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A Teacher’s Diary: Corey Shepherd

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Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 1:09 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2020 at 9:43 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Corey Shepherd 5th Grade Teacher Kotzebue, Alaska:

UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 25, 2020

I’ve been wanting to add another entry to this diary for a while, but life has been so busy lately. I would like to say work has been busy, but even as I work to maintain some semblance of a work/life balance, it is often difficult to draw a distinction between the two.

Last Thursday, an all-staff meeting was called at the end of the day to announce that we would be shifting to the “yellow” operational risk level in which students could attend school part-time. I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing students in person and the instructional advantages that the opportunity would provide, even as I was simultaneously terrified that we would shut down again before Monday.

Friday (and Saturday and Sunday) saw a flurry of preparations and parent contact to familiarize everyone with not only our new student contact schedule, but new meal distribution procedures, new homework packet distribution dates, and our first attempt at refreshing student laptops and iPads with new learning materials.

Monday, I was thrilled to finally see 5 of my students. I focused the majority of my time on better familiarizing them with their laptops and the apps we primarily rely on. I sent them home after two days confident that they would be good independent learners for the remainder of the week. I greeted a different group of 6 more of my students Thursday morning. Our day was very much like Monday, except I had the experiences of Monday to make things go ever so slightly more smoothly. I sent my students home, anxious to have a productive Friday with them.

Then the text message came. At 8 pm, like a ton of bricks, the news that we were shifting back into the “red” zone landed on my shoulders, already laden with the other burdens this year has thrust upon me. I want my students and their families to be safe. As an educator, I just want the opportunity to develop something resembling a consistent routine with my learners. I want that not only for myself and my students, I want it for my families too who have risen magnificently to the challenges this school year has presented. We all need a reprieve.

And so I’ll spend my Friday like I did my last one, on the phone, calling, emailing, and texting my families to let them know that everything has changed once again. It isn’t even the end of the first quarter yet. My newest goal for the remainder of the school year is to fight the sense of internalized failure that grows with each passing day.

UPDATE: August 27,2020

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” These words translated from poet Robert Burns perfectly encapsulate the state of perpetual adaptation I have found myself in this year.

So many things have changed with extremely short notice, and usually for very valid reasons. The manner and times that staff enter the building, the venues and times for meal distribution, the manner in which materials are distributed and collected, and the procedures for documenting contact with families have all shifted.

I can’t fault my supervisors for these changes. What good would that even do? It has very real effects on my workflow and confidence though.

Whenever I print something to go home, I find myself wondering if the information on the page will be obsolete by the time it makes it home. I wish that the upcoming rollout of one-to-one devices to our students would alleviate that concern, but due to limited internet access in many homes, we will be developing content for offline use, sometimes for weeks at a time.

Every year, I have sought to improve various aspects of my practice. Every year, I begin the year with an affirmation that THIS year will finally be the year that I am able to execute a strategy properly. I’m beginning to come to terms with the reality that this school year, in its best iteration, will be a step back in many regards.

I may be able to look back and be proud of my adaptability and perseverance, having made the best of my circumstances, but I question if that will represent a meaningful benefit to my long-term practice.

ORIGINAL POST:

Structure and consistency have been hallmarks of my classroom culture. My students thrive in an environment where expectations are made clear to them and the criteria for their success are known from the onset.

I will still be able to provide structure and consistency at a distance, but it won’t measure up to the immersive experience that in-person learning offers.

The biggest variable I will face from an instructional standpoint will be my students’ disparate levels of technology and internet access. Students will receive one-to-one devices in the coming weeks, but their safe and proper use will be difficult to reinforce over the telephone. Students who have had consistent access to technology devices will catch on quickly, but, unfortunately, I will not be able to capitalize on their experience to serve as peer tutors to classmates.

We plan to design our learning activities to be accessible offline, but those with consistent access to internet will have a distinct advantage to leverage their device to extend their learning and explore their interests. Being in the classroom together has typically served as an equalizer of opportunity. Students could work closely together to support each other and benefit from our collective knowledge and experiences.

This year, with my class connected by a variety of methods (or not at all), that collaboration will be challenging. It may appear pessimistic on the surface, but I always try to think of ways that things can go wrong so that I can prepare a contingency. This year, the ever-changing nature of the pandemic introduces an added level of uncertainty that is nearly impossible to plan for.

Even still, I am committed to face every challenge head-on to deliver compassion and facilitate high-quality learning experiences that will grow my students academically, socially, and emotionally.

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