It’s All Too Much. (week three)

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I don’t even like Jello.

In a normal year of teaching (already a thing I had no idea existed until all the other years were held up next to this one) the work of teaching feels like trying to hold ten pounds of Jello cubes cradled in your arms. It’s uncomfortable, pretty weird, feels heavier than you thought it would be, and impossible to do perfectly. You’re going to drop some Jello.

This year feels a bit more like a literal ton of Jello cubes is being dumped on us from above. We still end up holding more work than we can handle, not to mention work stuck to our hair and clothes and between our fingers, and the floor around us is a wreckage of things not done, of Jello smashed and piled messily at our feet.

Writing this extended metaphor is some of the most fun I’ve had all week.

Actually, no, that’s not true. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had that didn’t involve a not-full classroom of kids. I had students in my room this week, two groups of ten kids for two days each. It was really weird because it was a third of the kids I’d normally have, and we all had masks on, and we were together for four hours instead of one and it all took some getting used to. By the end of the week though, we had inside jokes and laughed loudly enough through our masks that we managed to share it.

I’m honestly jealous of every teacher working fully distanced right now. The extra worry in my body when I watched kids run around at lunch, or sit close, or are so proud of the mask they knit for themselves out of comfy, thick yarn is something I could do without. And also, distance teachers, and I know you know this, holy shit you are missing out. After all these months and all this awful, kids are still really exceedingly fantastic. It was so good to see them.

And, yet, this was a week of worry. I worry for and about my students, all our students. I worry about their worry, voiced again and again, that things will never be ok again. I worry about the kids new to the school and the kids who need, desperately, these middle school years to be good ones. I worry about getting them ready for high school and whether or not they can really track and understand our schedule and if they’re doing good work or just lots of work. It is, all of it, too much.

My own kid, in fifth grade, is doing full distance right now. They broke down this week because their teacher emailed them a question at 7pm. They thought they were done for the day after however many hours that already felt more like work and less like learning, and the email was just too much. “It’s like it never ends” they sobbed. I sat, I comforted, I redirected and distracted, and we got back to ok. My wife took over and did all the bedtime stuff and I went to my computer to do another four hours of emailing and Google Classroom organizing and slideshow building and link testing and…

It is, all of it, too much.

My nephew has started Kindergarten from the little desk in his bedroom. His headphones cover more than half the whole side of his head. The teacher is trying her best, and there’s a teacher’s aide whose whole job it is to redirect the students, “Angie, can you look towards the camera?” “Kevin, you need to have your pencil now.” There are small groups and art classes and working on their letters, but recess is on your own, games and fun are teacher-directed.

My nephew is trying. We are all trying. It’s just too much, and I worry about all of us.

There are real questions about a peaceful transition of power, about reproductive rights that may be restricted someday and forced sterilizations that have just happened. The people who killed Breonna Taylor are only being punished, and only maybe, for the bullets that missed. There are fires and hurricanes and floods. The mom of the 17 year old who killed two protestors is getting a standing ovation from a group of Republican women in the county I grew up in. Transphobia, anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy, we are being told, are political opinions, and we are the bigots for speaking against them.

Everything is terrifying. We are all fighting and working through our terror. So let’s talk about teacher observations, about how to keep giving multiple choice tests over video chats.

It is, every single bit of it and all of it together, too much.

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything.

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