For The Long Haul

We’re in for the long haul sends a chill through my body. Not sure what this even means, but it came to mind as I sit at my daughter’s (son in laws and grandkids) house winding down a long awaited trip to be with them. Did not know if this would happen, but after two years without them for Thanksgiving, I stayed as safe as I could to be with them. My son also joined us (his family is in Thailand for a few months). In a few days I will head back to Los Angeles. It’s a covid hot bed I read and hear from my family and friends. Back to closures and a lid put on many activities that had just begun to emerge. Always keeping in mind to be grateful for what is and not lament what was. I have become quite good at that. Sorrows kept at bay when I reflect as I go on. As I sit and think about my time here it has not been much different from home. I go for walks, get my coffee and go to the market; mask, distance and hand washing. The bonus my time with my grandkids. Each day they were off to school practicing social distance, masks on and washing hands, until slowly classrooms were closed because of exposure to covid. A longer Thanksgiving break was a result, that will continue till December 3 unless things change. The long haul, the seesaw, the back and forth, the daily or weekly decisions between in school or zoom.
The unknown that gives me cause to ponder and worry. The ponder of how this came to be. The ponder of why a second and third surge. The ponder of the politics that let this become an out of control pandemic. I’ll just leave it there for now. The worry is more relevant right now. The worry of what this in and out of school means to students, as well as to parents, teachers and those involved in the daily school culture. The worry of academics secondary to me ( I may be in the minority here), but pushes decisions that I question. The worry of the emotional impact, of those who lack resources to get support and help with their anxiety and depression. The worry of lack of food and shelter as the winter sets in. The worry is in the back of my mind, relentless! 
And so I read, write and reflect, I look at the smiles, the laughter and the banter (and bickering) between my grandkids. I see the pictures of the holiday celebrations on Zoom. I look at the smiles and comments of hope for next year. The dinners were cooked, the table was set for one, two or seven, to give thanks and looking forward to next year. 
And we’re in this for the long haul, vaccine available not withstanding. There are millions that need to be administered when available and proven to be safe. My resolve is to move forward and to listen to the medical experts. And for now I know my “village” keeps me strong. We are in for the long haul, I know.  My resolve is to look for the joy, humor and nature’s wonders everyday. To share with colleagues educational practices that I feel support my practices and beliefs.
Thinking about what your resolve might be? Does it vary depending on what’s going on in your community? What seems the most challenging? What has been an unexpected surprise, positive or negative? These questions are never far from my thoughts; reinforcing the idea of the long haul. 

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Just Underneath The Surface

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Halloween 2020

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

This isn’t really a post about Halloween. Here is one I wrote a few years back, Halloween and GeniusHour This is more about Zoom, invites and what I learned. A reflection that left me more at ease in understanding what can be done and what teachers are doing while distance teaching. This is an uplifting post, I hope, maybe unusual for me you might say, from the past few posts I’ve written during this time of Covid and it’s impact on our lives.

A tradition at our school has been Friday breakfast for faculty and staff before school started and 1st grade teachers always hosted the Friday before Halloween. I have been retired since June 2015, but if I subbed on Fridays I joined them in faculty/staff lounge for breakfast. Food was delicious and the camaraderie was the best! Laughter, silliness and time to hang out with colleagues. Decorations were themed around Halloween with witches, ghost, pumpkins and spooky music. Breakfasts are gone, Covid took over. But the 1st grade teachers came up with a plan and an invitation – a Halloween themed breakfast (bring your own food to the Zoom room), dress up and spend time in your square having a good time! And we did! And I was also invited! To say I was touched by the generosity of heart to include me, WOW!

I dressed up as did so many faculty, staff and administrators! The Halloween spirt was in the room! We chatted, kibitzed and just enjoyed each other company. All to soon (for me), everyone had to leave and get ready for their day. It would soon be time to open up their grade level Zoom rooms. And then the invite to join the 1st grade for their Halloween party was an unexpected and added bonus to my day. These were the kindergarten students I worked with from January to April as a long term substitute teacher. Teachers and students in costumes were ready for a fun event. The parent volunteers and 1st grade teachers worked together to prepare a “distance Halloween” party. Parents were incredible and so resourceful in planning the event. Teachers facilitated establishing the breakout rooms as well as bringing everyone together for a GoNoodle movement and then allowing time for those students who wanted to share and make comments. The event began with hellos and then two dads reading Halloween books, and the look on each of their children’s faces as they read to the whole group (there are two 1st grade classes), was so heartwarming. Then in the breakout rooms, in their individual boxes, were materials for crafts, a Bingo card and some treats! The parents who worked on this party made Halloween boxes that were picked up on campus (drive through as they picked up weekly kids ‘school supply’ bags). They played Bingo and were so excited to be able to shout out Bingo. The game continued until many friends were able to reach a Bingo. Then the GoNoodle movement and comments. It was incredible to see! Parents were the one’s supervising the crafts in the break out room and teachers had time to get ready for the whole group and the Bingo game. And I sat in my square asking them so many questions.

            
                                              My costume for both Halloween Zooms

What I learned, is this Zoom thing, this distance learning (whatever platform your school uses) is not easy, and it takes a lot of work! But we all knew that. Something else I saw is that it can work. I only saw a snippet of it, but I was involved last March 14th to April 17th when my “in house” long term sub position turned into distance learning. It works when the “village works together.” At our school we team teach, we start from a premise of “we’re in it together.” It works when everyone is on the same page. It works when teachers are recognized for the professionals with knowledge that comes from experience and caring about the kids. It works when administrators/principals visit the Zoom room, meet with teachers and share what’s on their minds. It works when administrators valuing teachers as individuals who have needs and concerns as well. It works when parents are also included in the discussions. It works when students have a voice in the learning process. It works when building RELATIONSHIPS comes first. 

It needs to work because that’s where we are now! And it’s hard! Much more labor and energy intensive than anyone thought it would be! What “tricks” have you found to navigate distance learning/teaching? Besides tech issues and inequity (which this has brought to the forefront of schools and communities everywhere), what have you found most challenging! And what has been a surprise! What has been most rewarding?


Many Halloween Decorations my neighborhood. 



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Waiting

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

Let’s get ready to go on a plane. The comings and goings always anxiety provoking. Different reasons for me and you. Whether on the runway, taxiing, ready to take off or landing and waiting for a gate to open, we just want to get going and that’s how schools look like right now. Both departure and arrival can have their frustrating procedures. Waiting is not something many of us are good at! And everyone seems to be asking that of us from medical and government officials, from the the board rooms to the classrooms. From the shopping malls and sports arena to visiting family and friends. From comforting those in hospitals or assisted living facilities, we have to wait.

And we are learning that’s the way it is for right now, in most places in the world, with various degrees. I think that’s what’s so unbelievable for many of us. It’s hit all over all the world at once and though it may be easing in some places, COVID-19 continues to wreck havoc on our lives. And besides the big worry of basic needs (food, shelter, livelihood/work, medical care) schools are a glaring red light. STOP! We just keep trying to figure it out. In person with masks, safe distance, washing hands and all that it entails, hybrid (and what that means) or remote learning. Options are looked at, all with risks. We often talk about “one size doesn’t fit all” and I wrote about it hereAnd I’ve come to that conclusion about the various school districts throughout the country. At issue of course is trust. Trust in the people who are in charge of keeping us safe; whether in schools or in our communities at large. I read about schools that have opened and what they are doing. I read about schools having to close and why. Different reasons for both scenarios. The talk about winter fueling the pandemic is scary and I wonder how will schools open, if this is so. Lashing out at institutions plays into the divisiveness in our country. What a crime that this is what’s happening when, now more then ever, coming together would make us stronger (but that’s not for this post).

Words keep popping up in my head as I read and mull things over: despair, anxiety, depression; precipice, edge, hole; hope, joy, laughter. Since March I have experienced many of these emotions. The days that can be dark I feel like I’m on the precipice, the edge of that hole that can lead to depression, despair and fills my anxiety bucket. And then surrounded by family and friends (many through video calls and Zoom time) I am reminded about the good out there. The joy, the laughter when I talk to my grandkids. Walking to my 95 year old aunt’s house and keeping a safe outdoor distance, as we have a conversation. Touching base with colleagues to hear how they’re doing and they, checking in on me. And my walks that that help me see the beauty in this world, a reality necessary to keep at bay the ugliness out there.

I look back and remember a wonderful family trip to Greece, playing at the sea’s edge in Crete, trying to catch the ripple effect when throwing a pebble into the water. How many have tried it? Some better then others at it, is it chance, or can it be done right?

 

Do we go on, by chance, or do we wait and do it right? Something on my mind. As I wonder what’s on yours? Stay safe, be well.

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With Gratitude, With Grace

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

Sometimes in life’s day to day, hum drum stuff we all go through, we don’t realize that the impact we’ve made on others and they on you, can be quite profound. And how we appreciate how that reverberates and when it’s passed forward with ever interaction, oh, those a-ha moments. That’s a reality I’ve come to realize more and more during this time. Few places to go that feel safe, few interactions with people face to face and so there is time to think and contemplate life.

A friend sends you a card, just letting you know what you mean to them; a friend uses a “care” emoji on FB to let you know a post you’ve shared touches them; a friend on Twitter checks in to see if you’re okay and the phone calls, video or not, remind you, you’re not alone, when you’re not!!

And in all the busyness, what keeps us on an even keel (somewhat) are the priorities, on a given day (because much of life is now moment to moment), in each of our lives. Kindness and grace, a short commodity I observe and wonder if that’s the legacy we leave behind at this time. Is this what our kids (students and our children) will talk about when life straightens it’s course (it eventually will)? Will they wonder about respectful discourse as a thing of the past and look to us as when this happened? What will they remember and what will we say, when they ask? 

I look at teachers and on them rests a heavy burden; how can we ignore the truth in that. Reading articles about “politics in the classroom” ( here is but one), I see another tightrope that’s walked each day. Now there is so much to “ cover ”on a given day! But our students need to know we look at them as the citizens of our future. Caring about others is ingrained in teachers (in, I would hope, all of us). When we create space for student voice, we have opportunities for questioning and wondering. We read books, we write to tell our stories, and we listen to ALL our lived experiences with open minds and without judgment. We are mindful of each journey being different from each other’s, and valued, validated and honored.


                           Upper Elementary Art Students at Center For Early Education 

 

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In Terms Of Trajectory: Stumbling Blocks

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

Sometimes when I go for my walks (and even when I drive) a thought starts to percolate in my brain, and when I’m aware that I’ll never remember it, I take a moment to jot it down; usually as an email to myself. The past few days as I’ve walked in my neighborhood (missed doing it for awhile because of the heat and the need to stay home after eye surgery), I’ve noticed leaves on the ground and the swaying of branches in the refreshing, pleasant winds blowing in the late afternoon breeze. And the word “trajectory” popped into my mind. The course of the leaves moving, floating in the air, their trajectory based on velocity of the wind and minimum hindrance to their movement, when not confronted by obstacles (houses, trees, other branches and leaves), not in their control. I know you’re getting it. You know me well, there is a connection to school, to kids, to me, to our trajectory as we navigate through these stumbling blocks, in this time.

My connection to the outside world of education is through you. You who teach, you who share, you who question. You who have put your heart into what you do. And it is not easy! And I continue to learn. I join webinars, I ask questions and at times it seems like my voice has been sidelined by circumstances. But I refuse to allow the trajectory of stumbling blocks hold me back. So when I reflect and blog, when I wonder and question, when I join in chats, when I’m asked to participate in a podcast and share my point of view, the honor is mine, and the excitement in me, might be heard by all of you! And then as I listen I know the teaching has been more fraught with unease then ever imagined. The responsibility lies heavily on teachers’ shoulders as they navigate remote learning, in house teaching or hybrid situations. And then the heavy duty balancing act of home life with their own school aged children who need their help with their school work. The stumbling blocks have been tremendous for parents as well. And I keep circling back to teachers and their students. I have often heard that the Zoom screen reminds people of the Brady Bunch sign on.. the first zoom screen!! Their smiles were great, but they had a script to follow and lots of “back ups” to get it right. It’s different in this real world of Zoom (of school right now)! Whether we pick up those stumbling blocks or go around them, each day might be different, for each of us. And as I write this I realize that’s what I too, have to do, approach those stumbling blocks with the lens of what’s the best way for today! True for all of us. And that’s what we have to keep in mind for our students..each day they face their stumbling blocks and each day they traverse them in the way that’s best for them. Our job..be there for them. Listen to them. Be their back up when they need it.  

I am often reminded to take a deep breath, to practice self-care to approach the worries  with understanding and grace. I am a work in progress. Here’s hoping that the work you do brings you the knowledge that you matter to so many people that you touch.

 

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Sidelined – But What If

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

Eye surgery number 2 done ✅. Both eyes needed cataract surgeries. Boy was I taken by surprises when I heard that from my ophthalmologist and fear gripped me! But now I just need to wait untill I can get my prescription for new glasses and I can move on. Not so easily to do with my teaching life in the time of Covid 19 pandemic. Subbing remotely is not an option for me. But my connection to my life’s passion not so easily detoured. Many of my friends are in the teaching profession, both personally and those I’ve met on Twitter and Facebook. To say they push my thinking, keep me informed and include me in the conversations, lets you know I’m not ready to “chuck it all in.” Through Twitter chats, random tweets I see in my timeline, and blog posts I follow, I’m kept in the loop, so to speak. And I get to share my thoughts, reflections and opinions on Twitter, Facebook, my blog posts and joining BAMRadioNetwork podcasts as I did with the #edchat group. (Link below.)

As more and more schools are back in session (the different configurations familiar to all educators), I read about more worry and anxiety then relief and confidence. The heavy load on teachers shoulders are incomprehensible unless you teach! Platitudes are worthless, meaningless. Lucky are the teachers who feel okay about the teaching and learning going on in their classrooms (whether on site, fully remote or hybrid). A few come across my Twitter and FB feed. In many of the blogs I read the contortions to make “this” work lays heavily on teachers’ shoulders. The responsibility of successful experiences are shared with deep sighs. I have tweeted out some of my thoughts and ideas looking at What Ifs.. so here goes in this post.

What if school hours were shortened?

What if tests, assessments and grades weren’t a priority?

What if mornings were synchronous and asynchronous covering curriculum that is mandated by schools and the arts/Specialists included in the framework?

What if afternoons were set aside for PBL (Project Based Learning), GeniusHour questions, projects designed by students (collaboration where possible), makerspace part of students interests and focus?

What if the learning, engagement and building relationships that relies on social- emotional learning that show students you care and they matter, more, is why you’re here!

What if self care wasn’t the new catch phrase but one that’s understood, before you ask the teachers to do more and add extras to the work they already do?

What if it was understood that this new normal CANNOT replicate the good old days before March 2019?

My clarion call to all who don’t teach THANK A TEACHER! And when you speak to your child’s teacher, maybe, first ask How are you doing? Thank you for all you do.

#EDCHAT  BAMRadioNetwork

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Addendum: Will I Pray Alone? Part 2

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

As promised here is what and how my prayers for Yom Kippur were accomplished. Tradition or habits at times drive how I approach life and certainly with my holidays. It was so difficult to come to terms of prayer services for Yom Kippur.. so I compromised to be able to cherish a tradition that has been ingrained in me since I was a little girl.

Change is difficult! Do we move on, and if yes how? I see it in schools, in everyday living with masks and social distancing. The accommodations needed in schools continue to be  my focus as I see and read about the challenges faced everyday by students, teachers, administrators and parents. And so I reflect.

On Sunday night I listened to a Kol Neidre service from New York. In Los Angeles the holiday had not started. And then my son and I went to the “shul” (temple/synagogue) very close to my house. And here I experienced a big change as well. The service was one I had never experienced. Not one I was familiar with. Orthodox in the Sephardictradition. The prayer books only in Hebrew, so I listened and watched and felt surrounded by people who were open and inclusive to the “stranger” in their midst. All had masks, most wore them correctly and we social distanced. The service was held outside under a tent like canopy, open on all sides. My son sat in the men’s section and I sat with the women. This was a familiar seating arrangement. The night air was cool and we stayed until we walked home together. So I was able to combine the new (Zoom service) and on site as well. Then Monday we stayed home. At 11:00am we said Yizkor together at home. He for his father, my husband and I for all whom I’ve lost. Then the day slowly ended and it was evening. With the pull of what to do (wanting to hear the blast of the shofar)I logged on to a Zoom service here in Los Angeles to hear the evening prayers ending Yom Kippur and to listen to the powerful sound of the shofar. And then I might say a miracle happened, my son opened up our windows and we listened quietly to the blowing of the shofar from the synagogue we had gone to Sunday night.

Did I compromise? Yes. But I felt that I prayed with Jews all over the world. I was not alone and in retrospect as I reflect, I was never alone and I prayed with millions with love, care and hope in our hearts.

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Will I Pray Alone?

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

So I have a deadline. What you may ask? You write a blog, what deadline can you have? Well, I want to hit PUBLISH before Sunday night, before Yom Kippur. I’ll get it done. Maybe even today. I have the time to share what’s in my heart. This is because of the present, how the world appears to us: teachers, students, parents, administrators (in my school world) and to us: people who share this planet.

In our topsy-turvy world; our upside down out of control world, where hate seems to prevail; where loving others like yourself, where do unto others as you would have them do onto you is non existent (I know I’m writing with extremes/absolutes, but maybe it will hit home!). I reflect, I look back and wonder what’s ahead.

This Yom Kippur going to “shul” is tricky. Trying to figure that one out. The answer will be an addendum to this post, but not till Tuesday morning. I have been fasting and observing this holy day in a most traditional way since I was 10 years old. The year my father died, the year I decided to fast on that Yom Kippur My mother and immediate family were against it. I was young and had never even fasted at night, or till noon, gradually, trying it. But I was adamant. In my young mind, the loss so deep and profound, I decided this was what I wanted, no what I needed to do. And so year after year I lit the yarzheit/memorial candle for my father, adding one for my mother and a few years ago for my husband. All of blessed memory. Thinking of other family members also gone as I lit the candles and when I said the mourner’s Kaddish in my synagogue. But this year, will I pray alone? Or will there be a place to join in a neighboring synagogue, with masks and observe distancing so I can pray with others. Life we know is precious. We also know it’s precarious. We know it’s so different this year.

And this year I realize the loss is also so profound for so many people because of COVID-19, because of wonton senseless murders because of race, ethnicity, antisemitism, with such disregard for life. I watched glued to the TV screen, Congressman John Lewis’ funeral and as Judge Ruth Badger Ginsburg lies in repose at the Supreme Court and then lies in state at the Capitol building, understanding the loss so great, felt by so many. And yes every loss of life leaves behind mourners, with such sorrow and no one is ever ready to say goodbye. I never have.

Which leads me to a tweet I saw this morning about Babi Yar killings of Jews September 1941 The person wrote that the reason he fasts on Yom Kippur is for the victims of Babi Yar. That really shook me. Those thousands of people probably have no one to say Kaddish/mourn for them, light a candle in their memory. The “Children’s Memorial” at Yad Vashemwill always remind me that “never again” is what we as a society must pledge to. Never again for all those lost because of hate and fear.

As I sit and wonder and worry about a world that pits one against another, I realize it takes each of us to do better: in our communities, in our schools, in our lives. And as I write, the teacher whose hand has been positioned to learn and share, answers your questions, why this post? We have an obligation, a moral duty to speak out when justice is not served,  when we commit to do better when we know better (Maya Angelou). To help encourage our students to probe, to question and learn from the past to never repeat it again.

I look at these roots in the picture and think of them as a metaphor for our lives..where we come from, and what holds us up.
Wishing all G’mar Hatima Tova  May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good.

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Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

From The Desk Of The Retired Teacher

It’s fascinating to me that I write more now that I’m farther from the everyday life of a teacher, then before. Thoughts pop in my head and as I reflect I often wonder if I should share or not? But then I think if my ramblings in any way helps others to reflect, adapt or change some practices (that you were thinking of changing and find my words inspire a a-ha moment), then the post served an unexpected purpose!

I remember years and years ago sitting at my desk in our kindergarten classroom working on some curriculum plans during the kinders’ rest time. A clever, active little boy who found rest time an incredible waste of his time and a nuisance, said to me, “Fay, you know you how you can make me happy… I said, “It’s not my job to make you happy.” (knowing full well he was trying to figure out how to get out of resting). I often think back at that conversation, for a variety of reasons, over the years. And today I thought how much better for both of us, if I had said, “How can you make yourself happy?” And now I wonder how many children, our students and those in our homes cry out that refrain, especially with remote learning or limited movement if they’re in hybrid mode. How does it feel if we were to say “What can you do to make yourself happy? Isn’t this part of self regulation? Isn’t this part of self care? Of being mindful? Isn’t this what we also need to ask ourselves?

                                    Putting the pieces together, like a puzzle in the sidewalk.

Besides looking inward and reflecting about what I could have done differently, it happens that as I go for my walks I often overhear conversations that bring me to tears. This week I overheard two parents talking about their children. In a flash of a two minute conversation my heart broke as one mom said, “He’s totally overwhelmed with all that homework! So much Zoom time and homework on top of it all!” As they walked by I wanted to scream to the powers that be: Hey folks what do you think kids are missing out or  losing out because of remote learning. Paundits everywhere are shouting that out to school districts non stop, they aren’t learning. Do something. But let me say, NOT their academic skills BUT their identity being skewed when they see themselves as not keeping up, as failing when they are trying to keep afloat. Their innocence as learners needs to be protected, with play, engaging creative activities, following their interests not an avalanche of quizzes, tests and must dos. Curriculum is not overlooked as it becomes immersed  throughout all areas of learning from art, to math, to reading, writing, science. One could say it’s part of the STEAM pedagogy.

I have hope. I have faith. I learn about your classrooms as you share what you do. I see your kids’ excitement. Mostly I see their joy in spending time with their friends (remotely and/or in person), with you and I can see, “everything’s going to be all right.”

We face life in whatever relationship we have developed, in whatever job and position we may have from a place of “good intentions.” A broad generalization from my stroke of a pen, or keyboard.. And then I recall with profound clarity all the things I’ve done with such good intentions in mind. And now in hindsight, I realize that many good intentions go awry.

Another reflection, another thought, I’m good with it. I hope your days and weeks ahead find the calm you need to go on.

As our world faces so much uncertainty with floods, fires, the pandemic, hunger, housing, civil unrest, it overwhelms and takes its toll. The devastating fires in California have affected counties far from the flames. And we keep going on, because that’s the choice we make.

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