The Little Things

Little AoA found joy this weekend in a Walmart. We knew that there was a new line of greeting cards featuring our favorite, Dolly Parton. We looked for them every time we went to the store, and finally, we found them! It was a little treasure in these challenging times. I’ll take it!

Our schools are still in chaos. We now have one entire school being quarantined for 14 days. Unfortunately, the information is being kept quiet for as long as possible. One of my teacher friends showed up at the closed school this morning to deliver services to her students. She said the parking lot was empty, and she thought she’d missed the rapture! By the end of the day, it was being realized that perhaps more people in the community and school system need to be made aware when schools, grade levels, or individual classes are quarantined.

Social distancing doesn’t work too well when working with elementary age kids. They are not able to do it in their classrooms or the hallways, so it is just an abstract idea. It is hard enough for adults, but we have put far too much on the kids, expecting that they have the developmental ability to adhere to cdc guidelines for an entire day at school. They may be able to do it for the length of time of a shopping trip, but that is vastly different than all day in an enclosed room with 20 other kids.

One of our school administrators was on a national news program this weekend. They were interviewing teachers and administrators from various parts of the country. They were all communicating concern for the well-being of students, families, and community….except for the one representing Tennessee. “We can’t live in fear.” The interviewer asked about the risk of kids taking Covid home to parents and grandparents. “The kids are always going to take illnesses home.” was the response. My mom was watching with me, and the look on her face was very sad. I depend on the person who spoke, to respect policies enough to follow them in order to keep us as safe as possible. My trust for this person was affected to say the least.

To top off the surprises, our county is having the county fair next week! Masks are optional. Do you know where masks aren’t optional? In the counties around us with declining Covid rates!

I know I am feeling the pandemic fatigue as much as everyone. I don’t like wearing a mask everywhere. I feel like I’m in a Dystopian novel! I want to eat in restaurants, go to theme parks, attend church in person, go to a movie theater or a concert…. but like so many, I chose to be part of the solution. I wanted the spread to end quickly, but instead, it dragged on and on while people argued about the legitimacy of this virus. Our state has now moved into the 10th spot in the country for number of cases. Kids aren’t staying in school without interruptions to quarantine. I feel like a broken record. We are no longer “in this together”. One thing I am glad about, and that is that businesses have taken it upon themselves to uphold safety measures when our leaders did not, for whatever reason.

Come on down to the fair! Mask not required!

~AoA

Mass Confusion and Frequent Pivoting

Here in my county in Tennessee, we have just completed two weeks of school with kids in person. Our state seems to be in complete denial that the pandemic is serious. Our state sat at 17th most cases in the country not so long ago. The cases have not been decreasing here, and we have now made our way to the number ten spot in the number of cases. I watched our school board meeting this week, as they talked about “how well” things are going. Our schools opened in person for anyone who chose it. Those who preferred, could choose remote learning. There is no mask mandate, everyone is “trusted” to honestly answer the covid questions each day as they decide whether to send their kids to school. Teachers were declared “essential”, and must come to work even after exposed to Covid-19 as long as there are no symptoms. Classrooms are full, with very little room for social distancing in many classes. Our PPE kits from the state have still not arrived.

Now for the two week update…. Tonight we learned that one elementary school will be closed for two weeks for quarantine after mass exposure.One school has sent home all third grade classes to quarantine, a kindergarten class was sent home for two weeks, and in one day at my home base school 21 contact trace letters were sent out to students. Everyone was so anxious to get back to “normal”, that they didn’t think through the reality of contact tracing and quarantine in schools. Everyone had to be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure that’s much better than having to adjust and arrange childcare for a longer term.

Our county fair is scheduled for the first week of September. My family won’t be participating, but then again, we rarely went anyway. It will be just fantastic dealing with the effects of that! There are rumors floating around that our district will be all remote very soon. Schools are in a panic trying to scrape up enough chrome books for the kids who will need them for access to instruction. The bottom line is, there are not enough.

~AoA

Let’s Do This!

Teachers in my county became “essential workers” last week. I learned today, that someone I was in a room with on Thursday, was actually contact traced or had a loved one at home with Covid. He was at work because that is what we were told to do. Luckily, we were both wearing masks, and we weren’t really interacting. I was in the room where he was doing paperwork. I was digging through file cabinets looking for a file. I have got to keep my guard up!

I start seeing my students in person tomorrow. I am excited to start seeing them again. We will be checking out all of the ins and outs of google classroom, and making sure the kids can get into everything. I am looking forward to playing some chess with my students, telling stories, and trying some trivia. One thing I love doing with kids, is genius hour/passion projects. I usually pick a passion project for myself right along with the kids. I have started trying out some new crafts. I want to learn to make a friendship bracelet design with heart shapes woven in. I started learning it, and got frustrated. I then got really discouraged when the instructions said it could take 3 hours! I found another pattern that said it took 20 minutes, so I might just back up and start with that one. This could be something that my students might enjoy too. I am always amazed to see the kids that seem to have natural abilities to do new things. Some always end up like me….frustrated.

I hope your week gets off to a good start!

~AoA

Three Weeks

Teachers have been back to work for three weeks now. The students have been back for one week. There have been 16 positive Covid cases in the schools so far, all adults. I had my own Covid crash this week. One of my work friends spiked a high fever on Monday night. I had been in close proximity to her quite a few times. The next day, I started getting a sore throat and headache. Taking no chances, I went to get tested during my lunch time. The next day, my eyelids were so swollen, I could barely open my eyes. I stayed home that day. The next day, I took some allergy medication, and went to work. By noon, I got a call from my administrator. She told me that I needed to stay home for 10 days since I had symptoms, OR I needed to bring in proof of a negative covid test and an alternate diagnosis. I went home for the rest of the day. The next morning, I received my negative test result. I had to take a little trip to the doctor for a note. They were shocked that my employer was requiring an alternate diagnosis. They said it was a violation of hippa. They gave me what I needed, but they didn’t really have an alternate diagnosis, so they just printed off my after visit summary that said,” Virus”. I turned in my letters and went back to work.

Masks provided to teachers by the state

I’m not sure what I will do if I start getting sick again. It seems like pretty much any illness can present Covid symptoms. How many people just keep on working with a sore throat? I usually work through most illnesses. I don’t like staying home from work unless I have a fever.

I had to laugh when I first saw a fellow teacher in my county, share a picture of the mask that was provided by the state. It doesn’t look like any mask I have seen. It kind of looks like something from a sock factory. We are still waiting for our “kits” from the state. Even with the lovely masks, I just learned that the teacher in the room next to me, refuses to wear a mask. I had noticed, but kept my thoughts to myself. Our classrooms are at half to three fourths capacity, and less than half of the students wear masks.

This week, our county mayor referred to the pandemic as fake. Some of us are wondering why he continues to do a Facebook live daily update on the pandemic if it is fake.

Our mayor also used his platform to post a racist meme, which was very distasteful. he defended it as “just a joke”, and put down anyone who said otherwise. I am sad to say that my town seems to be full of racists. I was married to one of them. I don’t feel like our mayor is serving ALL of the people of our county. I have never thought much about public officials, but this crisis has brought them into the light.

This is the decision tree that our schools are using. The only change has been that on the green side, we are to report to work as long as we don’t have symptoms. I can say, it definitely doesn’t feel right having to report symptoms, doctor visits, and Covid testing, to others. I personally think the schools should have put most of the students into remote learning to start the year. I think there needed to be a better plan in place for testing in the schools. In the university where my sister works, they have required all students to have a covid test before coming to campus for the fall. They were establishing a baseline- found almost one percent of students were positive.

On a happy note, Little AoA is a HUGE Dolly Parton fan. She found a sweet little quilt, and made one of her dolls a “Dolly” with a coat of many colors. We anxiously await the day that we can finally take a trip to Dollywood!

This next week, I will start seeing my students! I am really looking forward to getting into a routine with them. I am getting through my practice curriculum on google classroom. I suspect I may be making it harder than it should be. Luckily, my students won’t hesitate to give me honest feedback.

~AoA

Mask Up And Go In!

Today was our first day of school with kids. It went very smoothly at my school, mostly because our administrators are logistics superstars! Classes on my side of the building, with 5th and 6th grade, were at a little less than half capacity. The kids were mostly not wearing masks in the classroom, and neither were some teachers. Everyone was encouraged to wear them in the hallways, but they weren’t required to.

The big kicker was tonight…I was checking on one of my dear work friends to see how her day went. She went home and spiked a fever of 103! now I can panic! I have been around my friend plenty over the last two weeks! I always had my mask on and stayed a good distance from her. Still, this is a bit too close! She is going to get tested tomorrow. My AoA teen is insisting that I get tested tomorrow as well. The AoA kids biggest fear is that I will die while they are under 18, and they would be sent to their abuser of ten years. This fear is disabling my teen.

To add the cherry on top, today our county teachers were declared “essential workers”, which means that we now must mask up and go to work, even if we have been exposed! We are only to take a quarantine if we have symptoms. This is not going to end well, I’m afraid.

I learned this week, that our county mayor, the one who is minimizing the pandemic and refusing to encourage masks; actually sends his kids to a very small private school. They are appropriately distanced in their small classes. I was blown away at my public middle school today, seeing a room packed full of big 8th grade students! Tell me it will all just go away!

~AoA

Protection!

I went to my classroom one last time today, to get ready for Monday, the first day for kids. I couldn’t resist taking this picture of the items given to each teacher, by our school. The cleaner is some sort of “natural cleaner” from a local company. One face shield and one mask, along with a roll of paper towels, makes up my Covid protection! There is no Lysol to be found in our county, unless you just happen to be in a store the first 30 minutes within the time they shelve a new shipment.

We were given further instruction today, after one school in our county couldn’t open Monday (too many teachers with Covid or in quarantine due to exposure). We must wipe down the copy machines before using them, and wash our hands afterward. Teachers are not to eat lunch together in the teacher lounges. There is no mask mandate, and even teachers are divided over the seriousness of this virus.

This picture has circulated around social media, along with a very sad narrative about how school will be. Another teacher did a similar post, only changed her narrative to a more positive tone. The truth is, this is the protective equipment we will wear. I am still not sure how I feel about teaching little kids in this gear. I think we will all get use to it pretty quickly, but it looks surreal….dystopian…

The scenario reminds me of this show I binged on Netflix a while ago. The Earth entered a war rendering the planet dangerous for human life. Some people escaped into outer space and lived as a society. The time came when they needed to see if they could return to Earth….was it safe yet? To test it out, they sent 100 people to “test it out”.

I have had to plan with my family, how I will keep them safe when I start traveling to different schools and working in person with kids who may or may not be wearing face coverings. To start, I have put together individual supply kits for each student, consisting of a folder, composition book, supply pouch, pencils, erasers, highlighters, and post it notes. Gone are my days of shared supplies… When I get home, I will head straight for the shower. I will keep a mask with me at all times, and put it on if I am in the same room as other family members. I will only be working with a total of 7 students in person. The largest group will be three. The thing is, they will be coming to me from different classrooms, so in a sense, meeting with them will have the potential of exposing me to about 360 people! Our district really didn’t try very hard to minimize risk with pods of students or staggered schedules. I just pray that I don’t bring anything home to my parents. My dad is extremely medically fragile, and my mom is feisty but does have various health issues. My teen is worried that I will die if I get it. That is all a lot to put on my family. I wish our state would have just followed the cdc guidelines and recommendations about opening schools. Our county transmission rate is around 30, meaning the daily average over four days, is 30 positive cases per 100,000 people. The recommendation is less than 10. We are far from that mark, and we will pay the price.

~AoA

Open and Close!

School systems around us have been starting to open this week. Many are having to close and switch to all remote learning within days, due to transmission of Covid-19. A six year old child in our state died today from Covid-19. Kids are showing up to school with it. Schools in my county open in 5 days!

All of the teachers in the middle school where I work, took a tour of our school to check out each other’s rooms. I stopped to chat with a few teachers. One teacher has a class roster with 33 kids on it! The rooms in our school are barely big enough to hold that many desks…there is no way to distance them even 3 feet, much less 6 feet. Did I mention that masks are optional? I feel like our school board has lied to the community, telling people that they would make their BEST EFFORT to provide a safe environment.

The “no mask” people won. Masks are not required. The “open the schools” people won. Schools are opening for in person learning. Now I wish the bickering would stop. The experts have put forth data. The families have been given a choice. Teachers haven’t been given a voice in any of this. We are public servants, and right now that is exactly what it feels like to be a teacher. We will rise to the occasion as we always do, because we love what we do. We care about the education and general well being of our students.

~AoA

Ready to Go!

Teachers have been preparing their rooms and lessons to be ready to receive students! As the time draws near, my teacher friends with compromised health conditions grow more nervous. One of my friends is “getting her affairs in order”. My own parents are scared that I will unknowingly bring this virus home. All while one of our school nurses tells people that we all need to be around this virus so we can build up immunities. We really want to teach in person, but it is just not time. Our transmission rate is over 30 a day per 100,000 people….did I mention that our school system is one of the few that is not requiring mask wearing?

I have been working on making videos for my classes. I am starting to feel a little better about it. I think that all the time spent with my students, writing and acting out stories for recording, has helped me to feel better about being on camera. My granddaughter likes doing tik-Tok, and I don’t know that I am that confident. I must have trashed 5 videos today, trying to make just one. I have thought it would be fun to make some sock puppet friends to be with me in the videos. Then there is zoom, google meet, and Microsoft teams with the group meetings. I remember seeing things like this when I was a kid, and how wonderful it seemed to have the ability to see who was on the other end of a call!

Cute….American Girl doll zoom

Our governor spoke today with an update. One of the reporters asked a very important question. The reporter pointed out the guidelines and recommendations from the cdc, Dr. Birx, and studies that indicate that now is not the time for in person schools. The reporter asked the governor if there was some data that was being used to guide the decision for in person school. The governor had no studies regarding this. He said multiple times that child abuse reporting was down by 25%, and children receive mental health services at school. That was it….he said it repeatedly, every time he was asked about opening schools. This has prompted me to desire to go down a rabbit hole looking for any proactive or reactive actions he has taken to protect children from abuse, and make mental health services accessible. He didn’t say one word about teachers risking their health. The important thing to him seems to be that families got to choose whether to school in person or remotely. Well, teachers didn’t get that choice. We didn’t…..

To leave on a positive note, I learned today that there is a “free little library” at my church. How did I not know this? It is adorable!

~AoA

The Vote Against Masks

Everyone needs to wash their hands, because our school board voted tonight, not to require students or teachers to wear masks at school! Correct me if I’m wrong- I am not a doctor… but I thought we knew our special virus was airborne. Three school board members, the school attorney, and superintendent (he is BRAND NEW) wanted a mask mandate. On one side, there are pregnant teachers being told by their doctors, not to return to the classroom unless everyone is wearing masks. Teachers will be in and out of quarantine, and at home with Covid symptoms. On the other side are parents who don’t want their kids to have to wear a mask, and community leaders promoting their right to not wear one if they don’t want to.

I met with my teaching team at school today, and we all realize that everything may change from week to week. It won’t take long before chaos ensues. Everyone is prepared to hit the ground running in order to get as much done as possible before the schools have to shut down for in person learning. We have the data….we have the science…we have the recommendations from our president’s task force…still our school system does not bend. We are jumping right into the fire of being a national “experiment”.

I love my job, but I also love my health and the health of my family members who are living on borrowed time as it is. I am going to do my best to distance. My largest group is three kids, so that is a plus. My heart goes out to the teachers who will have mostly full classrooms. I look around my teaching world, and notice that a very large percentage of us are overweight, putting us in a risk category for more than mild symptoms. Then I look at a school board that does not have our best interest in mind. That hurts….

~AoA

Here They Come

Some kids in our state will start back to in person learning tomorrow. My county starts next week. Today was the deadline for families to register for remote learning if that is what they choose. I am very curious about how many students will be remote. We will know tomorrow.

I am looking forward to meeting with my students again, but also a little nervous for everyone. There is a big percentage of our citizens who either don’t understand the severity of the pandemic, or don’t believe it is serious. All we can do is watch and wait. Our governor and local leadership have gone against recommendations for opening….and here we are.

This week will be used for more lesson planning. I am so pleased to be able to put my lessons on Google Classroom. I made my first videos using “screencastify”. It wasn’t great. This program allows me to show my computer screen, and puts a video of me talking, in a small square. I had trouble figuring out where to put the square that wouldn’t block an important part of the screen. Then there are the aesthetics….my hair looked really frizzy…with or without glasses….I may need a little make-up. I am not a “natural” in front of a camera. Some people make it look so easy!

The AoA kids started their homeschooling year in July. AoA teen is using an online high school program. There has already been an upsetting lesson on relationships, that indicated something about race being a barrier to relationships. This rubbed AoA teen the wrong way, and they became enraged, wanting to quit the program. I offered to reach out to the company. Soon after, AoA teen told me that an email had been sent! My teen, who hates writing, wrote a passionate email about racism in educational materials.

I am very thankful that my kids had already been homeschooling prior to Covid-19. There are a lot of new “Covid homeschoolers” who are venturing into homeschooling. I am in several homeschool groups, and watch as parents get excited about buying curriculum, and making little school room areas in their homes. I don’t have the heart to shatter the fantasy. All kids don’t respond as we envision. Even sweet Little AoA has moments when she throws down her work and tantrums. Homeschooling takes a lot of PATIENCE and FLEXIBILITY. If my child isn’t in the frame of mind to do book work, we do something else. There is part of me that would love if they followed a traditional school schedule, but sometimes, I totally understand- because I rebel myself, against traditional schedules.

I will be starting into the world of tutoring next week, which I am excited about. I have a teacher friend who will be homeschooling. We are doing a barter for services. I will be meeting over zoom, for an hour a week with her two kids. I will be giving feedback, assigning work, supporting their learning, and motivating. It is much easier to do these things with other people’s children! I felt like I needed to give it a try, and figure out what exactly I can do to help. There are several specialties that I have experience with. I have successfully worked with students who have learning disabilities for over 20 years. I currently specialize in working with intellectually gifted students who struggle with anxiety/perfectionism, executive functioning challenges, and disgraphia. I set up a very basic website to share, once I feel like I am ready to take flight. It needs a little tweaking, but it is coming along.

I wish you all an enjoyable week!

~AoA