(Down the Road from Our Apartment circa 2020)
Can't get through, but I can go around. It is hard to believe that school has been in virtual session for a month now. I am new to teaching virtual school. It is 100% online. It has been quite a beginning to the school year. All onboarding was online. Our school calls the beginning of the school year launch. It literally feels like a launch from my office chair. OMGfrickingwilkers...hold on tight!
I am fairly comfortable teaching online. With each class, I am building confidence. In the Spring, (March 13th) our schools went into shutdown. We had no notice. We went into distance teaching, and of course, all these training. The trainings are nice. However, it left little time to get our actual teaching duties completed within school hours. Many of us teachers got up earlier and stayed up late working as our spouses were sleeping so that we could do all that we were asked to do.
One of the things that really stood out at one of our teacher Circles of Trust virtual meetings (i.e. a group of fellow teachers where we could share and not worrying) pointed out we are not in normal distance learning. This isn’t distance learning. We are teaching in a time of trauma. It is trauma teaching. By now, many of us know family or friends who have been affected by Covid-19. Our students have family and friends they know too. We need to be sensitive to the time we are in. We are literally teaching through a historical moment.
Caring over content is key! As a special education teacher it is second nature to build that connection with my students. Students need to know that you care. It is essential. Teaching is the easy part!
The most challenging part of launch has been learning all the platforms. Literally, I learned over 10 platforms in 2 weeks. As a special education teacher, we take a lot of data. Trying to access the data via so many platforms was like a virtual scavenger hunt.
Another challenge, was that my team is expected to work from Google Sheets. I visually cannot process Google Sheets. I tried to modify the Google Sheets because the display density is so dense, but I still kept getting migraines. Being online over 8 hours a day, the grid lines on Google Sheets were blurring together overlapping and would seem to float around like an eye floater. Then in our training teachers were Zooming the Google Sheets. With 10 tabs and multiple people sharing one document the document moved both horizontally and vertically within a Zoom I was literally in tears. I did not want to let my team down. I was really trying my best.
Eventually, I did get a doctor’s note to help me with accommodations so that I could make my own data collection sheets that I could visually process. The interesting thing is that I didn’t really know until I taught online that I have a visual processing issue relating to display density. It reminds me of one of my professors who said that some students have a 6 hour disability, in that, when they are out of school they don’t have a perceivable disability. Makes sense.
Since we are an all virtual school, the caseloads of teachers have gone up. For example, one kindergarten teacher said that she has 50 students in her virtual class. Over 100 teachers were hired this school year. Our school serves over 20,000 students throughout the state. Some fo the high school general education teachers have over 500 students throughout the week.
Many teachers’ unions are working together to create Memorials of Understanding (MOUs) and this is happening at virtual schools as well because of the caseload and because so many teachers have children and/or elderly parents at home while they are teaching. Teachers are encouraged to have the color yellow as a background color for all Zoom meetings at a sign on solidarity. Teachers are also encouraged by our teachers' union to take a picture with the number of students on their caseloads and post it on social media. Some parents are not aware of the number of students in their children's classes online. Teachers are advocating for smaller class size (a.k.a. caseloads) so that we can better support our students' learning.
So far, after learning the gazillion platforms, I am much a much more relaxed teacher. At a brick and mortar school, I was not only a special education teacher. I was a social worker, nurse, counselor, a school mom, etc. We wore so many hats. Now with virtual school, we can wear our teacher hat. We don't have to deal with extreme behaviors such as a student trying to poke your eye with a newly sharpened pencil you just lent them. This happened to me. A student was bullying another student and I told her to leave him alone and she turned on me. I also had a high school student who would pretend like he was going to swallow a pair of scissors when he didn't get his way. I have so many stories I could share, such as in my first year teaching one of my students brought a gun to school and held it up to another student's head for sitting next to his girlfriend. I have also been hit by students before as have many of my fellow special education teachers. School admin would rarely do anything about violent students because they said that it was a part of their disability..They did not understand that you could keep students and teachers safe with more supports. More supports meant it would cost more money for the school district. it also meant that the student would have to be in a more restricted environment, in which the main school wouldn't have the funding. Hence, admin would just tell special education teachers to just deal with it. My husband showed me how to block and protect myself and other students while I was at school. There have been studies showing that the telomeres of DNA have accelerated shortening in parents of children with special needs due to stress. I wonder if the same is true for teachers who teach special eduction? I wonder if other virtual special education teachers are less stressed in their jobs now, like me?
These are some thoughts about launch. How are your launches going?