Welcome to the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic.
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Written by Peel District School Board Teacher Toni Duval
My last day at work was Friday, March 13, 2020. At that time we didn’t know our March Break would become Emergency Distance Learning. As a Teacher Librarian I didn’t know I should pull every amazing read aloud I could off my shelves and stuff them in my van. I didn’t know the impact that COVID-19 would have on my family, my staff and my students.
Here’s what I do know:
Throughout March Break my anxiety began to rise as the impact of COVID-19 on our lives began to sink in. Prime Minister Trudeau held a press conference everyday, and no matter how calm and reassuring he was I could not stop the feelings of being overwhelmed and sad, the knot in my neck growing tighter everyday. I read an article about how many of our feelings were in part due to grief, for the things we were losing (like return to work, our regular routines, visiting family and friends). This made sense to me as I gave myself time to feel my feelings but also tried to focus on all the things I did have: a home, food, entertainment, wifi; if I had to stay home I was very lucky for how comfortable I was going to be. I also realized how important my children are for my mental health. Even when we’re not in the same room, they’re here, keeping me company and giving me a reason to cook dinner (even though I really don’t like cooking at all).
By the end of March Break my co-parent and I made a big decision for our families. Between his compromised immune system and my daughter’s asthma we started to self-isolate. We share the children fifty-fifty so to continue to have them live in both our houses equally we now avoid all public spaces. We understand how privileged we are to work from home and order our groceries online to be delivered. We walk our immediate neighbourhood, maintaining extreme social distance at all times, in order to support our mental health. There are days when each child spends the day with one parent, giving them some distance from one another, they’re quite lucky. The FOLD also started to feature a children’s book author or illustrator online every day, which gave us something to look forward to. The webinars were engaging, funny, heartwarming and interactive.
As my family was adjusting to our new home-focused routines, announcements were made about starting Emergency Distance Learning delivered online by Ontario teachers, my neck knot returned as my body reacted to the unknown. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the moment I was waiting for. I love my job as Teacher Librarian but I didn’t fully understand how much I needed a purpose beyond just surviving and trying to stay calm. My Twitter feed started to fill with tips, tricks, ideas, resources, copyright access tools, author readings and so much more. The Peel Elementary Teacher Librarian Association (@PETLA_) is amazing. I follow many Teachers, TLs, and experts in their fields. Melanie Mulcaster (@the_mulc) and Tina Zita (@tina_zita) were very fast at posting collaborative spaces online and have inspired so many teacher librarians to curate, create and share their ideas. Once the Ministry and Boards started to post lists of online materials I realized the teachers I work with would need a way to navigate all the information. I wanted everything in one place so I started a Google site: Beatty Fleming Online Learning aimed only at my staff (I already had a LLC Google Classroom for students, I had been posting ideas to keep them busy too). I can include teacher recommended resources, teacher generated resources, and all the great ideas I find.
Staff have been working harder than ever. For some the learning curve is steep as we learn new systems like Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Google Forms and Explain Everything to name a few. Some staff have limited access to technology. They have families of their own, some with small children. I have learned that when faced with a challenge my staff pulls together even tighter and crushes it! Teams are co-creating cross curricular units. Special education teachers are creating choice boards for individual students. Planning time teachers are becoming tech support for our core teachers. We’re connecting through Google Teams, over the phone and using many, many emails at all times of day. All teachers are emailing and calling parents and trying to make sure our school community feels supported and cared for.
Thinking of the teachers started my gears turning about how to deliver the curriculum online but it was my students that had me question how to deliver instruction. Half of my job is supporting students with IEPs, at a range of grade level abilities. My first communication with families in early April was from home, in my living room. I started to call to check on families and ask about their access to technology and wifi in order to help our board assess the needs of the community. I was so happy to hear familiar voices on the phone and they were happy to hear from me. Our next hurdle was launching Emergency Distance Learning, which started two weeks ago. I was supporting teachers and the use of Google Classroom. I was supporting students by getting passwords reset and modifying math tasks with Voice Notes included. My staff and I wanted to deliver a quality program while acknowledging in some cases only 50% of a class was able to be online. The first week was a blur and the four day Easter weekend felt like a well needed rest.
Our administration started to hand out devices to families this week. I have started to experiment with Google Jamboard to conference with individual students online to support instruction. I can see how Google Meet will compliment the shared screen feature by allowing us to talk easily through the computer. Explain Everything has been useful to create short lessons. Many of the students I support were able to pick up devices from the school so I’m sure next week will be even busier. Parents have been positive with my offers to virtually support their children. I know they’re working from home while trying to help with school work. Some are essential workers and personal safety is a daily fear. When I reach out to families it’s with a message of support and not pressure, we’re all doing our best.
Access Copyright and the Association of Canadian publishers have created Read Aloud Canadian Books, a program that allows teachers to share virtual readings of Canadian books by many authors and publishers. I contacted Natasha Deen and am recording my reading of Thicker Than Water, an Orca Soundings title. I’ve created an interactive Google Slides for students to collaborate on as they listen to a chapter a day. I can see continuing this “audiobook” experience when we return to school, with publisher permission of course.
I am very privileged to continue to work and be paid as a teacher during this time.
This has been a big transition for staff, students and parents. I’m lucky to continue to do a job I love, supporting my staff and students through this pandemic.
I will continue to reach out to staff, students and families to pass on the same message I now say everyday (yes, I say this to teachers too!):
“It’s great if you can get some school work done, but if you’re not able to, please do not worry about it. Take care of yourself. We’re all doing the best we can. Your best is good enough. We need to be patient with ourselves and understanding of one another. If you need help, I’m here. Just let me know.”
Toni Duval is a full time Teacher in the PDSB. She is half-time Teacher Librarian and a half-time In-School Support Person (ISSP) in a middle school. She is a co-parent of two girls, ages 9 and 11. She lives with anxiety and is learning to be kind to herself.