The Divided States of America

In 2009, I was so excited for our future, and our nation. We were about to witness the Inauguration of the first African American President, and someone I personally canvassed for. The world seemed like things were going in a great direction. I celebrated on Inauguration Day with a group of friends at my house, drinking champagne and toasting to the future.

In 2017 I was scared. I was disappointed. I felt dread about what this man could do to our country. I was right. He’s ripped the very fabric of our Democracy by trying to undermine the election. He planted seeds of doubt in all his followers by telling them that if he doesn’t win, it had to be rigged, which is the very definition of RIDICULOUS.

He has also behaved shamefully. He has emboldened racist, white supremecist ideologies and brought people who may have been an “in the closet racist” to shout their racism loud and proud. Because he’s never been held accountable for his sexism, racism, or flat out sexual assault, he’s encouraged others to follow his lead. The culmination of the last four years of his damage to our country was seen on National Television when his followers stormed the Capitol, attempting to kidnap and possibly kill members of Congress and the Vice President. Even after their very lives were in danger, over 100 members of Congress still voted against the fair and free election of Joe Biden. (Perhaps that’s because they never truly feared for their lives, because they knew they weren’t the target.)

And now, 4 years later, we’re looking at a new Administration. I should be happy that he’s leaving the White House and Joe Biden will be in office, but I just can’t let myself celebrate. I feel an immense sense of dread. I fear for his and Ms. Harris’s lives. I fear for anyone who is a Democrat in office around the country. I fear that we are so divided and those who believe Q Anon, Fox News, and anything he says are going to be violent, and are not ever going to see that what they believe in is lies.

My children should be living in a world where the future is bright. Where they can do anything they put their mind to, and accomplish great things. And yet, all I can feel is dread. Our country has been fighting (?) a pandemic for almost a year, and despite over 400,000 people dying of the disease, there are still people out there who REFUSE to wear a mask, who refuse to believe it’s real, and who refuse to try and keep other people safe. I’m supposed to be getting the vaccine and going back in the classroom, and my own children will be back in the classroom, and yet we still do not have a handle on the virus. Nor do we know what everyone else in our classrooms are doing on their own time… staying at home, wearing masks, and following protocols OR gathering, unmasked, with others or behaving in other reckless ways.

After the awful year that was 2020, 2021 should be exciting and hopeful. Instead, I feel almost worse, expecting that nothing will really change, and we’re all doomed.

2020 is Over. Now What?

Since I’ve had this blog, I’ve written several “Year in Pictures” or “Year in Review” posts. I usually recap all the momentous occasions, milestones hit, vacations taken, and overall good times. Of course, included there are also some difficult times. For example, in 2009, I took a girls’ trip with friends, we went on a big road trip, my brother got married, and I was writing my first book. Sadly, that was also the same year I lost both of my maternal grandparents. In 2010, I had visits with my best friend, reconnected with my first kindergarten class, and I had a big book release party. But there were smaller things, too, like taking an acting class and going to the Hollywood Bowl. In 2011 I signed my books at Comic-Con. Some years, a highlight was going to Disneyland. Of course, some years, I forgot to post one, despite lots of fun things going on – like 2018 when we took a European vacation, or 2019 when we went to New York, Philly, and D.C.

Now, we all know the main events of 2020, as we experienced them as a collective, so I won’t be doing a recap of the impeachment, coronavirus, George Floyd, protests, or the election. I won’t discuss how shamefully our “president” handled a huge crisis and how we’re in worse shape than ever. I’ll be recapping things in my own life that maybe some of you can relate to.

This year, obviously, was much different. This year started out okay. We did 2 Escape rooms as a family, and celebrated my husband’s and son’s birthdays. One of my husband’s heroes, Kobe Bryant, died. That would be the first blow of many for the year.

In February, my husband and I went to what we thought was the first of many live theatre performances, but would end up being our last for a long, long time. (We had tickets to Michael Bublé, Mean Girls, and Hamilton, and they were all cancelled or postponed.)

The one and only show we saw. Thanks to my brother, Matt for the tickets!

In March, we brought our son home from college, I got a pink slip, and then everything shut down. From that moment on, everyone worked and did school from home. We started doing lots of puzzles, baking a LOT, and playing family games. I started knitting, my daughter started crocheting, and we read and streamed a lot of TV, and had our first family Zoom for my dad’s birthday.

April brought Zoom book club, celebrating our first holiday in lockdown, and lots of walks. I started recording videos of my lessons for my students, and lots of reminders in Timehop of what we were missing in life. It also brought the first time I attempted to color my hair pink.

In May, our book club gained a new member, when one of the ladies welcomed a daughter. We celebrated Mother’s Day and had a socially distant visit with my parents. We wrapped up the school year and I said goodbye to my students for the last time. I hadn’t been hired back, and I was pretty sure I’d probably not be returning to the same school, even if I was fortunate enough to be hired back. I packed up my classroom and brought it all home, where it swallowed my dining room. We had a “fancy dinner” and another socially distant visit with grandparents.

In June, I broke my elbow while rollerskating for my daughter’s birthday. Driving myself, injured, to 2 urgent cares and the E.R. during a curfew was definitely not something I thought I’d be doing, but there I was. We did get to have a fun family celebration for my daughter the next day. My daughter dyed my hair green, we had another family Zoom to celebrate my mom’s birthday and Father’s Day, and ventured out as a family for the first time since lockdown to celebrate my husband on Father’s Day.

In July, we helped my husband’s grandmother celebrate her 100th birthday, and went on a little mini-vacation. (We originally were supposed to go to Maui, but like everything else, it got scrapped.) Luckily we got to stay in a friend’s condo in Mammoth. While we couldn’t swim, or partake in a few other fun activities, we still managed to have a good time (although my phone decided to commit suicide during the trip). July also brought a fun car parade/socially distant birthday for a friend.

In August, my youngest daughter got her wisdom teeth out, so she and I got to take our first Covid test. It was bad, but not awful, and she was a trooper! August also brought us back-to-school, and 4 days before school started, I was lucky enough to be hired back, but to a different school. It was unchartered territory, teaching 100% virtually, with a staff I’d never met and students I would only see online. Teaching online also brought a new challenge – a bigger “audience,” as many parents and grandparents were attending school next to their children. It was nerve-wracking and took some getting used to, but eventually, it just became the new way of life.

September brought my son’s first day of his sophomore year at UCLA, and we celebrated another virtual birthday for my brother. We also took great comfort in watching basketball and baseball. It was an unusual bonus to be able to watch every Dodger game and every Laker game, though sometimes we had to record one or the other as their games overlapped. My youngest daughter revisited the Harry Potter series, and read all 7 books in about 2 months. With each book she finished, we’d watch the movies, and it culminated in a birthday theme for her in November (you’ll see that below).

October was filled with more baseball and basketball, and we watched the Lakers and then the Dodgers win the championships! There may or may not have been a few tears shed. We also had our own little Halloween celebration. We rigged a “candy slide” for any trick-or-treaters that might have come, and got to see more kids than we’d imagined, which was nice, and felt “almost normal”… almost.

November brought a presidential election, and a new “adventure” for me, as I started teaching from my classroom, instead of at home. I celebrated a birthday, complete with a virtual serenade from my students, some great gifts from my family, a Zoom with my brothers and parents, and a new president-elect. There may or may not have been tears shed. (There were. happy happy, relieved tears) November also brought a challenge for me to bring to life a Potter-themed birthday for my youngest. I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. November also brought a Thanksgiving without any family but the 5 of us. Luckily, we were able to Zoom with my family, as it would have been even more of a bummer if we couldn’t at least “see” each other.

December brought some fun projects in school, a virtual “concert” of my first graders, and a much needed break for us all. We got to see Jupiter and Saturn in our telescope, and had a bit of rest before the holidays. Though Christmas was much smaller without my brothers and parents, it was still joyous, and of course we did Zoom. We spent the very last day of the year eating pizza, watching an old favorite, and eating fondue while celebrating our successes and checking if our goals were reached or not. (see https://troismommy.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/two-empty-jars/ and https://troismommy.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/2-jars-for-the-new-year/ for an explanation) Sadly, the “good things” jar was empty until very recently, when my older daughter saw that it needed some attention. She put several celebrations in the jar, and we added a few, though not many. Hopefully this year will see much more in the empty jar, and many more of our goals and wishes will be fulfilled than were this year.

And so, the worst year in America’s recent history is over. With each turn of the calendar, there is hope for better things to come… more celebrations, more human connection, more places to go other than our own house and the grocery store. Hopefully, teachers will be vaccinated soon, so we can get back to teaching our students in person, and our kids can see their friends again. Hopefully we’ll see family we haven’t seen all year. Hopefully we can start travelling safely again. Hopefully the country can get a handle on this awful virus and it will stop taking family and friends. Hopefully more people will start wearing masks and taking steps to keep their fellow Americans safe again. Hopefully next year we will all be in a better place, and our year-in-review will be much more full of wonderful things.

Happy New Year (I hope)!!

~Genevieve

Watching Yourself Do Your Job

As teachers, we show up each day and do the best we can for the kids in our care. We plan what we think will work for what they need to learn. We’re flexible when things don’t work out the way we’d planned, or if a fire drill interrupts our lesson. We are used to having the principal drop in once in a while, or even visitors from the district.

Now, in our new “Remote Learning” environment, we’re asked to do (and to accept) things that we never imagined we’d have to do. For example, who could imagine teaching your class with half of the parents sitting next to their kids in the classroom? Or learning how to create assignments that can be done on a computer or tablet instead of on paper. I never thought I’d be 100% used to just seeing kids virtually and building relationships without ever spending any time in the same room as my students.

The one that is really messing with my head, however, is recording my lessons to post after the fact for students who are absent. Part of the joy of teaching is to just be in the moment with the kids, not worrying about what you look like while you’re doing it. Don’t get me wrong – I dress professionally, I wear makeup, and I look presentable doing it, but if I make funny faces or use funny voices, or move around a lot, it’s in-the-moment, not to be shared and revisited and critiqued.

At the beginning of the year, I was pre-recording my videos for the students. Sometimes I would play the videos for the students. Other times I would do the lesson live, but parents who worked, or students who were absent, could view them at their convenience. I made sure my hair didn’t look weird or get stuck in the back of my collar or shirt. I never showed the BACK of myself, and I didn’t have conversations with students in the middle of the lessons. They were succinct, and well-produced, and polished.

I won’t post the snapshot of my shirt riding up while reaching for something, showing the entire class my tummy. Or the worst faces I made.

So, after I got very depressed about the worst bits I haven’t shown, I started thinking about this more deeply. I mean, how many of you record yourselves doing your job? Now, if you’re an actor, you can’t really compare the two. I pursued acting for a very short time, and have lots of friends who act. In that case, you know it’s your job. You know you’re on camera and, like my singular videos of just me, controlling every detail, I knew what I was doing and what to expect. I could start over if it didn’t look right. If I caught my hair doing something weird, or I was at a really unflattering angle, I scrapped the video and made a new one. I “called cut” if you will.

When you’re being paid to act on TV or in a movie, you have a makeup artist, and a wardrobe chosen for you, fitted to your body. You are lit professionally, so that you look great (unless you’re going for the opposite, like Charlize Theron in “Monster”).

Why am I complaining about this? Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Why am I so worried about what I look like or how I come across in the videos? Don’t my students like me no matter what I look like? Maybe. But these videos are almost more for the parents than the students. These are for the parents who work and ask their child, “What are you supposed to be doing? What did your teacher say?” These are going to be judged by adults, not kids. And adults aren’t as forgiving as children. And they are far more judgmental than children.

I hope that parents of virtual students give teachers some grace when it comes to these videos. I hope they put themselves in our shoes for a moment and ask themselves, “What would a video of ME doing my job look like?” and “Would I want anyone to see me doing it?”

2020 has taught us a lot as a collective, but virtual teaching has really been eye-opening in many ways… some good, and some definitely bad. Here’s hoping we can all get back to at least some semblance of “normal” in 2021.

~Genevieve

What on Earth are You Thankful For?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Usually, we spend it with my family – my parents and my brother and sister-in-law. Sometimes if we’re lucky, one or both of my “Seattle brothers” is able to come visit. One year, we had Thanksgiving in San Francisco with all but one brother. This year, because of Covid-19 and the risk of infecting my parents, we are all having Thanksgiving separately. We’ll do a Zoom visit and while that’s not the same thing as seeing each other, it’s better than taking the risk right now.

Originally, I didn’t want to do a “Thanksgiving Dinner” since we weren’t seeing family, but my husband reminded me that we should do it for the kids. I’ve been asked by the kids for my mashed potatoes, stuffing, and a special cake that I’ve been making for years (recipe courtesy of my friend Katy). So, I went to the store and today started the cooking.

Up first, “The Cake” – this cake has had a few iterations. One year, my daughter made it into a Turkey. Another year, I made stencils for the powdered sugar.

Up next was my cranberries. When I was young, my grandmother loved her canned, jellied cranberry sauce, and we ate it, and it was fine. But, when I learned how to make REAL cranberry sauce from my kindergarten teaching partner at Fairgrove Academy, I never looked back. This year, they won’t be served in my grandma’s crystal bowl, but I’m sure we’ll find an appropriate (though less fancy and sentimental) way to serve them.

I made stuffing and my daughter made a pie. Tomorrow my husband will cook the turkey and I’ll make the Brussels sprouts. We will surely eat too much, and we won’t have anyone to send home with leftovers.

As we get ready for our National Day of Thanks, some people think we shouldn’t celebrate because of our nation’s problematic relationship with Native Americans. {Recently, my mother found that we actually had ancestors on the Mayflower. And I admit, I was excited to find out that something I’d learned about since I was a child was actually part of my family’s story. I can only hope that my relatives didn’t engage in anything our family wouldn’t be proud of. }

I believe that the celebration shouldn’t concentrate on “Pilgrims and Indians” but rather what we are all thankful for. And in 2020, what on earth do we have to be thankful for? Our country is in the middle of a horrifying pandemic. This year has seen more death, outrage, destruction, unrest, unemployment, hardship, and division than our country has seen in decades. So, what do we have to be thankful for?

262,219 Americans have died from Covid. I am thankful my family is healthy. I am thankful for the healthcare workers that are working every day to the point of exhaustion trying to take care of those who have it, and all the patients sick with other things in the midst of this disease.

12.6 million people are unemployed. I was one of them. I am thankful that I was called back to my job, and I realize I am very fortunate.

Virtual learning is a drag for students and teachers and the parents who are home with their kids during this time. Yes, that’s true. However, virtual school is better than no school. I am glad that some districts have figured out how to keep students and teachers safe in person. Until my district is able to do that, I’m thankful that we have the technology to be able to teach my students remotely. While it’s not the same, I’m finding new ways to connect with my students and families, and creative ways for students to show me they’ve mastered a concept. I am thankful for my students.

We have a president who has not done the best for our country. In fact, he has fostered an atmosphere in which white supremacists have become emboldened to show their true feelings about minorities. I am thankful there are more people who recognize this and voted for change in this country. I am thankful for people who realize that Black Lives Matter isn’t saying other lives don’t. I am thankful for a new administration heading to the White House in 2 months.

We can’t see each other for the holidays. We can’t eat in restaurants. We can’t gather with people and we have to wear masks. Yeah. That’s a drag, and it’s really sad not to be seeing my parents this year. However, I’m thankful that there are ways to keep ourselves and each other safe from Covid. I’m thankful we are able to wear masks, instead of something worse. I’m thankful that protections are being put in place so that numbers will start going down instead of up.

I broke my arm 5 months ago and it still hurts. Every time I exercise, it hurts. When I sleep on it weird, it hurts. And I can’t do the simplest things, like carry heavy grocery bags or dishes with that hand. I am thankful that it wasn’t worse. I am thankful that it was just my elbow. The pain is a reminder that while the summer really sucked, I’m still alive, and doing well.

I’m also thankful for the people in the photos above. I’m thankful for the people in the photos below. I’m thankful that we have friends and opportunities. I’m thankful that we have breath in our lungs and can make a big meal to enjoy together, and I’m hopeful that next year at this time will feel more hopeful and celebratory, and that we’re able to gather together.

I hope that everyone reading this has a lot to be thankful for.

~Genevieve

Teacher-in-a-Box

Today was day 63 of the 20-21 school year. I’ve had my ups and my downs this year. Trying to learn how to teach in an entirely new way has been incredibly challenging.

I’ve had audio issues, video issues, students have been kicked out of the virtual classroom, as have I (in the middle of teaching). I’ve had to stop in the middle of a lesson only to have to change course and do something totally different.

This is the 3rd week I’ve been working in my classroom. It’s better than working at home for many reasons. I have an entire whiteboard at my disposal – one that won’t fall on my head while teaching. I can stand up and walk around, instead of being stuck in a tiny corner of my bedroom. I can do PE MUCH easier in a classroom than I can at my house. While I miss seeing my own kids a little more, and I have to get out the door pretty early, logistically it’s been so much easier! Until it wasn’t.

Sometimes, for some odd reason, my school laptop will NOT connect to the district internet. That was yesterday. I couldn’t get it connected, but I could get my tiny chromebook connected, so I just did what I could. I usually use two computers, so I can see the kids while I’m presenting. Having only one was much more difficult, and I was extremely frustrated. At one point, one of my students said, “Ms. Miller, are you okay? You look sad.” And I was. I was sad that I couldn’t teach the way I needed to at that moment. And I felt like I was failing my students.

Today I started again, armed with my district computer as well as my own personal laptop if the district computer wouldn’t connect. Thankfully, it connected, and I was able to have a good day with my class. I’m still having trouble with some of the tech in my small groups, but for the most part, things went well. I was even able to use my own laptop to record my lesson on zoom for students and parents to refer to if needed.

Overall, the year is going better than I thought it would, for the most part. I’m nervous about going back before we’re ready, but it would be great to be in person with my class… if it is SAFE for all of us.

For now, I’m getting the desks ready for when they tell us we’re returning. Until then, I’m the teacher in a box for my 25 students.

~Genevieve

Teaching in 2020

I haven’t posted in awhile. I feel like I should say something about how online teaching is going, but most nights I’m up late making sure my next day’s activities are ready to go. Some days I’m recording video lessons, editing them, and posting them. Some days I’m printing, then scanning and uploading and posting assignments in digital format. Some days I’m digging through my boxes of teaching stuff to find a book or an activity I need or thought I had.

Some days I’m making copies at Staples, realizing that dang, Staples is expensive, so then I try to schedule in time to drive up to my school and hope that no other teachers are using the copy machine.

Let’s rewind for a minute. I was given my pink slip on Monday, March 9th, 2020. We shut school down on Friday, March 13, 2020. I was told they wouldn’t be re-hiring til a few weeks after school started. Luckily for me, I was offered a job the week before school started. The good news? I have a job, and I never had to sub. The bad news? I didn’t have a lot of time to get ready for the school year, or teaching from home, but with some help, I figured it out enough to at least start the year.

I learned on the first day of school that my teacher voice is too loud to be in the next room as my two high schoolers. So, I started the day at my corner, and then carried the TV tray table, my laptop, my materials, and my ring light, all to my bedroom, where I taught from the floor. (please disregard my knit projects from both books, and my containers of yarn)

Every day, my back would hurt from sitting on the floor.

I finally couldn’t do it anymore. Nevermind that I’m 50 years old. Luckily I’m pretty limber, so sitting on the floor wasn’t hard for me to do, nor to get up from, but my back hurt for some reason. Lack of support, I guess?

So, I cleaned and rearranged my room until I had the “perfect” little nook. (It’s MUCH easier than sitting on the floor, but my white board is merely propped up on my knitting containers, and it has fallen on my head at least 3 times WHILE teaching.) I do have the option of teaching in my classroom, but since I didn’t have any time to move all my things into the school before the first day, I set up here. Additionally, I have 2 high-schoolers at home and every now and then they have technical issues and need my help, so for now, we’re all here together.

It’s a little claustrophobic, but it works.

I was worried about making connections with my students, never being in the same room with them. I was worried it would be hard to get kids to attend every day. I was worried it would be hard to teach with parents in the room. I worried about a lot of things. Ultimately? Even though I haven’t spent any IN PERSON time with the kids, I do feel I’m making connections. I feel like I’ve gotten to know their little personalities. I’ve had almost all 25 kids here every day. And even though it was weird at first, I’m very used to having the parents on screen, or nearby. (And thankfully I haven’t seen any half-dressed folks!)

Finding ways to record my lessons without recording the students.

I used to pre-record my lessons and play them, but half the time my tech (or the kids, or both) wouldn’t work, so I had to do it live anyway. So, sometimes I record myself during the lesson for kids who are absent.

I’m finding my way. I try to bring some fun and some Art in the “classroom” every week.

I miss being in the classroom, but this is okay for now. I am exhausted every single day, but I’m managing. My district is thinking of bringing us back with cameras and microphones around the room so I can teach in person AND online simultaneously, which seems like both groups (and the teacher) will be shortchanged.

Some days I feel really good about how things are going, and some days I cry because one of my students asks why Coronavirus is hurting people. Some days I feel like everything is working, and some days almost EVERYTHING goes wrong with technology. Thankfully, my students and parents are very patient and understanding. It’s hard to feel successful when nothing you plan goes right.

To change things up a bit, sometimes on nice days I take it outside. It makes things a bit more exciting, because the kids see me outside, and I am not stuck in my claustrophobic corner.

The other thing that has happened with teaching online is that sometimes I need to “pin” myself on the computer, so I can see what I’m doing and make sure the kids can see clearly. Then, I have the kids on screen on a second laptop. This has been a real eye-opener for me. All I can see are my flaws, and how my jawline disappears in the light, and how I’m not aging quite as gracefully as I had thought. (I’ve started watching videos on how to use contour, and honestly? I don’t see much of a difference, which is depressing.)

All in all, we’re halfway between surviving and thriving. I know the kids aren’t getting the complete school experience, and neither am I. I’m scared of the new plan that my district is concocting, seemingly without any input from ACTUAL CLASSROOM TEACHERS. Our future is completely unknown right now, and that is upsetting. I hope that whatever happens, the district takes teachers into consideration and takes steps to protect all of us – students and teachers.

This has been a year like no other, and one I’d like to not have to repeat.

~Genevieve

Timehop, You Cruel Mistress

*Disclaimer: I actually love Timehop. Timehop, I am not maligning you in any way.

For the last 21 weeks, we haven’t done much of anything. We managed to get away for a few days in July to stay in a friend’s condo in Mammoth, where we did our very best to stay safe and avoid other people. Other than that, we’ve kept our travels to the grocery store, and occasionally to pick up food.

We originally planned to go to Maui this summer. We had the tickets. We had a hotel room. We couldn’t wait to go- the kids have never been, and my husband and I haven’t been since I was pregnant with our 19-year-old.

Alas, Covid-19 had other plans. We’ve done our best to stay occupied. We’ve done puzzles, played games, watched a LOT of movies and TV shows. We’ve read books, roller skated, and managed to see a few friends, 6-feet apart. And it’s been good.

But one thing that’s reminded me over and over of the wonderful things we used to do- the places we’ve been, the people we’ve seen, and the experience we’ve had- is Timehop. Timehop has reminded me of vacations, Comic Con, visits with friends, going to the beach, listening to music at the Hollywood Bowl, museums, and travel.

It has been both a wonderful trip down memory lane, and yet it’s also making me painfully aware of the fact that we are going NOWHERE. I suppose you could say we CHOOSE to go nowhere, and I will agree. We don’t want to go places where we’ll see a bunch of people, gathered with no masks. We don’t want to put ourselves in a precarious position, or get ourselves exposed to a deadly virus we could take to family. Most of the places we WANT to go are closed, but we could try the beach… I’m just not sure I trust that whatever beach we end up at won’t be packed with people.

The other thing that Timehop is reminding me of lately is that it’s the time of year I should be putting together my classroom, and getting ready for a new group of learners. Not only do I not have a classroom to put together because all school is virtual right now, but I still don’t have a job, so I have nothing to get ready for.

Image may contain: table and indoor

This year, we are missing a lot. My girls won’t be getting new backpacks and tons of school supplies. (In fact, our high school hasn’t given us any directions about schedules or book pick-up, or ASB Card photos or Senior portraits.) And my son, who is going to be starting his second year at UCLA, will not be moving into the dorm.

I’m hoping that I’ll get some good news in the next month, but until then, we have to figure out how to set our kids up for a successful year, and relish these last days of “summer.”

I just hope in a few years, I’ll be looking at my Timehop thinking, “Oh, remember when there was a pandemic and we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything?” And I hope I’ll be looking at it while I’m doing something exceptionally fun.

Phone Free Living in Covid Times

Monday, July 20th, Day 128 since the world shut down, thanks to Covid-19. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions since we were sent home and told we’d be teaching, learning, and working from home.

First, there was shock, and denial. This can’t be happening. This is insane -how can we have a pandemic? It’s been 100 years since we’ve seen anything like this. We have to learn from home? We have to teach from home? We can’t go anywhere?

We quickly moved to pain, guilt- did we wash our hands enough? We forgot to wear a mask. Oh no, I touched my face! Then anger. Some took the anger a little too far and started screaming at grocery workers because they had to wear a mask.

Depression set in when we missed our friends, our family, our way of life. We couldn’t go to restaurants, shopping, or any social gatherings. One person from the household was the designated grocery store guinea pig and one person was the designated bleacher of all items once they entered the house.

There was a moment of an upward turn, looking for rebuilding and reopening, but most of us have accepted that we have to wear masks, not go anywhere, and hope for a cure- or at least for people to start caring enough about the rest of us to wear a mask and do better.

Through all those stages of grief during this pandemic, I at least had a few things to get me through the days.

  1. My family. My husband and kids and I, though we drove each other nuts sometimes, found new ways to entertain ourselves and spend time together. We’re a squad, and we’re in this together.
  2. Phone calls with my parents and video calls with my parents and brothers. These were a balm for my soul, not knowing when we’d see each other next.
  3. Daily phone calls and chats with my coworkers, my teammates. Laughing about how freaking hard it is to teach first grade and kindergarten “remotely” and sharing ideas on how to connect.
  4. Daily snapchats with my best friend. We’d use silly filters, sometimes with silly voices, and just catch up with each other. Since we live in different time zones, it’s a way to see and hear each other, even on different schedules.
  5. Book Club. Both the reading of the books and the wonderful fellowship we share. Usually it’s in person with delicious food, great wine, and better company. During the pandemic, we do it over zoom, which is kind of a bummer, but also kind of wonderful.
  6. Facebook & Instagram. The former is a double-edged sword, because while I got to connect with friends and family, I also got my daily dose of bad news, along with arguments over numerous topics having to do with school, the economy, wearing masks, and protests. It is on facebook where I posted about my dad’s surgery and was swiftly and painfully reminded that my extended family either didn’t care at all, or more likely had blocked my posts because of politics.
  7. Podcasts. I listen to several podcasts a week, which makes exercising and doing housework much more enjoyable.
  8. TV. I’ve watched several entire series of tv shows, and several romcoms (some much better than others), and am rewatching lots of old favorites.
  9. Knitting. Knitting is something that centers me. I knit a shawl, a sweater, a baby blanket, and am working on a vest, and sketching out two books that may or may not ever see the light of day.

For 113 of the 126 days of pandemic/quarantine/isolation/whatever you call it, I’ve had my phone. 5 out of the 9 things I’ve leaned on during this Pandemic Time has been on my phone. Granted, it had a glitchy screen and sometimes drove me crazy, but it worked. I used it for those family and partner phone calls. I used it to check facebook and Instagram. I used it to document the colors of my hair and how fat I’m getting. I used it to text and made Snapchat videos. I used it to look up new recipes, to figure out where I was going, and to order food delivery. When we’d watch a new TV show or movie and I recognized someone on the cast, but couldn’t place them, I looked them up on my phone. I used it to listen to podcasts or music on my walks, or in the car, or doing chores. I Facetimed my kids when they had earphones on and didn’t hear me call them for dinner.

My phone was like an appendage.

For the last 13 days, that appendage has been rendered useless, much like my left arm after I broke my elbow on Day 77 of the Pandemic Times. Well, what have I learned?

I get more reading done when I don’t have my phone to distract me. Today, while my kids were at the dentist and I wasn’t allowed in, I sat on a bench outside and read 3 chapters of a book.

Not seen: several books on my kindle (on top of the pile)

I pay more attention. I pay more attention to the TV and movies that we’re watching together, and I am less distracted by my phone when I’m with my family.

I’m less anxious. Often, when I post something on facebook or a blog post, I check responses constantly when I have my phone in my hand. Without it, I’m much less inclined to care as much about going to check on my laptop to see what’s going on.

I can rely on my family. I have used all 3 kids’ and my husband’s phone for calls and snapchat. I know it drives the kids nuts, but I think secretly they like being nice to me when they let me use their phone.

The first few days without my phone were EXCRUCIATING. We were staying at a condo in Mammoth, having a socially distant getaway. We were about to get on a kayak and it just stopped working. I couldn’t take pictures of the girls and I, or the guys, kayaking. The video I took on the gondola up Mammoth Mountain was gone. No photos of us at the top, or playing Seinfeld Scene It. Gone.

My husband was able to get a photo of the girls and I.

For the next few days, it was frustrating. I couldn’t listen to podcasts. No looking things up. No texting people who didn’t have iphones (for those who don’t have apple products, I can text other iphone/apple users on the message app on my laptop). No taking photos. No listening to music while exercising.

As the days went on, though, I got more relaxed and less stressed about NOT having the phone. Was I frustrated? Yes. And those around me, or those trying to get ahold of me, were also frustrated. I can’t sign up for a DMV account without a phone for them to text me a security code. The oral surgeon who will be extracting my daughter’s Wisdom teeth needs to call me to schedule, and I have no phone. The dentist office told me this morning they didn’t get the signed paperwork they texted me… Sigh. It’s amazing how much we rely on our phones. Something we didn’t even know we needed until 13 years ago.

When I drive to the store, no one can text me to ask me for things at the last minute. However, if I’m not sure of something, I can’t text or call someone at home to clarify. When I walk, I can’t listen to a podcast, but I can listen to the birds and the sounds of nature. I can also invite one of my kids to walk with me.

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, outdoor and nature
Selfie with son, courtesy of his phone

While it’s not quite like going back to the time when I was a kid and no one had cell phones (or even pagers!), it has been a nice reminder that although it’s an important device that is necessary for several things, it’s nice to not be tethered to it 24 hours a day. And perhaps, once I get the new one I ordered, I can remember that feeling and try not to have it attached to my person at all times.

No photo description available.
A simpler time, when no one had teeny tiny portable computers in their hands at all times.

Be Well

~Genevieve

Preserve, Protect, and Defend

Warning: This is not one of my cute, anecdotal blog posts about my family, how to keep busy during a pandemic, what a great vacation or recipe is, or even something sad/scary/hopeful about Education. This is my Opinion on how our president does not keep his oath to “we the people.” If this is not what you’re looking for, please come back in a few days. Otherwise, welcome.

Each President of the United States has taken an oath when he took office.

I do solemly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Can our current president truly say that he’s done that? Let’s take a look. Mind you, I am not a Constitution Scholar, I am simply a citizen who can look up our Constitution.

I went through the document, and picked out sections and amendments that I firmly believe Trump has not “Preserved, Protected, or Defended.”

Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Now, some of you (or all of you) will say, “He was impeached but found not guilty, so he can stay in office!” Well, this is “technically” true. However, he and his cronies blocked key witnesses from testifying, which may have had an impact on this. I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

Amendment 1: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Peaceful protestors have been tear-gassed, maced, shot at, and killed. Perhaps congress has not made a new “law” regarding this, but they’re not stopping the president and Barr from sending “troops” to Portland (and maybe more cities) rounding protestors up. What’s of course fascinating to me is that he has no problem with white protesters, shouting, unmasked, weilding guns, in a GOVERNMENT BUILDING, but when it’s people of all colors asking for racial justice, he calls them “thugs.”

Amendment 8: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Cruel and Unusual Punishments, like sitting on someone’s neck. Or using HIS power to have the police mace and beat back peaceful protestors so that he can take a picture in front of a church he doesn’t attend to hold up a bible he doesn’t read.

Amendment 10: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The president is trying to force schools to open. This is not his call. He is also actively undermining the CDC and Dr. Fauci, along with Governors across the country who are trying to save lives by mandating masks, and enacting rules during this unprecedented Covid time.

Amendment 15, Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The president is trying to abolish mail-in voting. He is trying to devise a narrative in which mail-in ballots are “corrupt” yet he votes that way. You can’t have it both ways, Donald, and you can’t suppress voters by taking away THE SAFEST WAY TO VOTE DURING A PANDEMIC.

Amendment 19: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

See above.

Amendment 24: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

See above.

You don’t have to be a Constitutional Scholar to see that our current administration has not been doing their best to Preserve, Protect, and Defend our Constitution.

I invite you all to read the Constitution yourselves. If you find anything you feel I missed, please comment. If you disagree with me and can SHOW PROOF, also, feel free to comment.

~Genevieve

Teaching In America

For many years, teachers in America have been at the same time held to a very high standard and completely disregarded. School districts have been underfunded for years. I left the profession in 2001 to stay home with my children and when I returned FOURTEEN years later, my salary hadn’t changed.

Can you name another profession where the salary hasn’t caught up to the cost of living?

It was teachers’ faults when students didn’t do well on testing, but teachers weren’t being given kudos if their students DID do well. We are asked to completely change our way of teaching every 5 years or so. We constantly spend our own money on things that our district can’t pay for, including materials that are essential for instruction.

IMG_4406
A classroom furnished by the school
9D2FEE1F-BB52-469B-A1C3-57FA192B989F
A classroom furnished by the teacher

Then the pandemic hit in March 2020, and suddenly the majority** of America’s teachers rose to the task of completely changing the way they taught, with no real training. We learned new platforms, and suddenly became filmmakers, making videos of our teaching, editing the videos, and posting them for students, then figuring out how to post assignments in such a way that they could be done online and turned in online. A good number of these teachers also did this at home with their families, who were also working and learning from home. (I had my college freshman home, plus my high school daughters and my husband. All of the kids doing their online lessons and finishing assignments while my husband worked from home and had many phone calls and meetings online WHILE I was recording lessons and talking to parents and creating content. I can’t even imagine how much harder it would have been had my children been in elementary school instead of high school and college.)

teaching-snaps
This teacher, turned producer, in some of her recorded lessons

We tried (and sometimes succeeded) in teaching live lessons online. For those of us who couldn’t connect with the whole class at once, or had very small kids, we learned how to hold discussions and read-alouds while kids were talking to each other over the computer screen.

Parents were home with their kids, trying to “home school” as many talked about online. (I don’t agree that it was really “home school” but it’s a fun, cute way to talk about it I guess.) What parents did have to do was manage their children’s school lives while at the same time trying to work from home (or navigate unemployment, or get used to having your spouse and children home 24/7). Parents suddenly praised teachers, saying they deserved to be paid a million dollars a year and they’d buy whatever supplies teachers asked for when we got back to school.

Memes From Parents Homeschooling Their Kids | California Casualty
It was, for a brief moment

Fast forward 4 months, and suddenly everyone has changed their tune. Parents are forming groups on facebook to discuss what should happen in school and what’s best for their families and there is almost NO mention of what would be asked of teachers. Once again, teachers are expendable – we should be ready to go back into the classroom and teach a certain amount of hours each day and then teach live synchronous lessons online, on top of that, plus give assignments in person and online.

According to our president and the woman he put in charge of education (who’s never taught a day in her life), we should be ready to teach 5 days a week with a full classroom, as if THERE IS NO PANDEMIC.

I don’t know what the answer is on how to teach this fall. Some days I am convinced that the best way to do it is completely virtual, as the Covid numbers are still rising. On the other hand, I know that my own children need to see teachers and friends in person for their own psyche and there is a great number of kids who will not get anything out of virtual learning. So, maybe the hybrid of part in class, part online will be best. What I don’t think will work is having a FULL class of students FIVE days a week.

Before the world stopped in March, we tried to do this for a week, and it was incredibly difficult. The custodians were overworked, the teachers were completely frazzled by trying to keep the kids from touching their faces and making them wash their hands, stay away from each other in line and on the rug, and not coughing or sneezing on each other. Schedules were staggered so we could separate the students during lunch and recess. Trying to keep 20-30 kids in our classrooms a “social distance” apart is absolutely impossible, as the classrooms are just not that big.

I don’t know what the 100% RIGHT answer is, but I know what it isn’t. And I know that, sadly, teachers aren’t being listened to or considered. Parents are mad that teachers aren’t just ready to jump right in and go back 5 days in the classroom.

Parents are demanding that teachers:

~Are ready to jump right in 100% back in the classroom

~Are ready to teach 100% online, for 3-6 hours of live lessons per day with students fully engaged and recorded lessons and assignments as well

~Be in the classroom with the kids AND doing live lessons after school hours for students on alternating days

~Be flexible

~Be brave

~Be quiet

~Be amazing

What I hope can happen is that our leaders really find a way to keep everyone safe whatever way this ends up being done. It can’t be thrown together. If the numbers keep going up and people can’t do the minimum of wearing masks and social distancing, it should probably be done online until things get better. If numbers start to go down and we can truly flatten the curve again, then we can figure out a safe way to go back, with SMALLER class sizes. This, of course, means we need more teachers and ultimately more MONEY to truly pay for what we need to bring schools back successfully.

And I really do hope that when all is said and done the teachers are not forgotten and taken for granted again. I really hope that parents, principals, and leaders can really appreciate and take care of the teachers who show up and do their very best for the kids of America every day.

~Genevieve

Side note – I still have no job for the fall right now. I’m still looking, and at the same time holding out hope I’ll get to return to my district, however that may look.

**I won’t say ALL teachers, because I know that some schools and districts out there didn’t have ANY distance learning, but I think that was the exception rather than the rule.