End of Summer Thoughts 2020

I wrote about my end of year thoughts 2019-2020 at the beginning of June. At that point, I was congratulating myself on triumphing over the challenges brought upon us by the novel Coronavirus and Emergency Digital Learning from March until June. It was a crazy time for sure, and it hasn’t let up since. Conversations about what school will look like for next year are ongoing, and plans are updated as the situation changes. Right now I don’t know what I’ll be doing next school year, and that uncertainty causes me anxiety. 

Summer break is full of freedom, fun, and no pressure to deliver or be on all the time

Even before Coronavirus, when things were “normal,” the end of summer was a sad time. Summer break is full of freedom, fun, and no pressure to deliver or be on all the time. Regardless of how many things I do or don’t do, summer vacation as a teacher is the most satisfying time. Some summer breaks I didn’t do anything productive for the next school year or for my personal development. I just laid around and watched movies and was active and went outside when I felt like it. I think I needed it, I was recovering from some difficult situations, and I had drained my energy reserves to get through from week to week. Other summers, like this one, I’m busy with multiple projects, following a daily routine, and feeling a major sense of accomplishment. Either way, it is shocking for me to see the time fly by over the summer. It seems to go by even more quickly than it does during the school year when I’m scheduled to a T, on a train that never stops barreling down the tracks. 

I mentioned that I feel a sense of accomplishment as I near the start of another school year. I had set a number of goals for myself at the beginning of summer break in my Blog Post: Summer Plans 2020. You can check out my post and see how I did on some of my goals for this summer https://howsheteaches.com/2020/06/26/example-post/. Towards the beginning of summer I remember that I was focused on my upcoming cross-country move (I made it!), renewing my PMP (I renewed it!) applying for jobs (so much to say about that!) and getting ready for next school year. 

One of my biggest accomplishments this summer was renewing my PMP. You can read my blog post on why I wanted to renew my PMP in the first place here https://howsheteaches.com/2020/07/01/why-should-i-renew-my-pmp/. The PMP is a professional certification for project managers, and I initially earned it in 2013 when I was working in the science industry. Renewing each PMP cycle is a decision that doesn’t come lightly, as it is required that you invest 60 hours of learning and development over a three year period. For this cycle, I earned a lot of my Professional Development Units (PDUs) by taking courses and reading great articles on topics within the categories of Leadership, Strategy, and Technical. I signed up for LinkedIn Learning at the beginning of the summer. My husband had been working on a project with them and had been raving about their resources for weeks. I was also very pleased with the content, and spent hours taking courses and reading the blogs. Some of my favorite courses were, Communicating about Culturally Sensitive Issues, and The Digital Transformation of Learning. Although the courses are designed for professionals in the “real-world,” there are so many ideas I can apply from project management into teaching. It is important to me to bring real life awareness and examples into the classroom on a daily basis, and I constantly reflect on my skills from my prior job.

Renewing my PMP has renewed my interest in projects, and I see the value of having students work on projects as a way to develop real-world skills such as communication and scheduling management. I was even inspired to write a blog post this summer on student choice projects and why I used them, and I plan to write more in the series and develop resources. You can check out the post here: https://howsheteaches.com/2020/07/14/how-she-teaches-student-choice-projects-what-are-student-choice-projects-and-why-i-started-using-them/ Learning just feels good! Good teachers unlock that feeling in their students. I feel really good that I grew professionally and personally over this summer by challenging myself, and learning about topics that were outside of my wheelhouse. I discovered areas that are interesting and that I want to explore more. I feel invigorated, something I don’t feel when I lounge all summer and become an amateur TV and movie critic (mostly Sci-Fi and horror if you were wondering, and thank you to my husband who is the sole audience of my summaries and critiques). 

Another accomplishment of mine this summer: moving cross-country in the middle of a pandemic. Whoa, Nelly! It still probably hasn’t hit me yet. I’m currently quarantining with my husband in our new town on the East Coast. We’re lucky to be moving close to family, and his parents loaned us their house for the next two weeks so that we can get adjusted. Shout out to my follower on WordPress, who I feel so lucky to have. Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted in weeks?! Well, that’s because this move has occupied my thoughts, energy, and muscles for the last several weeks. It started with the week before the move. I carefully counted our art and belongings, and I ordered boxes and various packing supplies. The goal was to organize all our stuff into little boxes. While my husband worked, I packed, and then our POD arrived at the end of the week and we started loading things in. I continued to pack, and he continued to load until there wasn’t anything left! The journey from our California beach town to our new East Coast beach town was an adventure that deserves it’s own post, maybe I’ll write about that. I am a road tripper for life, I am basically a professional and claim it as my secret talent. This road trip was unlike any I’ve taken before. We wore masks anytime we were in public, and avoided crowds, especially indoors. Even so, there were times when I felt insecure and longed for when we were isolated in our apartment like the previous four months. There were times when we asked each other, “Should we have just stayed in California another year?” There are certainly pros and cons on the topic, but ultimately it just had to happen, and it had to happen now. We moved to California, as well as moved in together after 5 years of dating, back in 2014. We initially planned on moving back to the east coast at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, but then decided to move to our favorite beach town over the mountain instead. Then we were going to move back after the 2018-2019 school year, but due to planning for and then hosting our wedding in the summer of 2019, we just didn’t pull it off. So now here we are, sitting in the AC to avoid the oppressive humidity outdoors, and it feels comforting to be in the same time zone as most of my friends and family. I don’t know how long we’ll stay in our new town, in this state, or even on this coast. For now, it’s the right place to be.

Chill time is the best part of summer

In addition to working towards my accomplishments of renewing my PMP and moving cross country, I spent a lot of time this summer cooking, watching movies, reading articles, going for walks, seeing local spots, and working on my blog. These are by far my favorite parts of summer, the chill time. In general I need to chill a lot. I tend to be introverted and I need a daily fix of “me time” which includes reading, sitting outside, practicing mindfulness, writing in a journal, or in general reflecting on things. Over the summer I can dive into hours of uninterrupted “me time,” something I can only do when I don’t need to lesson plan, and my husband is occupied with work and can’t hang out. Over the summer I really go for it, and I feel no shame when my husband comes into the living room and I’m watching a third movie that day. “This one is about a teacher who is navigating a situation with an obsessed and deceitful student. Very good and creepy, “ I say. The movie was Dismissed by the way, and it was very good. I do feel guilty though, because my husband doesn’t have the same gift of precious free time. Most people don’t, and I didn’t either when I worked in the science industry five years ago. I treasure the free time I have over the summer, and no matter what I’m doing it does have a focus on self-care. Whether I’m watching movies, cooking, or going for walks, I feel like I’m recharging my batteries. I have very little stress from day to day, and I feel positive and comforted.

Unfortunately, something else I’ve done all summer is worry about next year. I had to resign from my position as a high school Biology teacher to move and be closer to family. It was a planned move, and the timing was right, no matter how crazy everything seems around us and the extra precautions that are needed. I submitted applications for jobs back in May. How many responses have I gotten? None at all. I’m sure this sounds familiar to other people. Applying for jobs is like a full time job, and there are many times in my 11+ working years that I have submitted an application and heard nothing. But this feels really strange. Usually if I apply to 6 or 7 teaching jobs I’ll hear back about a handful of them, and land a couple interviews before signing a contract for the next school year. I’ve done this before in May and June, and I’ve also applied in mid-July. Until a few months ago, I always felt a level of job security in being a teacher. “They need teachers everywhere” they always say. But this time I’m still waiting, and I’m re-submitting applications and investing time and energy into the job search again. I wonder if it could be my California teaching license, which I’m currently working on updating to my current state’s requirements? Or could it be Coronavirus and the uncertainty of the start of the 2020-2021 school year? Whatever the case, I don’t have a teaching job lined up in the fall. Word on the street is that parents are looking for tutors for next year. Whether they are working at home and want someone to look after the care and education of their children so they can do their job, or maybe concerned about the safety of someone in their family, many families are allegedly looking into alternatives for next year. I guess I’ll be a tutor, if it means staying employed and in the field of education, but what I really want is to be a full-time teacher next year, whatever that looks like. 

What will the 2020-2021 school year look like? Remote and in-person are just two options.

I consistently read the news and see what other districts and states are doing for next year, and I continue to wonder what my new state is doing as far as precautions against Coronavirus. The district that I left made the announcement towards the end of July that school would be starting remote in the fall. They had danced around the idea, and had discussions around the safety of reopening to students. They have since announced that the entire first semester will be conducted remotely. My former colleagues were surprised by this announcement. Many of their strengths and skills are what they bring to students in person. Some have been in the teaching game for years and are not confident in conducting online lessons that have the same spark and enthusiasm. Despite the uncertainty and fear about their jobs and being effective teachers online, my colleagues are relieved. Our district was forced to go to online learning because it landed on the state’s watchlist for Coronavirus cases. I believe that if they started with in-person learning, it was only a matter of time before cases appeared. I didn’t have faith in my district to take necessary steps to protect us in the first place. I normally teach classes of 35 students, in a classroom with no windows. Were they going to reduce class sizes? Develop small cohorts of students to minimize interactions between different people? Stagger the bell schedules and lunch periods so students aren’t clustered together and intermingling? Whoever was having the conversations wasn’t sharing what they were envisioning for the school year, and they certainly weren’t asking me or my teacher friends what we thought. 

I was one of the teachers at our school whose classroom had no windows to the outside. My classroom was located in the lower level of a two-story building. It was in the center of the building structure, opening on one side to the shared science chemical and supply storage, and on the other side to a noisy hallway shared with the English department. My room was usually a different temperature than other classrooms, and I wondered about the ventilation and circulation. The thought now of teaching in the same classroom, while knowing how easily pathogens are transmitted throughout the year and how many times I catch the colds going around, has made me fearful of teaching in person for the time being. I am relieved for my colleagues that they can have more time to transition back to in-person learning again. The truth is that we haven’t had enough time to transition well in either direction, whether towards in-person learning or remote learning during these times. Although it is alarming and dizzying, I think teaching remote in the fall is the wisest and safest option. I am happy for my former colleagues that they can plan for a successful digital first week of school in the fall. 

I can’t tell you how important summer breaks are for teachers. The school train starts moving the night before the First Day of School, and it doesn’t shut down again until the last week of school. It is relentless. And although there are major ups and triumphs, there are just as many downs, tears, and setbacks. Don’t be discouraged if you are a new or struggling teacher and the year was difficult. I’ve had more difficult years than anything else, and I promise that it does get easier, more fun, and more rewarding with each school year. We don’t know what will happen next year. A lot of teachers will be in different boats, some surfing the web online, and others in a modified world with masks and sanitizer. I have my preferences of course, but I am trying to prepare myself for the challenge ahead, whether that’s creating and implementing an online curriculum that is still warm, collaborative, and fulfilling, or stepping outside my comfort zone and engaging on a level that feels risky and doesn’t outweigh the potential costs for me. School usually starts about two weeks from now. I don’t think I’ve ever cut it this close before. I’ll continue to explore my options for next year, but it’s hard not to feel discouraged. I loved my job as a teacher, and I hope we can get back to that model one day. It doesn’t feel like reality yet that I’m living on the other side of the continent or that I’m trying to find a job in the middle of a global pandemic. What does feel real? That I only have two weeks of summer left, so I better enjoy them.

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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