Tomorrow I’ll leave for vacation and then the scramble to start school begins. I’m trying to make sense of what school will look and feel like in the fall, and whether we are in person or teaching remotely, or both, it will definitely be different either way. But instead of thinking about how sad and unfortunate we all are to be in our positions, I’m trying the best I can to think about how much better of a teacher I will need to be. Here’s my five rules of thumb for teachers this fall:
1. Inspire a love of reading.
We all know how much personal and academic growth comes from reading. We need to do our absolute best to convince our students that reading is the best way to deal with the extra time at home. It’s escape and immersion at the same time. We travel to faraway places and also dive deep into the reality we know. Either kids will mindlessly browse the internet, binge on television, or they will become the most imaginative and creative generation the world’s ever seen. We play a very important role in helping kids choose to live a more meaningful life, guided by literature.
2. There is no new normal, so let’s be as flexible as possible.
Nothing is normal about this situation. Imagine being a kid right now. Even the best parent-child relationships will be put on trial. We need to deemphasize grades and get extremely creative when it comes to assigning texts and projects. I felt like a new teacher last spring, grading every single assignment and giving a bunch of assignments that would normally be classwork. What assignments really deserve a grade and our feedback? How can we give feedback in a new way that’s less time consuming and more meaningful for our students? How many assignments do we give? If you were to homeschool your own child, what would that look like?
3. Simplify everything.
Back in April, I asked my seniors how it was going. They said, how do you think it’s going, we stare at a screen all day. They described trying to make sense of all the different styles of online teaching from all their teachers. So many clicks, they said. So many clicks! No child learns well under stress, and they need assignments that take them away from the screen as much as possible. Let’s make them click less. Maybe that means combining assignments, so we give one simple assignment each week, or dare I say, every two weeks.
4. Have fun.
This is a hard time for everyone. Our students will rely on us to be their source of normal and fun. I plan on recording super emotional readings of passages from novels and poems. I know I need to be more entertaining, funny, and inspiring than ever. I manage a pool in the summer and the lifeguards told me that their number one concern about the fall was getting to know their teachers. How will we know who they are if we start online? they asked. It made me so sad, but it also made me realize that I need to be me more than ever. We can’t walk around the room or interact with them whenever we want, so we need to convey our humanity in whatever ways we can – smile, joke, display funny memes, show them your bird house, talk about what’s for dinner, bring your kids or dog on screen, whatever. Most importantly, ask them how they’re doing. I greet them at my door before every class, so we need to find ways to do that – to quickly check in on them and have a laugh.
5. Friends and family come first, take care of yourself!
There were a few moments last spring when my daughters floated downstairs to my basement where I go to hide and do work. I too often found myself irritated when I couldn’t finish something up or when I got distracted by something at home. At school, we make tea, chat with colleagues, browse Facebook for a few minutes, take a walk outside, or meet students to conference. We find ways to decompress. Let’s not let the stress of this school year wreak havoc on what matters most – our relationships. Life comes before work.
online professional development for high school English teachers