Listen–for a change.

Can you imagine if we all set aside an hour this weekend and flooded all four candidates’ offices with respectful, yet direct, letters and phone calls? Seize control of the remote? Said, “Listen, cut the nonsense. We’re your boss, not the other way around”? Not like that. Much more polite. But you get the point.

Heck, so much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend. Shoulders shrug. It’s just what us teachers do.

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