The Worst It’s Ever Been

A week ago, two weeks ago, I started feeling vaccine FOMO. All of my US teacher friends were posting and sharing vaccine selfies. It was a new kind of social media envy, different from the regular vacation and foodie jealousy.

But still, I was hopeful. Teachers will be vaccinated after we finish with everyone 60+. We are ticking down, with those 74+ scheduled for March 15. I felt that it would be our turn by May.

But then came the news 2 weeks ago that we were going into the red phase, the most restrictive. But schools remained open at 35%.

Last week came the news that 3 families in Everett’s class are Covid positive. His whole class was shut down for 2 weeks. Matilda had secondary exposure after playing with a friend. And early this week, the news got bleaker and bleaker. Our deaths were rising higher than they ever had. We crested 2,000 a day. That is the second highest total. Only the US beat us.

Despite having vaccinated some of the elder population, things were getting worse by the day. By Wednesday, we were at 2,200 deaths a day. Then 2,400.

Then the news that 50% of ICUs are at 100% capacity. The newspapers were sharing a count of how many people died while waiting for a hospital bed.

Sao Paulo state is the epicenter of this explosion. The governor of our state gave a press conference on Wednesday, but no changes were announced. He held another press conference on Thursday where he announced that we had created a new phase: purple. Worse than red. Churches and soccer were closed. (The fact that they were still open is almost stereotypically Brazilian. God and soccer are high priorities.) State schools were going to close and only allow students who depend on their school for food to come into the buildings.

But that is the whole state. What about our city? We had to wait until today. The mayor decided to close all schools for 3 weeks. Distance learning until April 6, unless the shut down is extended.

It was exactly 52 weeks ago that Graded closed for the first time (March 13, which was a Friday last year.) Brazilian schools closed the following week. And here we, doing it again. Last time, the shutdown of schools lasted from March to October. And then it was only for “review” or “remediation,” We didn’t teach new content in person until February. How long will this shut down be for?

And I’m so mad that we stayed closed in August and September when our cases and deaths were so much lower. We could and should have opened in those better conditions. Now, it is completely justified and necessary that we close. But can I trust that they will reopen schools when things have improved and are safe again? That remains to be seen.

I am very, very afraid. On Wednesday night, I realized that the virus has creeped very close to us, closer than it has ever been. And now that it’s closer, if one of us gets it and needs a hospital, that will not be possible. That’s a really scary thought. (And yes, I thought through the idea of trying to fly to the US. They wouldn’t let a Covid positive person on the plane. There’s no rescue.)

I’m thinking about things this week that I haven’t thought about. Yet again, this pandemic has pushed me into fresh anxiety and stress. New scenarios I’ve never considered. Right as many, many places in the world are getting better and better, we are at our worst.

And there’s a sense that the restrictions aren’t being enforced. The poor point out that the Governor of our state’s kids through a party and the rich point out the parties happening in the favelas, or slums. They are both the problem and it doesn’t seem that the police are enforcing or fining the violators. Many are frustrated and angry.

I don’t know what comes next. I was supposed to be on campus next week, so was Matilda. Our school has given us permission to take leave to fly to our home countries and get vaccinated. But we’d have to pay to for the flights. And in the case of most vaccines, that’s two round trips. With the whole family, that’s impossible. But maybe one parent at a time, and with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, is that a possibility now? I don’t know. I don’t know anything. So much is out of our control.

Everything sucks. That’s not very poetic, but it’s the truth.


A Huge Loss

It feels only fitting that I use this platform to express my deep sadness at the death of my Uncle Mike. I call him Uncle even though he’s an uncle-in-law, because he always called me his niece and never niece-in-law. In fact, that’s exactly what he said last week, when he was shared my blog post on Facebook, singing my praises, just as he always did.

No matter what I did, he was always there to celebrate and shout from the roof tops. That’s who he was. He loved to celebrate others. He loved seeing pictures of our kids and their accomplishments. He was often the first comment with kind words.

This morning I woke up and saw a message on my phone that stunned me. Mike had died suddenly last night. I couldn’t understand at first. I’d read a Facebook post from him shortly before going to bed. He’s always posting funny memes and roasting the local newspaper or sports coaches. He was just here, I wanted to say.

He was so funny and smart in such a quintessentially Southern way. He always had these long, meandering, hilarious stories with amazing punchlines. He was so happy to sit and visit and laugh for hours. He was always so happy to be in the presence of family. He was game for anything, and just radiated joy and happiness.

And he wrote these great Facebook birthday messages.

And have I mentioned the memes and political cartoons? They were legendary.

And no one roasted the local journalists like he did.

It’s amazing to me now how he was able to stay so connected and supported of us. He always kept up, he always reached out.

I am so sad for his family. His wife, Cathy and his daughter, Beth are surely going through an incredibly difficult time. His sister Kathryn (my mother-in-law) and his brother Stephen as well. It’s so hard to lose him right as he was completing his second Covid vaccine, and perhaps looking forward to trips and visits in the near future.

Still so sad and so shocked. To end, I want to share some photos of Mike here, if you’ll indulge me.

First, in the photo booth at my wedding in 2010, with his wife, Cathy, and daughter, Beth.

Here he is with David’s sister, Allison, at Kenneth and Amanda’s wedding, also 2010:

No photo description available.

Here he is in 2017 at Allison’s wedding.

May be an image of 2 people, including Mike Muller and people smiling

The relationship between my kids’ joy and my own

I’m back in distance learning this week after a week on campus. It’s been a rough couple days. The depression and anxiety–vague, amorphous–have crept back in. I just feel a general despair and frustration. To combat it, I want to tell you about a moment of joy yesterday.

Starting yesterday, Matilda is beginning 2 weeks of full-day, on-campus learning. Everett is beginning half-days on campus that will be indefinite. His half-day session rotates between mornings and afternoons each week. And without buses running, this means that David or I have to transport him to and from his day care and Graded. In the middle of the day. When we also have classes and duties.

Yesterday, I picked up Matilda and then we went and got Everett, then began to walk back across campus to where we were parked. We stopped at the library and Everett loaded his arms with every single dinosaur book he laid his eyes on, then demanded we sit on the couches and read. Matilda got two more books (to add to the two she checked out during the day when her class went to the library).

Walking up a ramp from the library, I was carrying my backpack, my swim bag, my tote bag with books and teaching stuff, Everett’s backpack, and the bag of library books. My shoulders hurt and I was panting.

But the chatter of the kids next to me was like hearing birdsong after emerging from a nuclear fallout bunker. Everett was talking about singing a dinosaur song, and Matilda was telling me about lunch and snack. As I write that, it doesn’t sound that remarkable. But my eyes started to fill up. They had a normal day. They were both energized and tired. They had things to tell me that I didn’t already know about. Matilda said, “Today I learned that the Earth goes around the sun. I didn’t know that!” Amazing. I was weeping. A day at school felt like a miracle.

I knew then that for me, the risks are worth it. Sending them to school, having Everett go to day care the other half of the days, all of it is worth it. To hear them chattering away about what activities they did, their specials, whatever, it’s worth it.

I felt a joy I’d forgotten I could feel. The joy of knowing that my kids are happy. I don’t always think consciously about carrying the weight of my kids’ pain. Honestly, it’s so painful to consider, so I think that I shield myself. Instead, I get mad about distance learning and students not turning in assignments. But that moment after a day at school made it clear to me that a huge part of the anxiety and depression of this time is how hard it is for our kids. How powerless we are to help them, to soothe them, to give them hope.

With kids as young as mine, we have had to soften all of the blows of the pandemic for them. We don’t tell them about death rates and ventilator shortages. We don’t mention variants. We don’t talk about the risk that their grandparents could die. Matilda is fascinated by birth and death, and so she’s often asking just the right questions. But even when she asks, I have ways to reassure her that I won’t die, her friends won’t die, even though I know that it’s not 100% certainty. I guess I’ve decided that I’ll apologize to her in the small chance that life proves me wrong.

Man, that’s some heavy shit. There’s a weight to all of this that we don’t let ourselves consider. The weight was somewhat lighter on Monday, and it made me realize what I’ve been carrying. Today it feels like I picked it all back up again.

I’m teaching from home today, so David will bring them home, and maybe that rush of chatter and flutter of papers from the backpacks will get me through the rest of the day.


Let’s Face It: Teaching with an Intense Desire to Quit

I remember being in my 20s and not really knowing who I was as an educator or what my value was. I dove headlong into committees, task forces, seminars, clubs or anything else I could sign up for. It wasn’t the wrong choice for me then. I was single, I didn’t have kids and I was trying to learn as much as I could. As I was trying to find my voice, and I ran myself ragged in the process.

The first two schools I left, it took me a while to realize it was the wrong fit and make the decision to go. I didn’t know if what I was feeling was normal, or if it was just growing pains. I didn’t know what the just-right fit was.

Now, here I am. I have a solid sense of my strengths, my goals, my worth as a teacher. I have made choices to be in a school I feel really strongly about. I am doing work I love and value.

And then the pandemic.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I have jobs I hate now. Online teacher? I’d rather wait tables. Homeschooling mom? I’d rather…every thing I stick at the end of this sentence is horrifying. Just know that I’d never choose this for myself.

Many times a week, sometimes many times a day, the voice in my head says, This job sucks and you shouldn’t put yourself through this anymore! Quit! Find something new! RUN AWAY!

[This is where I jump in and say that I need you to finish this post before you jump to conclusions. I am not saying I hate my real job. I’m saying I hate my pandemic job. Stick with me.]

But online teaching from my apartment with my kids next to me isn’t really my job. This is a temporary terrible job that I have to do until I can get back to my real job. But my inner sense of self worth doesn’t know that. It just knows that I deserve better than this. I do! And that better is my real job teaching in a classroom, at my school, to a room full of real-life middle schoolers.

And yes, I am very fortunate to still have a job. I know that. But knowing that rationally doesn’t change how the experience internally.

Cut to every day when I have to talk my inner voice off the quitting ledge.

We can’t quit. These kids need us. Our colleagues need us. We love the job we get to go back to (someday). We love living in Brazil. We love our brilliant colleagues. [Deep breath].

One thing I’m learning is that it’s both/and.

I BOTH want to quit AND I will keep going.

Maybe that doesn’t seem revolutionary, but how many people acknowledge the first part of that? Our culture tends to emphasize the positivity without acknowledging the real feelings. So, the feelings get silenced or swallowed. That doesn’t work; that only backfires.

So, what am I suggesting? I think we should acknowledge that we want to quit. Say it out loud. When teachers say that we hate this and want to quit but are choosing to stay, I want school leaders to know this is a statement of love and dedication. Please don’t police our tone or chastise us for not being a positive team player. (Magic phrase: this sucks, I’m sorry.)

I know that for some, to say “I both want to quit and I will keep working” sounds purely negative and unproductive. You are dragging us down; you’re disrespecting the work.

I propose that we shift our thinking. When people show up, listen when they tell you how hard it was to show. Hear them. Because they didn’t run away. Hear their pain, and celebrate their courage to stay.

This is part of a bigger strategy that relates to mindfulness. I’m learning that the first step to gaining some mastery over my thoughts and feelings is just to acknowledge that they’re happening. That sounds so obvious, but it’s hard.

“Oh, yeah, I’m starting to worry about that. I’m starting to panic.”

“Oh, look, I’m feeling some dread about work tomorrow.”

It’s amazing how naming it deflates it. The unspoken has so much power–name it and you take back some of that power. It’s a classic trope: you can’t outrun yourself. You’ll have to face yourself sooner or later.

So, let’s face it. Let’s face the dark side, because we withstood it for another day. The dark side didn’t win today.

Again, Glennon Doyle says it better than I can.

May be an image of text that says 'glennondoyle A journalist once asked me, "With the onslaught of bad news and endless needs- how do you not quit?" said: "Oh, do quit! Quitting is my favorite. Every day quit. Every single day." I wake up and care the most amount. And then- at some point put it all away and melt into my people and my couch and food and nothingness. And care not at all. forget it all. Then go to sleep and wake up and begin again. Begin and quit every day! Only way to survive. Embrace quitting as a spiritual practice, loves. G'

That’s the both/and.

Are you sticking around as a teacher even though you want to cut and run? That’s amazing. You’re incredible. You live to fight another day. I’m right next to you.

Administrators, leaders, mentors: can you have the courage to acknowledge what teachers are feeling, really listen to the struggles? Can you also hear the love and dedication implicit in their presence, in spite of it all?

Am I saying you should high five me each time you see me on campus and say, “Woo! Didn’t quit today!” Hey, I wouldn’t mind that at all.


What teachers need: Gratitude and Acknowledgement of Challenge

I just finished my second day of parent-teacher conferences, conducted entirely through Zoom. I have one more tomorrow. At the end of the day today, I felt strangely happy. I even mentioned to David at dinner. “I’m really happy. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s that I exercised more today?”

In talking to my therapist tonight, she asked me to tell her how conferences went. They were great actually, I told her. The parents really listened and they showed a lot of gratitude and empathy. So many parents said things like…

“I know you have little kids at home, and this is so hard…”

“I can’t imagine how you do it with little kids at home and a full time job…”

“We know how hard this is, and you are juggling teaching your own kids and teaching our kids…”

I realized that this is something that has been missing from my life: Personal acknowledgement. To see and say out loud that what I’m experiencing is really, really hard. I know that they can’t really do anything to help me, but to just say it out loud, that what I’m doing is hard. And they see it. They appreciate it for the struggle that it is. There was another unspoken element there: thanks for showing up. Thanks for taking all the hard stuff and continuing to show up.

A friend sent this Tweet thread a few weeks ago:

The parents gave me something I need. They saw me. They acknowledged the challenges and made space for them. They saw me and they thanked me.

Yes, of course, I’ve heard “Thank you,” from administrators, but it generally happens in group emails and in large meetings. By contrast, in the parent conferences, it felt much more personal. The parents mentioned details of my life that they knew about, so it wasn’t just a canned line to say to every teacher.

The other really important thing that came from the conferences was parents and students saying positive things about my class and my teaching. These affirmations of my work have been something I’ve really missed in distance learning. You don’t sense a student’s joy, you don’t hear them saying, “That was so cool!” as they leave the room. You don’t see the giant smiles or the “Yes!” when they get a good score on an assignment.

But in the conferences today, I heard kids and parents say that they were excited to come to class, liked this class the most, talked with their parents about what they were learning. Parents thanked me for my enthusiasm and encouragement. I had been feeling like I wasn’t able to encourage and celebrate kids enough because I couldn’t walk around the room and give students little check ins. Yes, this isn’t ideal teaching, but parts of me are still coming through to kids.

One student said she was so proud of herself for reading 5 books during independent reading in just 3 months. Many parents thanked me for including independent reading in class each day. They are happy to see their kids rekindle (or kindle) a love of reading.

I heard from parents how much they appreciated my feedback on assignments. Now, all my feedback is online in our open gradebook, whereas before I’d write comments on a piece of paper. As a result, parents are able to see the time and detail I put into the feedback I give to students, and they thanked me for that effort and attention.

One parent said that he felt like I really knew his kid, really got what he was like and what he needed. I was so shocked by that. I always feel like online learning is so much more disconnected, that I have way less opportunities to form relationships with students. But my relationship building hasn’t been completely lost.

One parent even said she loved my voice! That had me laughing.

Okay, this isn’t magic. I think what’s so good about today is that I got real, personalized compliments on what I’m doing well. Not just like a “Thanks for doing your job,” but a thing specific to me. That’s the first part.

The second part is acknowledging how hard this is. How much this sucks. How much I’m juggling. How much I’ve lost. Just say it. And again, make it personal. Point out what is real about each person’s struggle.

Sincere, personal thank you + acknowledgement of specific struggle. That’s the formula.

I’m not a school leader, so I don’t want to make guesses about what’s going on in their hearts and minds. But those of us in the arena of daily Zoom classes and online teaching really need to have our challenges acknowledged and our efforts celebrated. There’s so much our school leaders can’t do, but this is one thing they can.

This year, our PTA gift for teacher appreciation week had two items. First, was a monogrammed blanket–a super fuzzy and soft one.

Second, we received a candle. I really love what’s printed on the candle:

This is a gift that speaks directly to my human needs, my struggles. It is my favorite gift I’ve ever received for teacher appreciation week. It just so happens it’s a chilly night here in Sao Paulo, so I think I’ll go get under that blanket right now.


Grieving My Lost Silence

By talking to a therapist each week, I’ve started realizing how much grief I am experiencing. I’ve been lucky in my life to not have much experience with grief–the kind of grief someone feels after a death, a divorce, an illness, a lost job.

But I am grieving. On March 18, 2020, from one day to the next, I lost the life I used to live. And I am grieving.

One thing in particular I think about a lot is the loss of silent space and time. I used to have either 80 or 160 minutes of free period time each day at school. Add to that the 15 minutes in the morning and an hour after school. I had time to sit and read student work. To plan an upcoming unit. To create samples of work to show students. I lost that so suddenly.

While I may have blocks when I don’t teach in distance learning, I am doing my other jobs in that time: homeschooling and being a stay at home mom. I have to get my kids in their Zoom classes at the right time. I have to help them read the day’s activities and complete them. I have to cook, fold laundry, do dishes, clean the messes. I have to put the toddler in time out and solve the dispute over the couch blanket. I have to get snacks and wipe a nose. I have to remember to drink enough water and brush my teeth.

Here is what my week looks like:

Every member of my family has a color (I have two, one for school and one personal). Anything on the schedule is a Zoom call or meeting, not just an activity or suggested off-screen thing. Those are all things that are part of my job or my children’s classes. The people in pink, blue and green don’t wear watches and only one can read the Zoom app. The brown is David because he and I juggle who teaches from the living room while also parenting and who teaches in the back room.

By comparison, if I was on campus, my schedule would look like this, if you ignore Wednesday. Wednesday would look like the other days.

That first calendar feels like it looks. From one day to the next in March, I lost all opportunity to sit and work without interruption. Overnight I got 2 more jobs. And the expectation is still that I deliver quality instruction and quality feedback to students every day. When and where will that work take place? That’s not rhetorical. It’s a real question. My children go to bed at 8:30 pm and it is the first time I am able to work. After a day like you see on that calendar, what is left at 8:30 pm?

Let’s talk about Maslow again.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology

I live in red and orange all day, every day. Yellow is an aspiration. Yellow is reserved for small moments on Saturdays and Sundays. Green is nearly impossible when my teaching is done on screen.

I am grieving. I know this because I am angry and depressed. I cycle through those two over and over each day. I had a good life. A curated life. One with balance and separation of work and home life. I no longer have that. That was taken from me, even if I know it was for a good reason. It was still taken and I am grieving its loss.

Just know that if you ask me for yellow, green or blue, I am going to feel a wash of new anger and sadness. Because I remember what I had. It feels like mockery.

If you want to help teachers, give us the gift of silent time. If you can’t give us silence, give us time. Time when you don’t tell us where to be or what to do. Time where we can decide for ourselves how best to get through this day. That is the help we need. You can’t come baby sit my kids. So, take my advisory one day. Be a guest teacher in my class. Run a check in on Wednesday with a student who is missing work. Release me early from a meeting.


Delivering Minilessons in Distance Learning: Live or Pre-recorded?

Each of my daily 80 minute blocks of 7th grade humanities begins with a 5 minute class meeting and then 20 minutes of independent reading. Next, I deliver a 10-15 minute minilesson, which is followed by 30-40 minutes of student work time. I approached this year with a personal preference to pre-record the minilesson that developed over my distance learning experience last year.

To give some context, students leave our Zoom meeting to watch the video and start their work, but I stay in Zoom. If they have questions, they return to Zoom and I answer questions or help them if they are stuck. It is common that students return for questions or help. At the end of the 30-40 minute offline work time, we come back to Zoom for 5-10 minutes as a class to share how the work went and ask questions.

Behind the scenes, I’m in an apartment with 3 school-aged children who have basic human needs and homeschooling needs. This means that my attention can be pulled away unexpectedly.

Second, the Internet, as we are all learning, is fickle. I have lost my connection or frozen in the middle of delivering important information. I find this super frustrating. I often don’t realize I’m not connected for a few minutes. Then there’s the frantic router switching, restarting, etc. It adds to my overall discombobulation. The internet is also fickle for my students, who may get kicked out in the middle of a lesson and have to return and then need the info to be repeated. Much time is lost.

In addition, I find that the pre-recorded video helps me iron out my lesson. I realize that maybe I need an example in my first take, so I add one. Then I realize that I need to create a checklist or graphic of the instructions, so I add that. What about a non-example? I add that to my lesson and record again.

Finally, I prefer pre-recorded lessons because they can be filmed after my children are asleep and I know that I won’t be interrupted. I start the next day feeling ready and calm–always good.

Curious about these video minilessons? I use Screencastify to record them. Our school has purchased the professional “Unlimited” license. I’m a big fan of the program. Here are some examples:

But what about how the students feel about video vs live minilessons? I decided that I would try both and then survey the students. I told them in advance that a survey of their feedback was coming. The first day, I used a pre-recorded video lesson and stayed in Zoom to answer questions, then called everyone back after work time.

The second day, I gave a live lesson in Zoom, then sent them offline to work, calling them back at the end of the class to share. During my live Zoom lesson, I was interrupted by my children 3 times and had to change wifi routers once. 2 students were kicked out of Zoom due to dropped WiFi and had to return, and then be re-taught during the work time. I felt significantly more stressed out.

At the end of the second lesson, I sent the survey out. I have 41 students and 22 responded. Here are the results.

1=Strong dislike, 5=strong like

Here are their comments on the first question about pre-recorded video lessons. (I have not edited or removed any comments.)

Video mini lessons dont give me a chance to ask questions and participate.
I prefer video mini lessons because there is no like, poor connection, no interruptions
I like it a lot it is very good because you don’t have to spend so much time on zoom
because I can pause, go back etc
its good and fun
Its better when there’s a lot of work but not as good when you want to give a mini lesson.
i think i like it because i take notes while the video is playing
Because its already recorded so that means that I can’t ask questions.
I liked because you could go back and re watch
I don’t loveee it but I like it
Because prerecorded we can rewatch how many times we want.
I really like pre recorded classes because i can rewatch as many times as I want and I feel more free when its a pre recorded video
I liked it cause it helped me.
I do like it because we get to rewatch if we have any questions or what to do.
I like being able to watch it at my own pace and going back if I didn’t understand what the teacher says.

Next, I asked this question, with 1 being a strong dislike, and 5 being a strong like or strong preference.

Here are their comments on the question about live Zoom lessons. (I have not edited or removed any comments.)

I really love them!
Poor connection, interuptions, and talking, not paying attenton.
I really liked it cause you can ask questions
Its good because I can ask questions
its better to understand and can ask questions
There good because you can interact and ask question.
i think it is hard because there are internet problem and etc
Then I can ask questions to the teacher and clarify my questions.
I liked because you could interact with us
Because we can ask questions.
I really like the part where we get to talk and read together but having a zoom lesson for me is a bit distracting because i will zone out often.
I like it equally because, I like that we can interact with you and our other classmates!
it is nice because if I have a question, I can ask you right there in the moment.

Then I asked them to choose their preference: pre-recorded minilessons, live Zoom minilessons, or an equal preference for both.

And again, I gave them a chance to explain or give a comment on their answer. None have been edited or removed.

zoom mini lessons is the closer we get to normal. it also gives me a chance to be active and participate in class
I prefer that one because there is not interruption and like there wont be anything lagging no the vid,I understand better on video.
I thought both we’re very fun and nice to do
It’s better
Because on live we can ask questions, but prerecorded we can rewatch how many times we want.
As I said before I love getting to talk and revise my work with teachers on zoom but for the lesson itself I prefer videos.
because if its recorded and you don’t understand something you can rewatch the video.
I would do fine with both! I can learn in both ways without any problem.
I like both of them, it’s nice to be able to ask questions and get an answer in seconds, but it’s also nice to go back and replay the lesson as many times that I want.

My big take-away is that 77.3% percent of the students who responded are happy with a pre-recorded lesson. This matches with my preference and instincts about the best way to deliver instruction, and also helps me to manage my home stress and responsibilities. I will continue to stay on Zoom for the students who need further explanation or guidance, or even just a re-teach of the lesson. And there will still be times when I teach a live minilesson. Sometimes a teachable moment arises and I can do it on the fly, and sometimes I will even plan for a live lesson. But, for the most part, I am going to use pre-recorded minilessons. The day I did the live lesson, I had a student who had a doctor’s appointment and missed the class, so I went ahead and made the video lesson anyways so that she was able to watch the lesson after school.

I also hope that the video lessons are helpful to parents who may be trying to support their children, but unsure how. My videos can help to educate them so that they can better support their child.

I gave my own personal context during distance learning because I don’t want to imply that this is the right decision for every teacher or every class. However, I do think it’s worth noting that a student admitted to “zoning out” during a live lesson. I think this is pretty common, and for students this happens to, what are they to do when work time begins and they are lost? They must stay back, lose work time, and be re-taught. Or perhaps they just log off for fear of admitting that they didn’t pay attention. Even if I preferred live lessons, I think I’d provide video lessons for students to rewatch in case they “zoned out”, had computer issues, or were just confused.

A note about community building. There many be some teachers who feel that the community building of a Zoom lesson outweighs the other factors. I use my class meeting, Q and A sessions, independent reading time, and share-out at the end to build community. Community and connection is a strength of mine, so I feel good about my ability to nurture the bonds I have with students. I also meet with students outside of class time during office hours and afterschool, and I try to send frequent “Good work!” emails to students and parents when a student is doing good work.

Beyond that, we have to consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained

For many teachers–and students–we are focusing on securing our physiological and safety needs. Many international teachers and students are stuck outside of their country of residence. Some may be ill or have illness in their family. Even the fear of possible illness can be hugely challenging. Some of us may have changes in employment or income. Some of us may have limited access to physical activities and nature. Some of us may be grappling with fear, anxiety, depression in both ourselves and our loved ones–leading to a loss of sleep or eating changes, part of our physiological needs. I say all this because the “Love and Belonging” layer really matters, but we have to make sure we take care of our essential, primary needs before we attend to that tier. (The good old mask on yourself before you put the mask on the child.)

For me, that means making the video lessons the night before. I can’t build community and tend to the needs for belonging until I have met some of my basic needs. Video lessons allow me to do that. They allow me to help feed my children if that need arises during class, or put a band-aid on a booboo. That 10 minutes of pre-recorded lesson time might allow me to get some water, eat lunch, go to the bathroom.

We all have a different row to hoe right now, and I don’t want to disparage or belittle anyone else’s pedagogy, especially if mine differs from yours. I just wanted to share what is working for me, and–thankfully–a majority of my students. If this helps you, or if you are also using video lessons, I would love to hear about your successes, struggles and take aways.


Starting Therapy Again

I went through a couple titles for this blog post. Getting Help. Help. Reaching Out. Talking to Someone. Using euphemism didn’t feel right. I don’t want to hide this or shroud this in euphemism.

Here is what I posted on Facebook a week ago:

Started therapy again. Tonight was my first session. Maybe it’s weird to share this on here, but maybe we should be as open about this as we are about our dentist appointments. Teacher friends, especially, I just need to remind you that we are not alright. Parent friends, we are not alright. Friends who are teachers and parents, there are so few words for what we are going through. Not much more to say other than remember to ask for help.

I don’t like talking about silver linings, but one silver lining of this pandemic is that all therapy has gone online through video calls. That suits me better because it’s hard for me to get in my car and head out to an office during business hours. After school, we’ve got playing and dinner and homework. I would probably have to drive pretty far, deal with parking…it’s just a lot of hassle.

From a friend and colleague, I heard about the Truman Group, which specializes in mental health and counseling for expats–Americans living abroad. I think they were always a telehealth company, because of all the different countries and time zones. I was able to pick a time that worked for me (8:30 pm) and all of their counselors have experience overseas.

It’s not the same as talking to someone in a room on a comfy chair or couch. I have to bring my own tissues. But I’m so glad I’m doing it.

I saw a therapist a little bit in college, then in grad school, and then again after my kids were born and I had really bad post-partum anxiety. This feels different though. In some ways, I didn’t recognize where I was mentally and emotionally, because it doesn’t feel exactly like my old anxiety. (Ugh, go ahead and say “unprecedented” in your head. It’s what we’re all thinking, but I’m so sick of that word.) This snuck up on me. I wasn’t having panic attacks or trouble sleeping. I am just mad all the time. Mad and taking it out on the only 4 people I interact with. They deserve better and I deserve better. I can’t get my old life back yet, but I can work on what’s happening in me as a result of what’s happening to me.

I’m also reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It’s a whole theme I’ve got going here. (Why yes, I read Untamed and Daring Greatly before this, how’d you guess?)

That’s all, really. That’s all I have to say. I’m doing all the things that are in my control to do. And then I tell myself about how I’m doing all the things that are in my control. I’m even doing face masks and teeth whitening strips. Seriously, if you have any ideas of things that are in my control that might make me feel a little better, throw them my way.

This feels anticlimactic. Was this post building to something? I guess not. The work begins. That could be the motto of my Game of Thrones House. House Griswold: And so the work begins.


Another year, another letter…sort of

I write a letter every year to students, but this year is a bit different. Video and text below. Year 14!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Dear Students,

This is my fourteenth year of teaching, so this is my fourteenth year of writing my students a letter of introduction.  I love the tradition of capturing who I am right now, and finding a way to share that with my students.  Normally, I’d read the letter out loud in class.  This year, because of the global coronavirus pandemic, I have to settle for reading this over a video.

Hello, hello, hello.  My name is Mrs. Griswold and I miss you.  Yes, you.  You, who I just met last week.  I miss you because I love teaching.  This global crisis has made me pay attention to what I really care about by noticing what I miss. Those are the things that really matter to me.    

I really miss my classroom.  I love being with students every day, teaching, laughing, working hard, and celebrating my students’ work.  Here’s what this pandemic has made me see clearly: I love my job.  

And I really love working at Graded.  I am an American, but when I was in 5th grade, I left the United States and moved to Mexico City.  At the start of 7th grade, I moved to Caracas, Venezuela.  I love teaching at an international school because that was how I grew up.  I speak Spanish and Portuguese, and I love travelling–another thing I am missing during this pandemic.  We moved to Brazil 2 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee.  We really love living in Brazil and can’t wait to get back to exploring it.

I have a husband who is a math and computer science teacher at Graded, and three kids who are students.  My son Calvin is in 3rd grade, my daughter Matilda is in 1st grade, and my son Everett is a K3.  One thing I really, really miss is being able to leave my house each day and focus on being a teacher.  I also miss being able to leave school and go home to focus on being a mom.  Now, I’m everything at once, and that’s really hard.  

Since I can’t do many of the things I miss–museums, parks, movies–I’ve focused on new sources of joy.  I picked up the mandolin I hadn’t played in two years.  Strumming and singing has brought me a lot of joy.  

Then I learned how to watercolor during quarantine.  A YouTube video auto-played one day with a watercolor tutorial.  I grabbed my kids’ watercolor set and started painting.  I like how watercolor is about luck and improvising–letting go of control. I took 2 online courses and bought better paints.  My plan is to watercolor at the end of the day to destress.  

My other new joy is roller skating!  I saw some TikTok videos of people skating and my daughter had been asking for some, so the whole family got skates!  It’s a great way to get out of the house, and I feel free and joyful when I’m skating.

What about you?  What have you noticed about yourself during this time?  What do you miss?  What new joys have you found?  I want you to write me a letter and help me get to know you.  Until we can meet face to face, and I can give you a hug or a high five or a hand shake, this letter will have to suffice.  

With love,

Mrs. Griswold


Camping camping camping

That pop-up camper in the background belongs to David’s brother Kenneth and his wife, Amanda.

We have been on 4 camping trips this summer. Two 1-night trips, two 2-night trips. We had planned for at least one trip, but since camping has been shown to be very low Covid risk, and parks opened, we jumped on it. It’s been a great antidote to online learning. The kids bring no screens to the campsite and we all look at our phones rarely.

We did our first family camping trip last summer, and then we did one in Brazil. We’ve learned a lot and have found a camping groove. We keep saying we need to make a list of all the things we need to bring so that we can consult it before heading out.

What to pack for the kids:

  • twice as many socks as days camping
  • old sneakers, water shoes, flipflops or crocs (You want something that they can wear in a river or lake to protect their feet, you want something easy on and off for going in and out of the tent
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Walking poles or sticks
  • Water bottles
  • Sleeping bag and pillow
  • Hoodie for cold mornings/nights
  • Pants for hiking or cold mornings/nights (if the weather is generally colder, more pants, but I find 1 pair enough for a summer camping trip)
  • Pajamas: if the temp goes below 65, consider long sleeve or fleece pajamas. But I recommend bringing some shorts jammies and some warmer jammies in case of any kind of weather.

What to bring in general for camping:

  • First aid kit
  • Tent (we bought our Suisse Sport Wyoming 8-person tent on Sierra for $90. It was a closeout, so it’s gone now, but we like it. In Brazil we have the Coleman Evanston tent. Love that too and you can buy at Target and Walmart.)
  • Tarp for underneath the tent
  • Sleeping bags (or just a blanket, depending on weather and your desires.)
  • Sleeping pads (we have these Klymit pads. They inflate with about 15 breaths, and roll up into an 8×4 inch bag.)
  • Pillows (regular or inflatable.)
  • Toiletries in an easy to carry caddy or bag
  • Towels (we bring beach towels)
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Citronella candles
  • Camp chairs (or some kind of folding chair)
  • A multi-tool
  • Rain jackets for everyone
  • Optional: Hammock. You can hang it between 2 trees. The kids love them!
  • Flashlights and lanterns. I like a bunch of handheld flashlights, and then a lantern or two for on the picnic table or to hang in the tent. I also like a headlamp or two. Better than having to clench a flashlight in your teeth to cook in the dark!
  • If you are camping at an electric site: an extension cord and power strip.
  • If you are not at an electric site, battery packs, power banks, or other things like that are good to charge your phone.
  • Table cloth. I had a plastic one that ended up getting gross quickly, and if you rested your arms on it with sunscreen or bugspray on, it dissolved the color into your arm. So, I got 2 yards of marine vinyl from Joann for 70% off. $12 total! It’s nice and heavy, meant to withstand water and weather, and we will be able to reuse it for a long time.
  • 2 gallon expandable water carrier (We got this one at Cabela’s)
  • Dish basin

A quick note on dishes at a campsite. It took until our last 2 trips for me to develop a system I like. We use the expandable water carrier to bring 2 gallons back from the water spigot (there’s usually one every 3 campsites in state/national campgrounds.) I set the water carrier on the picnic table bench, and put the dish basin beneath it. I put a little Dawn in the basin and an inch of water. As people bring dishes over, I have them drop them in the soapy water. Then, when it’s time to wash dishses, I turn on the tap of the water carrier and start scrubbing, the water falls into the basin and keeps filling it. I set the clean dishes to dry on the table as I go. By the time I’ve gotten to the bottom of the stack of dishes, the water is about full. I dump it out and voila! I kept joking that I invented the sink and running water. Here is Everett demonstrating.

You can see our marine vinyl tablecloth in that picture and the clear plastic bins we use to transport all of our cookware, flashlights, tools etc.

What to bring for cooking and building a fire

  • A stove (we have this classic one from Coleman.)
  • Camp stove propane cannisters (2 cannisters got us through 6-8 days of camping)
  • Lighters (at least 2)
  • A set of pots and pans (we have this set from Kelty)
  • Plates, bowls, cups, silverware (Our Kelty set came with everything but the cups)
  • A cast iron skillet or 2 (we have a 12 inch and an 8 inch)
  • Cutting knives and cutting board (we have those thin ones)
  • Foil and a container for leftovers
  • A cooler
  • We have a Coleman water jug that we put ice water in. That way the kids can get cups of water at will. (Otherwise, they drive you crazy asking for drinks)
  • Dish washing liquid and sponge or scrub brush (my vote is a scrub brush because sponges tend to get nasty and stinky. The scrub brush we’re using came from my Dad’s camp set and it may 20 years old. Still works!)
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Pot holders
  • Spatula, slotted spoon, ladle
  • Can opener
  • fire starters
  • newspaper for fire starting
  • coffee cone and filters
  • insulated mugs for hot and cold bevvies
  • Marshmallow/hotdog roasting forks

What do we cook?

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal, eggs and bacon, cereal. My sister in law made breakfast burritos that were already assembled and we warmed them in the coals of the fire. Super good! You could also just make cereal.
  • Lunch or dinner: Grilled sandwiches, hot dogs, charcuterie (crackers, cheeses, meats, hummus, veggies), Camp chili (we made this on our last trip and it was delicious. We added ground beef), 3 ingredient mac n cheese with peas added, brats or hotdogs on the grill, grilled baby peppers or nectarines, burgers or steak, baked beans, grilled corn, there are lot of options!

We’ve also worked on our food box of items that aren’t really for any particular recipe, but are good to have:

  • Coffee
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Cooking spray
  • Brown sugar
  • Shelf stable milks (preferably little ones so you only need to open what you need, like the Horizon kids’ milk boxes)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • Snacks for the kids (goldfish, fruit snacks, fruit cups, fruit strips, granola bars)
  • Mustard, ketchup (or a handful of ketchup packets)
  • Honey and/or maple syrup
  • A little mixed spice holder (Walmart sells this one)
  • Raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit
  • Walnuts, almonds, pecans

What we pack in our cooler:

  • Beers, small wine bottles or boxes, tequila in a mason jar (or the liquor of your choice)
  • Lacroix, cokes, etc.
  • Yogurt pouches for the kids, maybe also yogurt drinks
  • A variety of hand fruits
  • Carrot sticks
  • Hummus
  • Mayo
  • Cheese slices
  • Deli meats

You have to buy firewood from an authorized dealer or from within 10 miles of the park, so we do that on the way into the park or at a nearby gas station. If the park has an office that is open, they usually sell ice. We usually have to add a bag of ice to the cooler once a day. We have two coolers, one 40 qt one for drinks and a 52 qt one for food.

For the funs:

  • We bring everyone’s bikes. At least in Minnesota, there are awesome bike trails. The kids are often told to take off on their bikes around the campsite whenever they say they’re bored. Everett has a trailer that we bring and we go on family rides as well.
  • If your park is flat, roller skates/blades are as well
  • If you have room for them, lawn Jenga or lawn Farkle are really fun, and games of their ilk.
  • Sand toys or dirt play toys
  • Squirt guns
  • Friendship bracelet materials
  • Guitar or mandolin or other sing along instrument. Despite being a mandolin player, I haven’t brought mine on any trips. Mostly just tired and overwhelmed or busy. Ugh. Maybe next year.

We also had my sister-in-law’s mom make us a campsite sign!

You will also notice our car top carrier. That came out of my parents’ attic this summer and it was on our minivan in the 80’s! Super vintage and works great. We will keep that sucker going for as long as it will last.

There you can see our Klymit sleeping pads and Everett who slides way off his during the night! On our last night of camping, I saw him wake up and walk back to the pad and flop down with his sleeping back like a cape. Very cute.
Marshmallow roasting forks in action.
Hammock fun.
You can see our tent, a camp chair, and the camp stove in the top right.
The kids biking the road through the Willow River campgrounds.
Our car with the 4 bikes loaded on the back (Everett’s trailer is in the car top carrier.) We bought the Allen 4 bike rack that uses the tow hitch we had installed. Works great. We have two straps to hold the wheels secure during driving.

Tip: Look for second hand camping equipment. You can get some from family or friends, or at Goodwill or Facebook marketplace. 3 of our camp chairs, 2 of our sleeping bags, one of our coolers and our Coleman water jug came from a thrift store. Then, go to Sierra Trading Post. We bought our Suisse Sport Wyoming 8 person tent there. Originally $150, we got it for $90. They get closeouts and old seasons’ stuff for a great discount. Our Klymit pads and Kelty camp kitchen set came from them too at a great discount. After that, I recommend Walmart first (shocking, I know) and Target second. Walmart has a larger camping section. Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops also have some good stuff, but also guns, so decide on your comfort level. Of course there’s Amazon and the internet and stuff.

Tip: Before you pitch your tent, especially if you are doing it with a spouse or partner, each of you should do a shot of tequila. A little liquid sense of humor is always called for when pitching a tent.

Tip: your kids won’t fall asleep until the sun goes down. So, that’s their camping bedtime! But, I find that in the darkness of the woods, they fall asleep fast.

Okay, I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. And I don’t want to pass myself off as some kind of pro camper. We forget stuff and we lose our cool sometimes and make dumb decisions. But camping is fun and you can dive in and have fun.