Teaching From Home: How Are You Keeping Your Spirits Up?

Editors Features April 20 / April 30, 2020

 – Tom Whitby, Shawn Thomas, Starr Sackstein and Harvey Alvy –

For the first time, some of us are isolated while teaching, and others are teaching while surrounded by family. Both scenarios are disruptive, and for some, de-energizing.  What strategies are educators using to cope and what are teachers doing to keep their spirits high? Listen to the 12-minute panel discussion or read the transcript below.

 

Panelists:
Starr Sackstein (NBCT) is a certified Master Journalism Educator through the Journalism Education Association (JEA). She serves at the New York State Director to JEA. She is the author of several books, including Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective. Harvey Alvy has served as a teacher, principal, and university professor, and was honored to be a National Distinguished Principal. He is the author of Fighting for Change in Your School: How to Avoid Fads and Focus on Substance, and co-author of Learning From Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success.

 

Transcript

Tom:

I’m Tom Whitby, and I’m along with my cohost Shawn Thomas. We have two of our moderators this week, Starr Sackstein and Harvey Alvy. And we will be talking about what we talked about in Ed Chat this past week. We’re really trying to get a feel for how educators are coping with the situation by being quarantined. And the topic was as educators, how are you coping and what is your advice to colleagues during this time of self-quarantine? We’re trying to get a feel for what’s going on and how people sharing their experiences with other people. Well, let’s start off with Shawn. Shawn.

Shawn:

Yes. So I mentioned in the chat one thing that I’m doing, I’m, I’m an ESOL teacher and we are a team of three to support our school., and so the first thing that we’re doing is we’re meeting every morning on a Zoom call just so we can see each other’s faces, kind of get a touchpoint for the day. And I think it just helps us keep our spirits up because we know we’re still there to support each other.  So I suggested that to people. And then also just for me personally, I’ve kind of taken up some hobbies I’ve had to put down because of time in the past. And so that’s kind of what I’m doing. And it seemed like a lot of people mentioned some of the same things. What about you, Starr?

Starr:

So much like you Shawn, I too have been checking in with the folks on my team via Zoom usually once a day, just to kind of get to see everybody’s face because it is a very isolating situation to be in a house alone a lot of the times while you’re doing your work. And I also kind of spoke about my exercise routine and the one thing that’s kind of positive now is I don’t have to wake up quite as early as I was before. I get to sleep in an extra hour and then I still work out in the morning. But one of the things I brought up and tried to get some feedback from other people was that sleep was a bit of a challenge for me. And I’ve got a lot of really great suggestions from the folks on the chat about that. What about you, Harvey?

Harvey:

I first thought about the question when we talk about coping, that when we talk about coping, coping doesn’t mean you’re going to resolve the issue. It just means you’re trying to tread water a bit. So I took it from that standpoint and basically as I looked at the chat and I saw our responses, a lot of the responses were personal, coping on a personal basis, and then because we’re teachers, a lot of the responses were, I’m trying to cope by being a better teacher, so there was a professional and personal side. On the personal side, I said myself, it’s a scary time. And others talked about being honest with oneself and seeking friends, seeking family, being nervous about friends and family and teachers talked about the difficulty of coping when they, teachers had their own kids, and both, Shawn and Starr, you’re both coping with that aspect of it. And then people talk about the importance of humor on a personal basis, reading routines, journaling and projects. And on a professional basis, there are a lot of folks talked about how worried they were about kids with remote learning and the fact that the underserved kids just aren’t getting a break. And teachers talked about their own techniques. One teacher talked about trying to improve her questioning techniques and the importance of connections and relationships. So there was really quite a broad range of issues.

Tom:

One of the things that, that teachers always have a problem with is the idea of sharing their successes or things that they do best with other teachers because for some reason, and I don’t know where this comes from, but it’s fairly universal to almost every educator I talk to across this country – they often think that modeling what they do best and talking about what they do best is bragging about what they do. So they’re really hesitant to do that. But people have to be reminded that collaboration is the best learning there is. And if you can model and share your successes with your colleagues, everybody benefits by it. The other thing too that we have to remember as adults in this socially connected world, we can meet as adults. I would have no problem calling up a number of my colleagues and say, let’s have a meeting at seven o’clock tonight or eight o’clock tonight. And everybody brings their own drinks so we can have adult beverages as we’re discussing things, it makes it a bit more comfortable for everybody. And we need more socialization as educators.

Harvey:

On a personal basis, with my daughter, who’s with us right now, she’s actually having quote unquote meetings with her friends all over the country and they’re doing kind of what you were saying is, having a beverage and just talking about issues and of course educators are doing the same thing so that the separation between physical, what we talk about physical distancing and I think several folks have mentioned it’s not the same as social distancing and the social distancing, we could reduce through those, through what you’re talking about Tom.

Tom:

I think that’s important.

Starr:

We’ve actually been doing, on Friday my whole team with the company I work with, the Core Collaborative has been getting together on Fridays for like 20 minutes just to have a quick happy hour where all of us from around the country kind of get on and just kind of share what we’re most proud of this week and just connect with everybody. And it’s been, it’s fun. It’s just nice to be able to laugh with everybody at the end of the week and sort share some of the ups and downs and just be able to connect. Because I, like you, said, Harvey and Tom, the connecting is really what’s most important right now in my opinion.

Shawn:

Yeah, and going back to that, this isn’t even so much about how teacher taking care of themselves, but our administration is really stressing the point that connect with your kids. Don’t worry so much about if they’ve gotten the right answer, the wrong answer, if they’re completing their work, it’s just, reaching out so that they know that you’re there. Having those face-to-face online meetings so that they can see you and see each other. So I think that that’s important for all of us, not just for us to do with our students.

Tom 

There was one thing I do want to talk about a little bit, and it’s kind of off topic, but everybody’s under a great deal of stress and you can see the stress as people get online with their students and with other educators. But keeping in mind this whole idea of how stressful it is for families, the one safety net that many kids have is the school in regard to their safety, in regard to child abuse. Because being face to face with a kid, it’s very easy to see, not easy, but you’re able to detect signs of physical abuse on kids. You can’t do that online. And with the amount of stress that we have, there are certain kids who are endangered by this idea of abuse. So it’s something that we have to be aware of because not only could they be getting abused, they can’t leave where they are for any reason. Having these families contained within a small space, it tends to grind anybody down. I think we’re all feeling that from time to time. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to move to different parts of the house if we have a big enough house, but not everybody has that, the ability to do that. So it’s just something for us to be aware of.

Harvey:

Well, I think Tom, that emphasizes the point that social distancing itself is a privilege and there’s been a lot written about that and that and the tragedy of the disproportionate numbers, African Americans and Hispanics in New York in particular where the Hispanic number is very high. Part of that the social distancing piece is a privilege and we’re learning that.

Shawn:

Not only the social privilege that or the privilege that you can social distance but that you have a vehicle and that you can get to work. You’re not an essential worker and can work at home, that you don’t have to take mass transit to get to work. All those different things not everyone can do and it doesn’t seem like everyone kind of keeps that in mind.

Starr:

Everybody, Shawn in particular with what you just said and I think we’ve talked about it a lot for the last few weeks about the equity challenges of this situation and what’s actually come to light because of it. And I think what we hope we could take away from it is trying to close that gap a bit more with a better understanding of how that privilege plays in and how we do need to be mindful of making sure we’re more inclusive in schools so that we can reach everyone all the time.

Tom:

But that’s what this digital gap has come in because some kids, once they left the school, they just fell off the face of the earth because they don’t have the connections. They’re not getting online to connect with their teachers. It’s a difficult situation at that point to even know where they are and what’s going on when they’re not coming in contact with anyone. Well, so, well let’s go for some final thoughts, Shawn, what do you think?

Shawn:

I just want to kind of go back to something that Starr said is that I also am an early morning exerciser and I find that I can sleep in, but it’s good for me to keep that routine where I get up, I do my exercise, I get showered and dressed for the day and it just kind of helps to settle me before I start my kind of hectic day and I just would encourage people, if you used to knit, crochet, puzzles, something that you used to do that you enjoyed, go back to do that. Find some time in your day to help with your own decompression and just a way to cope with these times. Find something that you enjoy that is calming, that will help us as we get through these times.

Starr:

I’m going to second what Shawn said, that exercise is a great routine for me. I get up in the morning, I have my first cup of coffee, I get right on the bike. I listen to something on audible for a bit. Usually lately not work-related. I try to make it something fiction and fun. Then I start my day and I try to also focus. I’d like to get back to doing puzzles because I find them very calming. And I also like to play words with friends as another way to kind of just decompress every once in a while.

Harvey:

Tom, when you mentioned the difficulty of this period, a lot of folks are using humor to get … to deal with the period. And I think we’re all seeing examples of how humor can kind of help us a bit. And so I think we need to throw that. And the other thought is, I thought it was really a great one person mentioned on the Ed Chat about the importance of not shooting for perfection. And I think that that’s helpful to all of us.

Tom:

Well, my final thought would be, collaboration in a situation like this and sharing with people and being socially connected is very important to maintain our sanity. And if you come up with a good idea, share it because an idea that’s not shared is just a passing thought and we need more ideas than we need passing thoughts.






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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