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Survival Tips from a Hybrid Teacher

Hi there teacher friends,

I couldn’t help but notice a big transition for many teachers who have been virtual for much or all of the school year switching to a hybrid format. Welcome to the party, folx. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. In my district, we’ve been our own version of hybrid since September. I’ve been providing instruction to both in-person and virtual students all year. No, I don’t want to do it for the rest of my career, but for right now, I’ve managed and I think you can too. Yes, it starts as chaos. Even when you think you have a routine, some days are still just clunky. Most of the time, it’s not cute. Now I’m in no way an expert, but I do feel like it could benefit somebody if I share the things I wish I knew seven months ago…

For context, I feel like I need you to know that I am a very lucky teacher with a lot of district and school support. I know you hate me already. But here is the list of caveats for my working conditions that may not reflect the working conditions of every teacher coming to this page. I work in a district near Milwaukee with 1-1 devices. Every child has internet access and a device. I have a class size of 16 (I know that’s a dream in some places) with three virtual students and 13 in-person, although those numbers have flipped many times with in-person students “going virtual” for periods of time and virtual students transitioning back into the classroom. And the BIGGEST gift I’ve been given by my district is every Friday to prepare for virtual learning. We have PD and meetings on these days as well, but the bulk of that work day is for teachers to prep for the demands of virtual learning. I sincerely hope that if you are being asked to teach hybrid, you are being given adequate time to do it. If you’re not, I’m so sorry and I hope you have avenues to advocate for yourself and other teachers. Our union has teamed with administrators and advocates tirelessly for these accommodations for us this year. It’s what every hybrid teacher deserves.

A final note that all I can do is speak from my experience and what has worked for me this year. This is my survival guide. I am certain you won’t do everything like I have, but I hope there are ideas here that you can roll with and make your own.


Collaborate like you’ve never collaborated before.
Picture it: August. A district planning to accommodate both virtual and in-person students. Teacher anxiety as far as you can see or feel….
We knew we needed a long term plan that would 1) be equitable for in-person and virtual students 2) be manageable for teachers all year long. The only way we could do that was collaboration on a larger scale than we had ever attempted.
My partner teacher is the best person in the world. We survive(d) through our partnership. We joke that together we equal one decent 2nd grade teacher. She and I had made our way through virtual learning in the spring (IN OUR FIRST YEAR IN 2ND GRADE BTW) by splitting lessons by subject and sharing half the workload. This was the model I was depending on for the coming year, but even that, was a huge demand. How could I make sure I was supplying high-quality online content for 2/3 subjects every day while maintaining the needs of an in-person class? And then bigger questions…Not everyone had a partner teacher. Not everyone held the same affinity for technology use. An equity problem arose because virtual students shouldn’t be getting less quality because they’re only getting what each individual teacher can manage to get online. Furthermore, if we’re all using the same curriculum, if we’re all responsible for teaching the same standards, how could it possibly be justified for each teacher to have to make videos or online lessons for every single subject by themselves?

The solution is what I contribute my sanity to this year. We collaborated by grade level. We have seven 2nd grade teachers in our district and a specialist working on our team. We all took a responsibility for a part of the online content. One teacher took reading, two took math, two took writing, two took phonics, two took science and I took Social Studies. We create virtual lessons for the week and link the videos in google slides, where they are linked to a google site for our students to access. This was still a lot of work. But it wasn’t nearly the work I would be doing by myself.

Here’s an example of a week with everyone’s linked lessons

Speaking humbly for what I believe is a majority of teachers in this district, we found that this collaboration was not only important for students, it keeps making us better. We get to see each other teach. I have learned so much about the standards and grade level I’m teaching that didn’t know before this year. I have learned that I’ve been cutting my phonics time short and not doing as many activities as I could to strengthen my readers. I have learned that my writing units were lacking grammar lessons. I have learned that the way I’ve been explaining place value has alternate models that helped some of my learners. Collaboration is an opportunity to learn. Find a team that focuses on what’s best for students and everyone will learn (and share the work!)

This is just one example and the only one I have from my personal experience, but there are teachers reaching out to one another for help more than ever. There are teachers ready to give you help. Collaboration benefits you and your students. So before you try to go it alone…think about how you can share this tremendous workload. Maybe you don’t have the team I have, BUT, do you have a teacher partner to share the work with? Do you have a specialist who is doing videos anyway that could work for your class? Can you use content that the teacher from the grade above you used at the beginning of the year or that the teacher in the grade below you started and could work for some of your students? Can you partner with a teacher in your same grade level in another school or district? FIND A TEAM, hybrid teacher friend. It’s the most important advice I can give.


Please, please, use what is already there.
Someone did this before you. I’m so sorry to tell you this, but they probably did it better. That’s because at the time they were doing it, it was all they were doing. You’re doing so much right now that anything you throw together will fall short of what is already there. I know you’re amazing, but I promise you they won’t be handing out awards for the best virtual math lesson you’ve ever made that took you two hours and you didn’t have time for reading or writing. You will burn yourself out trying to do it all. We’re in a time that teachers and teaching companies went into hyperdrive sharing all the wonderful things they have ready for virtual learning. You need to use them.

A few examples that I highly recommend because they saved me more than once this year:

Nearpod
This app allows you to design instruction that’s interactive with student devices. It’s great for instruction, assessment and independent practice. But more importantly, it comes with hundreds of premade lessons on every standard and topic you can imagine or need to cover in your classroom. All of those lessons are editable, so even it doesn’t teach something exactly how you want, you can go in and make a few quick changes and have a fully prepared lesson. It requires a paid subscription but their pre-made content is SO WORTH asking your administrators for. It has saved me hundreds of prep hours.

PebbleGo
This is where our students do a lot of their research for writing, social studies, and science. Again, it’s paid. But I use it every week and my students love it. How simple and great to assign a reading (that will also read to students who aren’t independent readers) and then a follow up task to apply what they’ve learned? It’s saved me a lot of time.

Mystery Science
These low-prep science lessons are perfect for virtual learners. They often require few and commonly-found materials that give little learners a hands-on science experience in a virtual learning world. Our district has a free account given during the initial closures last year, but they are currently giving free trials until June 2022! Check it out!

Zearn
Zearn materials are free. They are based on the Eureka/Engage NY math curriculum and strong materials for teaching common core math standards. Math instructional videos can be accessed with a school purchase.

Teachertube
Like I said, if you’re planning to teach it, someone else probably already has taught it, recorded it, and has it ready for your class. Search thousands of subjects on teacher tube and find a video that teaches your standard or skill for the day.


Have your virtual learning content on a platform that can be accessed by both in-person and virtual students. As I previously mentioned, this is as simple as a Google site for us with a slides presentation pdf linked to the lessons for the week. It could be pdfs with video lessons you list on Class Dojo or assign on SeeSaw. Either way, you teach one procedure for accessing your virtual content. In my experience, it’s likely that your virtual students or in-person students may have to switch formats, so you want it to be the same whether they are at home or at school. Your students will build independence with this and when it’s time to go through their reading, writing, math, any lesson, they know where to go, what to watch, and how to follow along. It also creates a connection between your online and in-person learners when they’re accessing the same content and learning from the same source. It makes your teaching easier because you’re not keeping track of what was learned by each group.


Build your online routines and expectations from Day 1. This is new and it needs to be taught. Of course students are coming back into buildings for the first time in a long time. You definitely still need to work on walking in hallways, keeping distance, masking etc. But be sure you also focus on online routines, safety, and expectations. Students need to know that stopping a lesson to hop on their favorite iPad game, might be fine at home, but not at school. They need to know what apps are safe. How to navigate to the content your asking them to find. Our technology is a tool for learning here. They need to know how to log on, log in, submit. When you’re talking, their not still looking at their device. Where do they put it? How do they charge it? Think through what you want it to look like and give time for your students learn those things. They have to code-switch because technology use at home is very different than technology use at school. You may want to consider some kind of monitoring system work time. Our district purchased GoGuardian , which allows teachers to see the work students are doing on screens both in the classroom and at home. I personally use the free Classroom app from Apple to monitor my student iPads and hold them accountable for their independent work time.


Change whole group instruction. This may be how many teachers teach anyway, but I was committed to my whole group instruction time in previous years. My whole group instruction is much shorter and much more virtual than in-person this year. It was the only way I could make it work. I had to drop my dreams of my in-person whole group instruction running the way it used to… just for now. What I plan for my virtual students, needs to be the plan for my in-person students. I could not double plan. I really think you shouldn’t either. So I have content videos ready for my virtual learners, I needed those videos to be the main source of whole group instruction for my in-person students as well. My in-person students are often watching videos to get their curriculum or tier I instruction because the work has been done and it’s there ready for them. This was the part that was hard to get used to. It was hard to see my in-person students learning from videos some of the time because, hey, I’m standing right in front of them, ready and willing and wanting to teach them like I always have.

But for the sake of planning time, I’m suggesting that this could be how you start. You can expand from there. Video lessons do not have to be every lesson and it does not rule out differentiation for your class in small groups or by addressing misconceptions after the video as a whole group. It doesn’t mean I don’t reteach a lesson with my own instructional strategies when I see the need. For example, I reinvested whole group instruction time into doing number talks with my students because they strengthen their math strategies and we needed that. But I had the flexibility to do that because they are getting the lesson from a video. I build on the math standards they learned in their lessons in small group, which allows me to target the skills they need more thoroughly than whole group would anyway.

It allowed me to teach and reteach based on the needs of both my in-person and virtual student groups because they were all working from the same lesson/video source. This might not be for everyone, but it’s how I survived so far. It doesn’t feel like it used to…but this is pandemic teaching friend. I had to roll in a new kind of way.


Lists and choices are your friend! You absolutely need independent work time in the day, and it can be a great time for students! You need it to instruct your small groups for guided reading, guided math, or strengthening a standard with a set group of kids. You need time with your virtual students to walk them through questions at home. You will need that time to set up your next activities, assess individuals and groups and anything else you need to have time for in the day.

My favorite way to make this time fun is through daily Must Dos and May Dos for our Math and Reading time. I just couldn’t get my head around Daily 5 or Daily 3 stations which is what I would use in a typical year. But this system gives my students fun choices that work as natural motivators and prioritize their daily lessons.

These simple daily slides have been a saving grace for me, because all I have to do is a quick adjustment of what the choices are that day. I keep the choices at the bottom of the slides and rotate them out. I add to it when I can to keep them fresh and fun. I can also tailor it to the needs I see. If we are just screened-out, their may dos might be working on game board and reading real books instead of apps. If I can tell they need some respite from the work, it might be an Epic kind of day, where they can relax and listen to stories. If it’s a day full of energy, maybe I let them work together on a readers theater assignment. The easy flexibility is what I need and what they need.

Another great resource is choice board formats that you can edit yourself or look for premade choice boards from other teachers. I’ve listed a few of these resources but there are so many more that students will love and will motivate them to use their independent work time productively.

~~*~*~STOP TO LOVE THESE FREE CHOICES READY FOR YOU TO USE~*~*~~
These virtual field trips from Mrs. Fahrney
Ms. M’s Free Resources (OMG, Earth Day Library, Sports Library, Animal Library, SO MANY FREE LIBRARIES that she assembles and shares all for FREE)
Ms. Menji’s Libraries (Again SO MUCH, ALL FREE)
Links from @thomasm (Obsessed with her STEM task cards)
Ms. Hect’s links (Keeping it fun with the drag and drop activities)
Join ALL of the Pixel Art Mysteries FB groups for free mysteries. Your students will never work harder.

STOP AGAIN TO LOVE THESE TEMPLATES READY FOR YOU TO BUILD YOUR OWN CHOICE BOARDS WITH THE AMAZING RESOURCES ABOVE
Check out these free Google slides choice board templates from Hello Teacher Lady.
A Primary Kind of Life’s digital choice board templates for the week. Just put in your links and go!


USE ONE LINK. I cannot stress this enough. If you’re still using multiple links for multiple meetings, STOP IT. Stop it for multiple reasons.
Nobody has time to be working with calendar times and meetings that will only start at a specific time. You don’t have time to be fumbling around with more than one meeting link. Let the children come to you. I use my Zoom Personal Meeting Room personal link for every student I see, but if you are using Meet, just use and open one Meet link every single time. My students all know how to access that link from their Class Dojo portfolio. It’s such a relief to know that they can get into a Zoom meeting whenever I need them to. It allows me to change when I meet, so I can stay with a group a little longer if they’re on the edge of a conceptual breakthrough. It means I can ask a student to join my group if we’re working on a skill or standard that I know they need extra practice with. It means the routine is the same every day and when I switch groups or switch times or switch anything that I need to, my students still know what to do every single time. I need that flexibility to teach them all the best way I can.


Focus on small group instruction. I needed this shift in my mind. I have done the best and most teaching this year in my small groups. My students learn the most from that time. I always knew that small groups were where I could target skills and standards best, but the demands for me to meet each students where they are at this year made my small groups especially important.

But this was a big hurdle to jump in the beginning. Just the logistics of showing content, them accessing content, using the time efficiently was so difficult. I had to have everything ready before my group time (which is another reason independent work time matters).

I decided early in the year that for my own sanity, I would mix my virtual and in-person groups and have them all attend group through Zoom. This allowed everyone to keep their distance, drastically cut down my transition time in between groups, and gave my virtual students daily interaction with my students in class. It also let me set the same behavior expectations while in small group for both groups of students.

Some resources I recommend:
Literacy Footprints
It comes with a cost, but it was a game-changer for my guided reading instruction. Students can log in and read the books themselves, or I screen share and we read together. I use the assessment kit for my running records. The strong phonics and comprehension lessons cut my prep down so we’re ready to work with a text right away.

Raz-Plus
I use this for independent reading practice, as well as guided reading. The app allows students to choose and read books at their level and provides comprehension quizzes. I love their graphic organizers for teaching reading standards.

My secret to being prepped and ready for small groups is that it doesn’t have to be pretty to work.
My slides to practice reading comprehension skills and discussion are super high-tech. Notice the very nice title “Guided Reading Slides” and that I basically copied all of my favorite organizers into a slide show and then had text boxes ready to fill it in as our discussion goes. When the lesson is done, I delete the text and save the text box and I’m ready for the next group.

Math is similar. I found some favorite fluency games online that help my students build confidence. I focus on the standards in our small groups that often align with the lessons they watched in whole group. Again, awesome quick title, “Math.” There are about 70 slides, (you can see some on the side) full of different problems and activities that I can go through with groups to strengthen their conceptual understanding of our math skills and standards.

So I’m living proof that your small group instruction doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective and engaging. I am the engager. I know my standards. I know where my students are now and what the expectation is for the end of the year. I can ask questions. I present problems. I provoke discussion and thought. Our discussion is what’s moving the learning forward. Problems that need to be solved. Strategy-sharing. All of this propels our 15-20 minutes together forward to make it the most valuable time in the day, even if I didn’t spend hours planning it ahead. Be confident in your skills to engage and move your students. Use your standards and formative assessment to guide you. If you struggle, find your standards guides or a few go-to activities that strengthen student fluency to use until you can dig in to a new skill. You’re a teacher and your ability to teach and engage is the prep you need.

I like this model and recommend it, but it doesn’t work for all students. Some of my in-person students still need to come and sit at my table, with distance, but just need to be closer to focus. Some need to stand to stay engaged. Whatever they need, we do. I’m Mrs. Flexibility Deane this year. Sometimes not everyone read what I asked or saw the video they were supposed to watch before so we go backwards. Those times are frustrating and make me feel like we’re off track or I’m losing ground. But I know there’s nothing like my small group time in my whole day. It’s the most effective teaching I’ve done this year.


Make time for fun and connection. I have to confess that I was not very good at this at the beginning of the year. I’m not talking about my in-person students of course, because that time is built in to my routines in my classroom. I walk around and talk to students at breakfast. We greet each other every day. We share every day. We do a whole class community-building activity every morning in our morning meeting. That is easy because it felt normal, even with the adjustments for masking and distancing. Where I really struggled was involving my virtual students in the fun. I struggled to give them time away from instruction to connect with their classmates or share about their life. So I’m telling you, hybrid teacher friend, to start thinking about how you can do this now, because it’s so important. Now that I’ve started, I’m sad I didn’t have the energy to start sooner.

The main thing I needed was accountability for the time to give my virtual students time for fun and connection. I use Class Dojo points to reward really excellent work or behaviors in my classroom, so I started using that with my virtual students. Every 10 points, the students earn a “cash-in.” Here the “cash-in” menu for my virtual students:

It’s not fancy, but it holds me accountable for the time to recognize my students.

GoNoodle: Very simple. I let my virtual students pick the dance and turn the camera so they can see it. We all do it together.
Class Game: I do reverse-charades for the class game, so I show my whole in-person class a word and they act it out for the virtual student.
Show and Tell: Again, so simple. My virtual students talk about something special at home and my in-persons students ask questions about it.
How to Draw: They LOVE this one. I highly recommend the Art for Kids Hub on Youtube for fun directed drawings you can do together!
Virtual Field Trip: Tell me where we’re going and I’ll set it up! I often use the VR feature on Nearpod, which they love, but there are plenty of live stream or youtube virtual field trips to use too!
Special Mail: I send stickers, cool pencils, books, free ice cream coupons and always a hand-written note telling them how important they are.


Let it go…
You have to. Things will go wrong. No matter how well you prepare. No matter whether or not you ran through it last weekend or the night before. It might take way more time than you ever dreamed to get your students logged onto a new app, so you skip something that day to build that routine and make them confident. Let that go. It may be a beautiful lesson that you spent way too much time crafting that works just perfectly on a browser but for some mysterious, filthy damn reason nobody can fricking access on their iPads … See how I let things go?
You need to have grace for yourself. Grace for your students. Know that everyone is being asked to do something new, and awful, and inspiring, and incredible. You can’t sweat the things you try that don’t work. You can try to make them work, but also let go of the plans. Switch gears. Do something dependable until you have the space and time to try again. Just implement little things as you go. Try something interesting or exciting to you when your routine is in place. Don’t build anything up too big in your head. Know that it’s time to let it go when it has taken too much time and energy from you.


BONUS TIP:
Extended screen. Umm…show something to your class on your big board while you prep the next thing on your other screen? Life changing.


There is so much to learn. There is so little time. When you’re teaching students in the classroom and in the virtual world, time is everything. Please take care of yourself and find the shortcuts, the teams, the little things that work for you.

Godspeed, teacher friend.

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These Benchmarks are Bunk.

“My students are not behind. Behind what?”

I saw that quote from a respected teacher and instantly knew it to be true. I believe it with everything in me. But here’s a confession: I know by heart what they’re “behind”–even if I also know that it’s arbitrary. I look at that data all…the… time. Is it just me? It’s possible that I’m just talking to myself and other teachers out there have found a way to settle this conflict within themselves. But I certainly know that I get lost in the same data that I fully believe holds no authentic value. I fear for my students’ well-being when a large percentage of my class tests under the fiftieth percentile, in math, reading or both. It’s a competition-based mindset with a mysterious hold on me as I’m anxiously dissecting data behind closed doors, while I preach growth mindset and various forms of learning in front of my students.

But we have these terms built into our everyday teacher talk. They aren’t “on target.” They’ve “fallen behind.” They didn’t “meet their goal.” (We say, as if they had any idea of what that AR or STAR scaled score goal meant.) We have the terms built into societal rhetoric. “Schools are failing.” “Test scores are down!” “There’s so much learning loss!” “Students in the U.S. are not keeping up with the world.” It’s the narrative that I hear constantly and work to actively reject in my head.

But in search of a silver lining, one appears. There is no better time to free myself from this conflict than pandemic teaching.

These benchmarks are bunk. They’re imaginary. They don’t account for the unique ways in which students acquire knowledge. They don’t celebrate a students natural gifts or multiple intelligences. These benchmarks don’t respect the astounding social-emotional growth achieved. They don’t account for the responsibilities taken on for the people around them. The benchmarks don’t care about surviving trauma. They don’t care about small, steady, gains if they don’t show up on a multiple choice test. These benchmarks don’t measure discovery or curiousity or compassion.

Now, of course, I want my students to learn. I want them to grow. I want them to set goals and design a path to conquer them. I am in no way advocating that we throw away data. I, among many other more accomplished educators, am arguing that we throw away unhelpful data. We commit to thinking and talking about students in terms of their growth rather than their deficiencies. State testing springs to mind, but it’s not just that. It’s a culture. It’s a pressure. It’s an entire testing industry designed to push all students through skills as fast as possible to outdo the lower fiftieth percent of the student population. But really? Why is every teacher pushed to rush every student through that race? That’s just not how bell curves work.

“Everyone learns differently.” It’s an idea widely-embraced. So then why does “learning differently,” always refer to the means and demonstration of acquired knowledge, rather than the pace? When I think of a students learning “differently,” I see a kid who does a STEM project to demonstrate learning rather than one who writes an essay. Why can’t “learning differently” also mean pace? What happens if we let go of these oppressive pacemaker goals and let kids learn on their own terms and in their own time?

The answer is some magic. Some magic happens when your students are motivated by the learning itself. Teachers know this. I know this because it’s what I try to do every day. We know our learners. We know the pace and practice and the time they need to master a concept or skill. We frequently give extra time to our students who need it. We work a little longer with a group who is right on the edge of a conceptual breakthrough. We provide choice. We celebrate growth and we never, ever compare our students to one another. We know that comparison of two students is impossible with all their intricacies and uniquenesses. Why ever compare? It’s apples to oranges and Jaydens to Jordans. They’re all different. They’re all special. They must be allowed to learn in the exact way they learn.

I want my students to thrive. So I’m working to remind myself of the definition. Does “thriving” mean above the fiftieth percentile in math and reading on whatever corporate-funded measure we’ve decided we’re using? Is it “thriving” if we squeeze in twenty minutes of Social Studies and suffer through a grueling, intensive 90 minutes of math? Is it “thriving” if their Science skips the hands-on experimentation and is only reading and summarizing nonfiction texts?

No.

To thrive is to feel fulfilled. To thrive is to feel accomplishment. To thrive is to share what you love. When I pause phonics and take the time to hear about that time they went to Grandma’s cabin and they saw a rabbit-they’re thriving. When we read a story and laugh at the pure goofiness of the characters-they’re thriving. When we make time to play a game that builds up our community during every morning meeting-we’re thriving.

Our students, our classrooms, our schools, and our communities are so much more than how they rank. Someday, with enough talking, enough advocacy, enough counter-narrative, our students will be seen. Until then, we’ll keep teaching and creating moments of wonder in our classrooms. We can stop to remind ourselves that our teaching isn’t encompassed by the numbers. They can’t measure what we do. They can’t measure the brilliance or our students and the growth they make in any area other than reading and math.

These students grow every day in our care and they have already succeeded in learning through a global pandemic.

Once again, for the sake of building this mantra:

These benchmarks are bunk.



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Home School.

This is my fifth year of teaching.

This year a funny thing is happening. People are coming to me to ask me about being a teacher. What is it like? What advice do I have? What was my experience like on the path to education?

The first thing I think; the first thing I say; the first thing I know is:

Find your home school.

Believe me, friend, you cannot do this job in the wrong place for you.

Even more importantly, you DESERVE the right place.

Here’s the story of how I know:

Five years of teaching does not seem like a long time, but in teacher years, it’s enough for me to be a completely different instructor, colleague, employee, person than I was five years ago. I’ve been guided by incredible mentors. I’ve stood face to face with my own biases and assumptions. I’ve found truths, both hard and profound. If there’s anything real to be said about teaching, it’s that it requires the best of you, and that may be the hardest work in it.



I love teaching now, but I did my best to avoid it. My mom is a teacher and I saw it all. The struggles, the tears, the constant reflection and work brought home–and I saw the paychecks. That was hard NO from a 18-year-old finding a path in the world. Alas, you cannot fight who you are and I am a teacher.
Something that kept revealing itself to me as I:

  • took aptitude tests.
    My results looked something like this:
    elementary teacher, high school teacher, music teacher, art teacher, drama teacher, dance teacher…
  • changed my major three times.
    (Recreational Therapy, Psychology, English)
    ALL with the intention of someday working with CHILDREN
  • worked in childcare centers to pay my rent.
    I loved every minute. I used my personal time to research and get better at it.

It took longer than it should have, but somewhere around the age of 21 and my second year of college, I finally acknowledged that teaching was what motivated and inspired me. When I finally made that choice, I made it with everything in me, knowing it was right.

So fast-forward through an intense and enlightening education through the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where I graduated from the Early Childhood Education program, I was armed with all the knowledge, all the tools, all of the gusto required to love these children until they learned. I landed my first job in Milwaukee. It was an open position at a private, religious, charter school teaching Kindergarten. My husband and I celebrated and packed up our possessions. We put our little boy in his carseat, and headed to the city to start this new life.

Oh honey…you Have no idea....

This experience…is a whole other blog. When people asked that Fall, I used the word challenging.
No. My job now is challenging. This job was impossible. This job set me up to fail. This job left me isolated, anxious, with no resources, and no support. I cried daily. Everything was out of control and all the help I asked for, and all the research I did, and all the things I bought and all the things tried, were all dead ends.

Once, I accidentally took a photo of myself on my lunch break thinking the camera was turned at the math center I was trying to document. I needed to remember materials that I needed to buy the next day. I looked into my phone and saw someone I didn’t recognize. My eyes were red and puffy from crying on my twenty minute lunch break. I was jarred out of my math center thoughts and stared at it. I had never seen my own face that sad. I was so full of self-doubt, I was ready to change career paths. When we talk about burnout, I know what that is. I was there within a month.

The words of my mother as I cried to her on the phone stayed with me after we hung up.

“That is not teaching,” she insisted, “Find a place where you can teach. Then decide if you’re a teacher or not.”

First day of school with a smile on my face.
This fresh-faced optimism on my first day as a teacher was replaced with daily tears within the week.

So with that encouragement, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt and spent the holiday break filling out applications. I went to an interview with answers in my head, but so much fear in my heart. Maybe it wasn’t the place; it was me.

When my now-boss lady called me and said, “You’re my first choice,” I teared as I accepted and hoped that I really did have nothing to lose. I hoped I hadn’t just fooled her with textbook answers and that she saw a good teacher in that interview.

She did. And I am.

She met me at the doors on that first day, and as we walked, I saw a community. There were teachers smiling as they passed each other in the hallway, quipping back and forth with easy laughs. There were children holding hands with paraprofessionals, gazing at them with the trust and love of a child looking at family. There was art on the walls. There was music tingling as I walked through the building. There were students talking-instead of being talked at. These were all the signs of home to me.


The power of the right place cannot be overstated in this so-called job that they call teaching. If you’ve done it, you know. Jobs are over when the job is over. Teaching is part of you. You cannot do it alone.

I found the school that would teach me, support me, lift me up, and make me better. The school that would give me learning opportunities, professional freedom, and heart-bending challenges that I would never have to face by myself.

My people. My team. My home school.

That face when you found your home.

Let me tell you about my home school. My home school is a place with the strangest days and the oddest occurrences. We have stories. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean every one of us individually, and also all of us, as a staff. They’re thrilling and surprising and horrifying and hilarious. We really, truly, do not know what will happen on any given day.

But here’s what we do know at my home school: We do know that we love and accept all students. We love and support all staff. We create a place of safety and support for whomever walks through that door, or more recently, hops on a video call. We’re a public school. We get everyone, and everyone matters. We meet them where they are at. We never ask more than they are able to give. We meet needs. We talk. When we don’t know how to reach them or how to help them, we create a team. We observe. We collect data. We create a system or a procedure. We build trust and relationships. We test it. We adjust. We repeat as needed.

We push limits together. We research best practice together. We change current practice together. We turn to each other when we need something. We inspire each other and keep the expectations high. When doubt creeps in, we build each other back up. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. We find and make all kinds of good trouble. We ask real questions about what’s best for students, families, this community, this world. We challenge what is happening now, in favor of what could be. We dream a big dream together. We inch towards it everyday.

But most importantly, none of us are doing that alone.

When I say find your home school, I mean find your people.

Because YOU deserve it. Your students deserve it.

…And because I wouldn’t be a teacher without mine.

A Teacher. A Hypothesis. A Blog.

I believe in childhood. I believe in magic.
Teachers are primary providers of both.

That is the focus and vision for this space. I’m not here to gloss over the immense challenges teachers face everyday. They are SO real. But for me, the only thing that makes these long days, long nights, heartbreaking stories, and the never-ending, exhausting, yet noble quest to be better, worth the effort– is the magic.

You know the magic.

  • The moment your whole class laughs at something together.
  • When you get a heartfelt thank you, just for tying a shoe.
  • The drawing that captures your hair and eye color with little hearts and an “I love you” scribbled on it.
  • When your calming reassurance brings a smile to a little face through their tears.
  • When an unexpected discussion does more teaching than your carefully planned lesson.

These moments can be brief or extended. They pop in and leave without dismissal. But they almost always take me by surprise because I didn’t set out looking for magic in that moment. It just happens. Sometimes it feels like they’re happening every day. And then there are strings of days where you feel like you’re waiting for it to appear and make it all worth it again.

I had to go no further than my snapchat history to see the magic days and the not-so-magic days. This documentation of snaps primarily sent to coworkers and my husband chronicle the ups and downs of the everyday teacher life.

Observe:

First day of school with a sparkly mask
MAGIC
When my husband texts at 4 and asks what I’m up to after work…
NO MAGIC
FOUND CHOCOLATE WITH A LITTLE NOTE THAT SAYS “I LUV YOU…”
MAGIC
In bed at 6:30
NO MAGIC
The day I was drawn as a donut?
MAGIC
…possibly a professional highlight
This day I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
NO MAGIC
Those moments of self-appreciation
MAGIC
Working through a fire alarm
NO MAGIC


Finding the magic feels a little finicky these days…

So this blog is my hypothesis. That if I look for the magic, if I write it down, it’ll appear more often. I’ll stop to see it more often. I’ll find the formula to create it more often in my classroom. Because those moments happen and they’re wonderful for me. As I mentioned, they keep me going. But even more importantly, those moments are also what every child needs. Children are made of wonder. They deserve to see the world in captivating moments. They deserve to learn through captivating moments. We can create their childhood memories. We can create a love of learning through embracing our role.

We are the providers of those moments. It is a far more honorable title we bear than the meer professionals in a workplace, for we are the makers of magic.


It is my humble hope that through this space, as I journey to write magic down, other educators in search of it, will come and find it with me. If I’ve learned anything in five years as an educator, it is that teachers need other teachers. We support each other. We root for each other. I am rooting for you and hoping you find what keeps you going.

For me, it’s classroom magic.

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