Mercedes Schneider: My Pandemic Classroom
Mercedes Schneider is a prolific writer and researcher, but Dr. Schneider is also a working classroom teacher in Louisiana. In this post (reposted here with permission), she gives a picture of what life has been like for her in the classroom in this pandemic year.
Due to the complications associated with living life during this pandemic, my blogging frequency has taken quite the plunge this past year. Our school district has been in session full time, in person, since September. Faculty reported to school late August. In order to adjust for a delayed school year, our district cut many of our holidays even as the school day itself became longer to keep students from congregating. Desk cleaning happens with each change of class, and conveniences such as wooden hall passes cannot be used, so that means writing a pass on paper every time a student needs the restroom. For quarantined students, there’s Google Meet happening simultaneously as class meets in person. More than once I have had my class at a standstill because a quarantined student needed extra assistance via the bumbling that can easily happen when people are trying to work out an issue without the simplicity of being together in the same physical space.
In short, I am tired. Long-term tired. However, I have also accomplished a major goal: To date, and by God’s grace, I have not missed a single day of school. My only premature exit was two hours early one Monday to bring my mother to the dentist. As of this writing, my seniors have only three weeks to go (which is both a relief and pressure to get our work done and graded).
In my classroom, I have masked; I have distanced; I have cleaned; I have made careful decisions with my personal time so that I minimized the likelihood of being quarantined. I have strategized my bathroom breaks so that I could also clean desks between classes. I have packed lunches easy to eat on the fly (our lunch period has been reduced from 27 minutes to 21 minutes to minimize the time students can congregate). I have limited my wardrobe to accommodate incessant cleaning. I stopped polishing my nails (again, all of the cleaning, and frankly, I became too tired to keep up with the task).
Along with my colleagues, I have learned the ins and outs of a new-to-us online platform, Google Classroom, over the past summer and into the new school year– and that without having school-issued Chromebooks for faculty until the second quarter.
On the fly, on the fly.
This has been a hard year, but not my hardest year. Know why?
Because I have three decades of teaching experience and five decades of life experience to draw from.
Therefore, I quickly realized that the most important task I faced this year was to teach my seniors to write a research paper.
Common Core did not have to tell me so. I consulted no student test scores to determine this truth, just teaching and life experience.
And common sense. The pandemic blindsided our nation just as these seniors were to write their junior research papers. It fell by the wayside.
I don’t want to hear a word about “learning loss.” Career teachers will do what career teacher do, and that is find where students are and move them forward using the resources at one’s disposal.
In devising a research assignment for my students, I faced the incredible obstacle of the ease at which the internet makes it possible for students to avoid learning. Just buy a paper. Cut and paste and call it writing. It’s not cheating if I change every fourth word, right?
The internet enables incredible ignorance. Yesterday, I asked my students to write haiku, and some struggled to divide words into syllables. One student told them not to bother, that there was a website that would do it for them. Absolutely not, I said. I will not allow you to be saved from figuring out what a syllable is.
I do not want my students to be rescued from their own learning. Therefore, for their research assignment, I created a research proposal assignment. Not a paper. A proposal.
There is no website that provides some pre-fab proposal to fit the six specifications in the assignment I created. (Forgive me for not posting it at this time.)
I issued the assignment in late January. Then, for the next nine weeks, every class period, every day, beginning with how to format the document and then proceeding one section at a time, I consulted with individual students about their writing. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. And all while being cognizant of social distancing (i.e., by taking a student’s Chromebook to my stand in front of the room and discussing aloud; by being mindful of how long I was standing near a student, both of us masked).
In the end, my students learned how to write a research document formatted to fit MLA 2016 specifications, and there was no way that they could cheat. Some tried. They tred to cut an paste from other works, but the words did not fit the assignment, and out the window such efforts went rather quickly.
I watched my students write their own research-based work. Enough with “learning loss.” They learned how to improve their writing, at a reasonable, guided pace, and next week, I will let them know what my grading criteria are for the unified, final document. Proofreading will now be on them.
But there is more. Each proposal section was its own small grade, and so long as a student was willing to hang in with revising, that student was eligible for maximum points possible. I proceeded thus for three reasons. First of all, I did not know if our school year might again be cut short and if we would be able to finish the assignment. So, giving smaller grades along the way provided me with grades if school fell apart for a second year in a row. Secondly, students learned tenacity– hanging in there until the work was done. And thirdly, in awarding maximum points, I did not want to penalize students who might have finished later than others for waiting on me to get to them in any given class period.
In this case, the proposal is the final assignment. We are running out of school year, and I am out of energy. That noted, students understand that they now have a proposal ready to go and possibly of use to them in transforming proposal to full paper in a future college class.
At Teach for a Career, this is how its done.