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Pandemic Teaching and Coaching

As many of you who have read my blog know, I am both a high school teacher and a beach volleyball coach. I am currently both coaching and teaching during the middle of a pandemic. The rules change daily, if not hourly sometimes. Some days feel normal, but most definitely do not.

I have not written in a while. I, like many of you, have been challenged with the most difficult year in my life. The stress of it alone is enough that for the first time in my life, my doctor said that I have high blood pressure. Let's start with what my days look like as a teacher and then move into what they look like as a coach

Up until Christmas break, I was teaching full time inside of my classroom. I had 80% of my students in person sitting in front of me inside the classroom as well, and another 20% who were sitting at home on their computers doing my class through Zoom. My district had decided that the best way to keep kids safe while still trying to give them the best education possible was to have them in person but to put them into 2 hour blocks for classes. I have each class for two hours with half of my classes coming one day and the other half coming the next day. Each day as I got to my classroom, I would open up my email to find the list of students who had been approved to go online. This list would change daily due to Covid contact or concern of contact. Students whose names were not on the list were not approved to come into my Zoom call. I would scroll the list and find my students and write their names down for the day so that I knew to let them in. I had a seating chart that had to remain the same in order to track who had been in contact with whom during my class period. In order to keep students safe, they were not allowed to get up or go across the classroom. They had to remain in their seats for the two hours. Yes, high school freshmen, all wearing masks, were made to sit through two hours of class.

When it was time for class to begin, I would open my Zoom call so that students could begin to enter the waiting room. I would then get up and open the door to my classroom so that students could come in and sit down. Students whose faces i had only fully seen on tiny screens in a Zoom call would enter one by one and find their assigned seat. The bell would ring and I would go in to take attendance and let the kids into the Zoom call who were in the waiting room. Each student had an ipad so all assignments were done on the ipad to keep papers from being passed back and forth. Students on Zoom would start out with their camera's on so that I could see their faces but as soon as they went into any other application to work on something or take notes, it would turn the camera off so it was nearly impossible to see if they were still there and paying attention most of the time.

We had been online through Zoom for about two months and many students were failing because they would sign into the Zoom calls and then who knows what they were doing. I Would call their names at times and they wouldn't respond so I would have to mark it down and let their parents know. It was my only recourse. Now that students were back in the classroom, I found myself constantly chasing kids to help them to catch up. The national average for failing student for the fall semester of 2020 was between 40% and 50%. In my classroom, failing is just unacceptable to me. I take it personally as do many teachers.

Ok, back to what was going on in the classroom. As I would try to navigate between screens for PowerPoint, listening activities, and PDF documents while trying to both project them to my screen in the classroom and share my Zoom screen with students at home, I often encountered problems. When wifi would go out at the school or at students houses, I would be forced to adjust on the fly. I would find myself looking at my screen and trying to figure out what was going on so that everyone had access to the lesson when I would look up and one girl or boy would have gotten up to go sit next to his or her friend. Not only would I have to get her to go back to her assigned seat, but I would also have to document all the students she came in contact with in that other seat for Covid tracking purposes.

Ok, my lesson is finally going and everyone has access to it. As we are going along and I am standing in front of the class writing on the board and answering questions, I would see the little notification pop up in the bottom corner of my Zoom call screen letting me know I had a message. "Oh no!" I would think to myself when I saw it. How long had it been there? Did I miss someone's question? I would stop what I was doing and go read it. Inevitably it was a student asking if they could re-do an assignment they had missed and the question had nothing to do with what I was teaching. I would answer it and move on. This would happen so many times during the class that I can't even count.

As I am teaching, I would try to include the students who were at home when asking questions. I would ask a question, no response. "Johnny, are you there?" I would ask. Still no response. I would write Johnny's name down to be able to contact his parents and then ask another student. Just as the second student was about to respond, Johnny would come onto the Zoom call and say, Sorry, I was in the kitchen making a sandwich. I heard my name, what was the question? On with class we would go as more and more of these situations would arise.

When the bell would ring, I was now both responsible for standing out in the hallway for hall duty to make sure kids walked one way through the halls to keep them from coming face to face with each other as well as cleaning all 35 desks in my room so that they were sanitized for the next period of kids to come in. While this may seem funny, these little interruptions, these glitches with tech, these moments I would have to take time out of class to re-explain things, or to get students back on task took their toll on my classroom as well as on me. Scathing emails from parents whose students were behind because of how they performed while at home. Meetings with my department and learning level team to try to continually adjust our course to be sure students had mastered important concepts before moving on. It was all overwhelming.

When the school day would finish, I was off to coach practice. What had been my safe place for so many years within the walls of Horizon Park was now also very different. Each day through Covid we never have known if the next day the park would close down and we would have to shut down practice or not. We have always tried to set a good example for kids. From the things I personally put out into the world on social media to my blog, to my every day actions, I know that there is ALWAYS a kid watching me to see what I will do next. I am not perfect, no one is, but I really do try to be the best example that I can be for kids. Coaching and teaching during a pandemic, i feel, has amplified that 100 fold. Now more than ever kids are looking to us for answers when we are unsure of them ourselves. Daily we are faced with making decisions that can affect the livelihoods of everyone around us. we don't take those decisions lightly at RPM.

As protocols from the city change all the time. As The statistics from our state fluctuate, we are forced to adapt in a responsible manner. While I am not the club director at RPM Sand, I work hand in hand with him to help make these decisions. We often defer to what information I have received at school to help to protect the athletes. Tournaments have been canceled all over the country. Parks and sites for practices and play have been shut down. Athletes or their family members have gotten Covid and we have done our absolute best to be sure that we notify all of the athletes and their families who may have come in contact with these individuals for them to be able to make informed decisions.

College recruiting for the sport of beach volleyball along with every other sport in the country has changed drastically. Coaches are not in person to see athletes right now. They have to rely on video and the word of the people they trust to make decisions that will affect their future of their program as well as the future status of their job. Having spoken with multiple head coaches at different D1 universities, the same thing rings loud and clear. Coaches are really missing seeing how kids react to losses or tough situations. They are missing getting to see how they interact with their parents and coaches. Recruiting is just not the same. Many schools have a pileup of red-shirts from last season who were unable to play due to Covid which will inevitably affect the landscape of which future classes are more recruited out of high school. These decisions are extremely difficult as well.

The fact that you can never make a decision that will please everyone is magnified now more than ever. Between teaching and coaching through all of this I have been forced, over and over, to make decisions based on what I think is best for all those involved based on the information that I have. My principal, the superintendent, my club director, along with many of you have had to do the same. Life is just not normal, and whose to say that these times won't change the way the world works for the rest of our lives? I hope that everyone reading this out there is taking good care of one another. When push comes to shove, PEOPLE are what is most important.

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