I write so rarely, but needed to decompress and use this to journal mostly for myself. I wrote my second to last blog post about my sadness of not being able to attend CUE 2020.
I am one who reflects back often but usually I do this with the photos and videos I take. But writing can let me look back at how I was feeling. So, that is the purpose really for this post.
(Oh, this best to read while listening to Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road (Springsteen on Broadway - Official Audio)
Like virtually every other teacher out there day, I feel like I am at the tail end of a storm.
I can sense it may be over soon
But also, I know that the landscape and myself will not look the same.
I write this on March 13th 2022, two years to the day that all that we knew would change. For me, that Friday I was pulled into an emergency all day meeting at the district office where myself as a former TOSA and other TOSAs, admins and others planned what we could do if our district had to pause live instruction. Little did we know that this was the beginning of a storm that will irrevocably change everything.
You’ve all lived with what came next. Looking back at it now, it all seems such a blur.
You may have a similar story to mine…
I had to switch to…
A Non-punitive grading system
A Virtual classroom
A Distance learning environment
A Hybrid schedule
A 4X4 schedule
An A/B schedule
and so on
I’ve had to…
* Make screencast videos that only 5% of my students would even watch.
* Struggle with my own apathy and depression; wondering when this all would end
* Not lose my mind and have get togethers with my fellow teachers in our school parking lot.
* Rush my room to be ready as we were one of the first schools to open due to a reckless school board
* Take apart my classroom to fit students 6 feet apart
* Spray and wipe down my room with an ever changing concoction of cleaning supplies
* Try and stay connected with my PLN by “meeting” (translate to getting drunk) with online Zooms
And I consider myself one of the more flexible and techie teachers. I feel for all those others who hit their breaking points earlier.
All our stories are different, yet still the same. The pandemic numbers would go up and down. Life would feel like it was edging back to normal then back to shitty once again.
For me, the impact was always secondary though… By that, I mean that all the issues and changes to my life were done in reaction to the pandemic. But all that changed with the start of 2022. Although it looked like we were on the tail end of this, it was then that it became personal.
By personal, I mean that in January two of my friends and fellow teachers at my school became seriously ill from COVID. Which is just so hard since all that we heard about the Omnicron variant was that it was more transmissible but less severe. Both of these men have taught at Rocklin High for well over 20 years and like so many others in the profession, those who we work with are more than just colleagues… they are our friends.
We eat our lunches together
We plan, scheme and try to solve the world’s problems
We share our dreams and our hopes
And we have our kids grow up together
At first it was my friend Dale who became ill.
Dale is a social studies teacher with whom I spent 13 years also in social studies. We always said we put the SOCIAL in Social Studies!
His passion for teaching and all things sports is a huge part of who he is. He coaches both the girls and boys Tennis teams at our school. He was such a willing participant in everything we did at our school. From coaching to reffing, to acting and dancing in our Follies performances, to managing websites and reporting sports scores, to barbequing for his students, to organizing fantasy sports leagues, Dale has been a workhorse for Rocklin. He simply loved what he did.
I mentioned his passions, but it is his love for his wife and two children that defines who he is.
And Dale has spent over 50 days in the ICU
Dale has been fighting all this time and it is his last few days which have really prompted me to write and reflect. That is because Dale has made some incredible progress. Intubation, sedation, infections, etc have wreaked havoc on him but yesterday, Dale was moved out of the ICU. His struggles have been at the front of all our thoughts here at the school and in his circle of friends and family. His wife Ashly has been just an unbelievable pillar of strength for him and the rest of us. Her daily communications and updates have helped us keep connected.
I mentioned I taught social studies for years. Then I transitioned to a TOSA for 3 years and now I have been in CTE as a video production teacher and co-department chair for 5 years. It is this department, my classes and my school where I have put all my efforts and energy since the pandemic. I tried for a while to “stay connected” via Twitter, my Check This Out podcast with my dear friend Brian Briggs, but it is all just too much.
Oh and I can't forget the toxic dialogue against teachers both at the national level as well as in my own town.
When did we become the enemies?
Listening to our recent board meetings and seeing the venom on local social media has been some of the most saddening parts of my professional life. The vile and hatred by zealots and extremists led me to actually speak out at a board meeting in defense of teachers for the first team in 20 years at Rocklin (below is the link. I speak at about 1 hour 40 minutes and much of what is before and after is what I talked about regarding the toxic talk)
Back to my current position, the department I am in; CTE. We have gone through so much since the pandemic in terms of our teachers. We have had:
1 teacher retire as he had planned in 2020
1 teacher quit unexpectedly
1 teacher retire early unexpectedly
1 teacher pass away unexpectedly weeks before the start of 2021
1 teacher come out of retirement to fill that gap. And his name was Casey Nichols
Casey taught at RHS since 1994 being a national leader in journalism and publications. He was so much to our school both the students and the staff.
Casey became seriously ill with COVD days after Dale.
Both of these men had underlying conditions.
But Casey had been out of teaching for two years and was incredibly protective of his health. He was an advocate for all of us doing our part. He believed in rights but also that we have responsibilities to each other..
He came back to our school after our photography passed away and we could not find someone to hire.
Casey came to help.
Casey passed away on February 2nd
His impact can not be understated.
The fact that the scholarship created in his name has reached $33,000 speaks volumes on the both type of person he was and the impact he had on countless people.
To learn about Casey and his impact the Sacramento Bee did a piece on him you can read here
Casey was just an incredible person.
He taught for 36 years
He was the 2004 National Yearbook Advisor of the Year.
He loved Bruce, he loved to read, he loved golf, and he loved having everyone tell their story
He was a coach and an inspiration
He was a husband, a father, a brother, a son, and a grandfather
And for me, he was a mentor, an inspiration, a teacher…. but most importantly… he was my friend.
I’ll miss you Casey
here is a video of when he first retired and his goodbye to our staff. Give it a watch, particularly his quote from around the 12:00 minute mark
"#I'm an imperfect man on an imperfect journey, doing the best I can"
So, now on looking on to March 14th tomorrow and wondering what the next chapter looks like, I just don’t know.
I know I’ll go to school tomorrow.
I know I’ll try to reconnect at CUE later this week
but I also know I am different as well.
I don’t know what I’ll do in terms of getting back to working with teachers with professional development
And I don’t know how different I will be as a teacher
1) Active Watching
Have you students DO SOMETHING while they are watching your video.
This could be note taking, guided questions, etc. It can be using a program like EdPuzzle where you build formative assessments, but it could also be just having them write on a piece of paper. I really recommend the idea of creating a HyperDoc to correspond with what they watch. No matter what you choose, the key is to be active during the video and not just at the end.
2) Zoom Burnout
Trust me, students are going to get burned out of watching teachers sitting at their desk and talking TO them via Zoom. Those types of videos are OK for direct instruction where students are watching LIVE (this is synchronous).
But, don’t discount asynchronously as well (watching at different times, locations). This can allow student to learn at the best time for them AND for you it opens up a world of other possibilities of what you can record.
Set up a camera (it can even be your phone) and record you in more of a learning environment. It doesn't have to be complicated, just grab a tripod and think about where you can put yourself. Here's a few ideas:
Have you noticed kids today watching Netflix and how many of them like having subtitles on every show they watch?
Can you guess why?
It easier for them to process the dialogue.
So, the idea of having subtitles helps virtually everyone retain more, be it ESL or native speaking students.
Plus, YouTube now “listens” to your posted videos and will add captions automatically. So, nudge your students to turn on those captions. And speaking of captions, a great way to support ELs and their families is to help with the translation of your videos. Here is an incredible presentation titled "Translate Almost Anything" from Amanda Sandoval and Carrie Smith. Be sure to check out the slide on YouTube translator Chrome extension.
4) The Perspective Principle
Your videos don’t have to be just your head talking or a screencast of your screen. Demonstrating something is a powerful way to teach. When setting up your camera for this keep in mind to make it look like it is from YOUR eyes or a First Person view. This is often seen in YouTube tutorials and it serves as an effective way to "see how something can be done".
Therefore, if you have anything that is a manipulative you can demonstrate it in front of you. Or it can even be a first person view of you sketching out on paper like you see here.
How to set up a camera like this can be done a million ways . Do a search for "overhead table top tripod" and you find ones to just buy on Amazon or how to get creative and make your DIY version of one of these
5) Watcha Looking At?
If you are going to be doing more of a traditional stand and lecture think about what YOU will be looking at. If you are just staring at the camera the entire time it becomes a little unnverviing and feeling like you are just staring. On the other end, if you are constantly looking at your board, or notes it comes across as if you are either unprepared or checked out. Move your eyes to what you are looking at. Switch it up from looking just at the camera to looking at what you want your students to look at.
6) Notice Your Background
Since many of us will be spending a fair amount of time with our students via Zoom or Google Meet, think a little about your background. The number goal for what is behind you should be this: IT SHOULD NOT DISTRACT!
Now many of us will find ourselves doing this several ways which, in my opinion, you should avoid
7) Camera Placement
8) Screencasting Tips
One of the more popular type of videos where teachers can deliver their instruction as of late has been the screencast. These videos consist of a teacher narrating while the viewer watches the teachers screen. The teacher has the option if they like to add a webcam video of themselves usually in one of the corners. These type of videos all a teacher to replicate online a traditional type of lecture where they would want the class to focus on two things... the visuals of what the teacher wants them to see (slidedeck, photos, math problem, etc) and sound of the teacher's voice.
There are quite a few programs out there you can try out.
From the top of the line and kind of pricey Camtasia
To the easier and cheaper to use, browser based tools like Screencast-o-matic and my favorite Screencastify. If you haven't tried making one of these, give it a shot and you'll really just how easy it is to create and share your video with any of your classes.
Although teachers are comfortable with standing in front of their classrooms and teaching to those real-in person faces in front of them, many may not have the same level of comfort when trying to teach to their screen. The folks at Screencastify put out these "24 Tips for Creating High Quality Screencasts" a few years back and the tips are just as relevant in all that we are dealing with today.