Middle School Language Arts

A Winter’s Tale (or What Would Shakespeare Do?) A Modern Tragicomedy

If the past informs the future, the 2021 school year should be a breeze. We’ve got this!

Davina Lyons

There were countless conversations about how different the world of primary and secondary education became during the Covid19 pandemic, but to sum it up in the manner in which Rosemarie Schaut has done is brilliant.

An English Language Arts teacher, Rosemarie, wrote the following modern tragicomedy sometime during the pandemic and shared it on Facebook. I asked if I could share it in my blog as a practical example of creative writing. She graciously permitted me.

A Winter’s Tale (or What Would Shakespeare Do?) A Modern Tragicomedy

Understand
that thirty-four years ago, I did not decide to become a high school English teacher
Because of my love of technology.

This is what no one tells you —
That you may have to divide yourself, zygotically.
Cells divided for the live classes
Cells multiplied on several screens for those at home.
Students pretending to be present, but who are actually ghosting,
Playing Halo or Call of Duty,
or feeding the cat.
Showing me their bedroom ceilings,
Their foreheads,
Their Uncle Frank.

Don’t forget to record yourself
(–“NOW can you hear me?”
“I think you are muted”,
“Does anyone know if Nick will be joining us?”
“Can you see my screen?”)
— for those who are too busy to be here
when you are.

Don’t forget to stop recording when the bell rings.
Remember to save, and to store, and to send, and to file, and to document.

Make sure you are in the hallways during the three minutes between classes.
Maintain social distancing.
Enforce mask protocol.
Disinfect.
Teach bell to bell.

You may have to contact parents.
Email administration when parents do not respond.
Keep trying.
Date and document your attempts.
Offer grace.

Eat lunch in your classroom.
Do not congregate with colleagues.
If a student, colleague, administrator enters your room during your lunch, put on your mask
Only eat and drink during lunch.
Maintain social distancing.
Do not leave students unattended to use the restroom.
It is important to stay hydrated.
Keep an open door policy.
Be safe.

We are moving you to a bigger classroom
Because we are increasing your enrollment.
And because your health and safety is important.
Please box up your extensive classroom library for storage.
By Monday.

If you are sick, stay home.
Please do not call in sick. There are no subs.
No one can do what you do.
We appreciate you.
Be grateful you have a job.
Do your job.

Here’s a card with a smiley-face in your mailbox.
Appreciate that we are thinking of you.
We are all in this together.

Stay positive.
Students are stressed.
Parents are stressed.
We will not have enough tech devices for all of your face-to-face students.
Everything must be online for the students who are remote.
Maintain rigor.

Keep an airflow.
Open your windows.
Open your doors,
Wear extra layers.
Speak loudly so everyone can hear.
Remain cautious of internal and external threats.
We will have a drill on Friday.
This drill is confidential.
Be ready.
Windows should be shut. Doors locked.
Prepare your students.

Don’t forget to turn on your Smartboard.
Don’t forget to turn on your video.
Don’t forget to angle your camera.
Don’t forget to lock public chat.
Don’t forget to unlock private chat.
Make sure students can hear you.
Make sure students can see you.

You must record for asynchronous learners.
Be aware of where you are standing.
Make sure to take accurate attendance.
Email the office if students arrive late.
Record the times in which they logged in.

Students are required to show their faces.
Don’t record student’s faces.
Speak loudly so everyone can hear.
Engage all learners.

We are still conducting observations.
We are still conducting evaluations.
We are still giving State Exams.
Scores still matter.
Study the data.
Use data to drive instruction.

Meetings immediately follow the final bell.
Follow the one-way traffic arrows in the hallways.
Be prompt.
Make yourself accessible to students and parents.
Remember self-care.

Connect with your students.
Build relationships.
Offer extensions.
Accept late work.
Accept poor work.
Accept excuses.
Accept defeat.

Don’t give up.

Remember: we are more than a test score.
Maintain rigor.
Show grace.

No, we cannot purchase that item.
We cannot replace that.
We cannot offer that.
It’s not in the budget.
We don’t have the resources.
We don’t have the money.
We don’t have the time.

Work smarter, not harder.
Take care of your health.

P.S You do not yet qualify for a vaccine.
We do not know when you will be eligible for the vaccine.

We appreciate you.
We’re all in this together.

By Rosemarie Schaut

Final thought: Look beyond the humor and see the conditions in which dedicated educators met and often exceeded. Now, show them some love when you have an opportunity. Please…and, thank you!

Is self-care a beautiful reality or impossible dream for teachers to achieve?

An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.

Author Unknown

I awoke this morning thinking about school starting in two weeks. Am I ready? I mean mentally and physically prepared. Are my lesson plans in order, and do I know what I will teach and when? Am I able to stand most of the day, meet and greet 100 new learners? Have I prepared my mind, body, and spirit to do what is necessary?

My subsequent thoughts were affirmed by whether or not I had taken care of myself enough over the Summer to meet the tasks at hand. So, I decided to question a teacher’s Facebook Group to see what other teachers were thinking.   

As a teacher, when you hear the words “self-care,” what does it personally make you think of?

Question posed in secondary ELA Teacher’s Facebook group

I did not expect the responses that I got. There were two clear teams—one for and the other against the notion of self-care. Some answers threatened bodily harm to the next person uttering those words.  

Platitude, Gaslighting, Toxic Positivity, and Cudgel

Is self-care a term that is used too often to be interesting or thoughtful? Like everything that we hear or see too often, we become immune to it, which is no longer effective. Buzz words like self-care have lost meaning to many people who never figured out how to make it happen.

Are the school administrators manipulating teacher’s reality? Unfortunately, the truth is a severe lack of time and resources for many educators. Yet, when teachers voice their concerns, the feedback is usually, “Take some time for yourself.” To which teachers reply, “When? and How?”

Has the term self-care been weaponized against teachers? Those teachers who express discontent for one reason or another feel dismissed by the notion of their lack of self-care being the reason for the situation they find themselves in.  Disingenuine positivity creates a culture of mistrust and lack of faith in the very system teachers put their heart and soul into for the students.  

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset (more buzz words)

I am a believer in the notion of fixed vs. growth mindset pioneered by Carol Dweck. I read the book. So I was able to determine that clearly, the responses to my question were one or the other – fixed or growth-minded.  

A responsible, healthy person will always be monitoring their time, exercise, nutrition, emotional, and social needs.

An ELA TEACHER

This statement was perhaps the most positive of all comments posted. I could immediately identify with the notion of self-monitoring. It’s what I do all the time. It is also why I am a huge fan of mindfulness (buzz word) and personal development.  

Teachers expressed being overwhelmed at managing all of the hours of work required and finding time to take care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility to prioritize self and make it happen seems to come at a cost for those who do not believe (fixed mindset) that things can get better. It means setting boundaries and sticking to those boundaries no matter the cost.

Complaints of sitting through unnecessary professional development sessions, still feeling burned out from the prior year, more stuff to do than time will reasonably allow. Yet, on the other side, teachers can create structure, routines, and boundaries – they know how to leave the papers at school! 

I was surprised by many negative responses because I did not realize how triggering the term self-care is. Although I have been very fortunate to have great school administrators that were not disingenuine, I certainly understand the position of my colleagues from multiple school districts.    

How can we care for someone else if we aren’t caring for ourselves?

Here are three highly rated and recommended resources to help answer that question:
All the best to Educators!
Davina

New School Year, Recovery from the Collective Shock of the Pandemic, and The Lyons Den

Old Blog Posts Before This One

I started this blog years ago just as I was finalizing my student teaching. Some of the posts were homework for school. The first few years (2014- 2017), I tried to figure out the whole teaching thing. I knew I wanted to be present for kiddos and make a difference, but the pedagogy part was challenging. I spent years in corporate America living in a cubicle or a boardroom. I knew how to navigate my way around adults, but teens (ages 13-15) are a whole new mood.

From Sacaton to Mesa Public Schools

In just a few days, the new school year will begin, and I will be back in the classroom. I am super excited about starting the new year in Mesa. I transitioned in the second quarter of the last school year and missed all of the recent hire events, so I had to learn a lot on my own. Now, I am seeing it all unfold as it should with professional development and classroom setup time.

It was tough leaving Sacaton Elementary School District #18 within the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC). My chronic health issues, coupled with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, compelled me only to want to teach from home. However, that was initially not an option for me; therefore, I set out to find a position to teach remotely. It was one of the most challenging decisions I have made in a long time.

How has COVID-19 Affected Student Learning?

This will probably be the biggest question of the year. How has COVID-19 affected student learning? According to a Brookings Institution article, “…there is growing consensus that school closures in spring 2020 likely had negative effects on student learning.” Brookings Institution came to solid conclusions due to researched, evidence-based results noting there was a negative impact. They used a sample of 8000 schools nationwide. It’s important to note that these schools were not representative of the underserved communities we know were impacted at a greater level.

‌Compared to all public schools in the nation, schools in the sample had slightly larger total enrollment, a lower percentage of low-income students, and a higher percentage of white students. 

Brookings Institution

Collective Shock

Schools closing in the Fall of 2020 led to rapid conversions to teaching curriculum online to help balance the health risks of students and staff. This created some educational loss for our students. Some students desperately needed to remain in a physical school environment for many reasons. Of course, parents were all too aware of the needs of their children as they fought to adjust and deal with their own need to earn a living and maintain the household.

I believe we are all experiencing a collective shock from the last academic year. This school year will reveal what educators must do to help bridge the gaps caused by the pandemic. This post mainly focused on educational outcomes. Still, I will be blogging a lot more about social and emotional as I work to engage students who many have disengaged over the past year resulting from the shock I just mentioned.

Although the Brookings Institution study was not representative of the actual economic and health conditions faced by the plethora of underserved communities nationwide, it still paints the picture that educators have a great deal to show up for this 2021-2022 school year.

The BRAND: Lyons Den Education

We all want happy classrooms where true learning is at the heart of all we do. A great way to move toward that goal is to build your classroom “brand.”…When something is branded, hearing its name immediately generates pictures in your mind, with positive and very specific associations.

Branding Can Strengthen Your Classroom Culture, Rita Platt

I am anxious to get started! I am genuinely excited about being back in the classroom full-time with students in person. Re-engaging students with their lessons and the desire to learn is my top priority in the coming year. In addition, branding requires creating a culture that will exemplify the qualities and characteristics students need to embody, especially if they navigate their academic lives in the coming post-pandemic year.

Courage, Confidence, & Resilience

This year and many to come will be about engaging students at a level that enhances their learning; whether we are playing catch-up or not isn’t my concern. I am more concerned with the social, emotional, and academic well-being of the learners. The collective shock we experienced as a society has most certainly hit youth hard worldwide. My reach is only as far as my classroom in terms of having a “real” impact. I have branded my class “The Lyons Den” for years now. Still, I am stepping it up and emphasizing the characteristics of courage, confidence, and resilience because I know that is what it takes to succeed during challenging times truly.

The coming year will be the actual test of how much of a negative impact the pandemic has caused. I plan to meet that challenge head-on with my level of courage and confidence in hopes of cultivating learners who defy the statistical odds to achieve and grow beyond the worst they have experienced. This blog will allow me to share the experience along the way.

Welcome to The Lyons Den Education Blog!

Davina Lyons

For RESEARCH STUDY DETAILS: Kuhfeld, M., Soland, J., Tarasawa, B., Johnson, A., Ruzek, E., & Lewis, K. (2020, December 3). How is COVID-19 affecting student learning? Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/12/03/how-is-covid-19-affecting-student-learning/

The Big Desert Race

On Friday, April 28, 2017, The Drama Club presented The Big Desert Race! 

The first production at Sacaton Middle School in over 20 years!

I am beyond proud of how well these students did!  

Unfortunately, the video camera malfunctioned and I have no video of the actual production to share – just a few clips from rehearsal.

Cause and Effect 

Apple

A gift from my student.

Life…

Gratitude 

Classroom upgrade!

Today the new bookcases arrived! They were ordered this summer.  My students and I celebrated.  The simple pleasures in the life of an educator!

Social Contracts 

This year we are a Capturing Kids Hearts school.  I am so excited about it.  We have a positive and caring culture which only improves our student’s learning experience.

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