WTMA’s New Normal
While we didn’t plan to have a pandemic rule over the final quarter of the school year, it is what we are dealing with, and we think our instructors and students are doing a great job adjusting to their “new normal.” As families “shelter-in-place,” students may notice some of our instructors now have very young teaching assistants who are still working on their conversational skills. All kidding aside, though, instructors are taking more time to check in with students to see how they are doing outside of class, and are working hard to provide the same high-quality instruction to our families as always. As we all work to end this year on a high note, we thought it might be fun to share some of the behind-the-scenes stories from our instructors.
We asked them to tell us, in their own words, what they are doing to keep teaching right now, and how their teaching lives look different during the pandemic.
I’m having to fill a room with activities and toys in hopes of entertaining my kids for a few hours while I teach. I change it up every day so that they don’t get too bored. However my 20-month-old has been a frequent visitor. My students have been very patient. I am getting creative with the toys. The new thing is a slide in a ball pit.
With my loss of school for my little kids (and the insanity having all of them in my house brings), I’m driving three days a week to my folks’ house and teaching from my childhood bedroom. My students greatly appreciate my weekly updates on the number of rolls of toilet paper left in my house. And we refer to the current pandemic as “the thing that shall not be named.” One class calls it “the pickle” and they all get the importance of some levity in this moment. I can honestly say the students are really there for me and those hours with them are the best of my week.
The best thing about my classes now is that they are proceeding as normal with no problems! The kids have been working hard and doing great. My online Latin classroom (aka upstairs bedroom/office) is now also the home of online church, as my husband is an Episcopal priest, and the Labrador retriever is a little confused as to why BOTH her people now spend all their time talking at a screen, but other than that, I’m grateful to be able to keep doing what I was doing!
I moved one week before the shut-down, and I had very little furniture. I conducted class sitting cross-legged on the floor for three weeks before my desk was delivered. Still don’t have an office chair yet…
I normally work from a home office, which is lovely and quiet when my kids aren’t inside. But with the current changes, I now have “coworkers.” They’ll come in for a short time, say “Hallo,” and maybe grab a snack. When my internet went out unexpectedly last week, I wasn’t sure about how to hold class — there are a number of places I normally go to get a great connection, but they’re all closed now. Happily, our local library is just a mile down the road, and they’ve made it a point to boost their internet signal so that folks can park in the parking lot and use the internet. As a result, my students got to join me as I taught from my car, so we had additional practice of prepositions: “Where is Frau Edwards?” “In her car!” “Next to the Library!” “By the courthouse!”
Like many others, our whole family is staying at home, pretty much 24/7. This provides my family with a lot of opportunities for spending quality time with one another. This also seems to be providing my kids with ample time to engage in some of their favorite pastimes, too, such as… fighting over who touched the other one first, dressing the dog in costume jewelry, and making gargantuan messes that seem nearly impossible for two children under four feet tall. My husband and I have been taking turns spending time with the children while the other one works from our home office.
To keep up with my work schedule, I’ve been doing a lot of late-night grading and emailing, and to keep us all sane, we’ve been making sure to get some outside time in every day. At the beginning of my classes, I will often ask students if anyone has anything good to share, and as a class we will take a minute to celebrate some of the more “mundane” successes students have had — building a new bike path through their woods at home, adding a new puppy to their family, and learning how to make macarons have been some of the recent stories students have shared.
One thing I’ve been doing at the first of each class is a Stress Level check. I ask my students to rate their stress from 1 (low) to 10 (max). And then we talk about it.
At my house, I have three kids doing part of their schooling online in addition to two parents working online. I know my students probably are experiencing the same internet and device competition for scarce resources. My response has been lots of grace. If your internet is wonky, you still get credit for attending if you watch the makeup video. Deadlines for work are generous and assignments are lighter. I’m giving out extensions to anyone who asks, no questions. From conversations with students, I understand that our new normal is driving up general anxiety levels. Some students are dealing with family illness. There’s a lot of uncertainty and worry. I think we as teachers understand that supporting the whole student right now requires flexibility and understanding.
Also, the AP test format and content are radically different this year, and only weeks before the test, changes are still happening on a sometimes daily basis. I’m working to keep students abreast of the latest news and have completely overhauled my lesson plans for the last few weeks of the semester to support the new scope and format of the test. We’re all doing the best we can!
I feel like teaching has been pretty much business as usual. These students are leading the way in distance learning since it is what they have already been doing. We talk a lot about how they are the OG distance learners and everyone now wants to be like them! 🙂 I have had a couple students who have had some anxiety issues and I have been in contact with parents and extended some deadlines. One thing that has been fun that just happened to land during this time was the Beauty in Art project. I think the students enjoyed this interest-driven project. It was good timing!
My husband and I take turns with our daughter, Juliet. He has been working from home, so she goes upstairs with him to her spot in our home office, and she comes back downstairs to be with me when I am done. She likes to sit at the table with me and color while I plan. Juliet loves to hear about my lessons and to learn the names of my students. She came down for a snack two weeks ago and waved hello. The students loved it!
Closing out the year in the middle of a pandemic is not exactly what we pictured back in August. We are all doing the best we can, and we are grateful for our WTMA family.