When we wish we were better

Disclaimer: Yes…this is about teaching during COVID19. But you will not find any “distance learning” tips nor any lesson plans 🙂

Hi friends. I sincerely hope all of you are well and encouraged, although I recognize that those two things are increasingly harder to do these days. The reality of living in a global pandemic and watching it affect nearly every single aspect of our lives continues to shake me nearly daily. I have found myself experiencing a range of emotions, sometimes many in a single day. Being a teacher these days looks really different than it did a month ago. A month ago, I don’t think I imagined that schools would be closed (and pretty much everything else), and that I’d be trying to teach from home for the rest of the year.

I’m finding it really hard to put all of my emotions and thoughts from the last few weeks into words right now. In fact, trying to do so is simply…intimidating. My goal with this short post is to share with you a) my own thoughts about feeling “less than” as so many leaders have emerged in our field recently, and a b) a quick overview of what I’m doing with my heritage classes during this time. 

The best way to describe how I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks is: overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed with not knowing exactly what to do, how to do it well, or if I’m doing enough. I’m overwhelmed with the feelings of anger and frustration that people are finally starting to talk about inequities of resources or lack of access…when it’s been an issue all along. I am overwhelmed trying to “homeschool” (not my favorite term) my two young sons (currently in first grade and pre-k), navigate all their apps, classwork, communication from teachers, and differing expectations. 

I can’t look at my email or social media without being overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed by all the free resources, all the great blog posts, all the tips on how to be a good distance learning teacher, and all the people being well…productive…with all this “extra time” on their hands. I’m overwhelmed by the teachers creating brand new lessons from scratch. I’m overwhelmed by teachers doing live Zoom (or other platform) classes. I’m overwhelmed by teachers “taking attendance.” Part of me is angry. How DARE you take attendance and ask your students to show up to a synchronous class? Part of me is annoyed. Is this REALLY the time to ask your students to figure out five new apps? And part of me feels disappointed in myself. (Insert name of amazing WL teacher/leader here) is being such a great leader right now, giving away free distance learning plans, sending an email every day, rewriting units to be distance-learning-friendly, why can’t I do that for the heritage teachers??

Pause. Deep breath. Why can’t I be that person? Why don’t you have ten thousand emails from me? Why don’t you have distance-learning packets for your heritage students from me? 

Because you don’t. Because I’m not there. And that’s ok. First of all…there are a zillion resources out there already. And second of all…we are supposed to be patient and understanding with our students…and ourselves. We are living in a global pandemic. This is a crisis situation. And we are all dealing with it differently…and that’s ok.

I think that lack of childcare has been one of the most challenging parts of this new reality. It’s especially hard because we know: we are good at our jobs, we are hard workers, we are planners, we handle everything in stride, we are efficient. It’s very hard to be all of those things, AND be all of those things while you’re at home being all of things to your children at the same time…and especially if you are a single parent or your spouse is still working (like mine). I learned a long time ago that I am not cut out for being a stay at home parent…but being a stay at home parent AND a decent teacher from home? Definitely not possible. I think just saying it out loud, that “This is an impossible task,” has been helpful for me.

It feels impossible because it IS impossible.

I feel like I can only be a pretty good (teach-from-home) teacher OR a pretty good (“homeschooling”) mom…but at the end of the day, I will always fall short of doing both. We don’t have a system yet, that has been one of the challenges. But at the moment I’m considering choosing only one of those things to focus on a day. Like on Mondays, I have to roll out content to all my classes…so on Mondays, I’m going to be work on being a good teacher. But on Tuesdays, I’m exhausted from teaching and I ignored my own kids all day on Monday, so maybe on Tuesdays I hang out with them and do some more hands-on learning with them. So far it seems to be helping; but if it stops helping, I’ll try something else. Because I’m tired of feeling like a failure at the end of every day. 

Me, attempting to be the best “homeschooling” mom I can.

I wanted to share this awesome graphic that I saw on Twitter reposted by @sheathescholar (who is amazing, by the way, a must-follow). I don’t know the original source but will add it when I find it (if you know, please let me know!!). What I’ve come to realize (and am trying to accept) is that some of my colleagues are in the “action” and “growth” zone, and I don’t want to judge them for being there; instead I want to celebrate them! And, if I’m honest, I’m usually in the “learning” zone, sometimes alternating between the “fear” and “learning” zones. And I don’t want to judge myself for being there, either

I don’t want to judge my colleagues for being in the growth/action zones. But I don’t want to judge myself for NOT being there, either.

Whew. Thank you for listening to that part. I think that was important for my soul to say 🙂 Let’s switch gears. I wanted to share what I’m doing with my heritage classes for the remainder of the year. And let me warn you…it is not amazing. It is not rocket science. I’m not even 100% sure it’s allowed. But…it’s happening. Maybe it will somehow be helpful or encouraging to you.

As we know, there’s been a major shift in most school districts with regard to grading, grades, and units. In our district, we did a week of “enrichment” where activities were just supposed to reinforce what we’d already taught, and the teachers prepared to roll out new units for the following week. In terms of guidance, we were encouraged to only focus on “teaching” whatever essential concepts students would need for the next level for the remainder of the year, and let everything else go. Students will receive at least their grade for third quarter, as long as they continue to show some effort in the course until the end of the year (I know that’s confusing…it’s confusing because it is, lol). 

Focus only on the essential concepts students need for the rest of the year.

Let me first address my Heritage 10th grade class. We were in the middle of writing an essay about youth activism for their information writing unit when Spring Break and then the school shutdown happened. The first week after break, I just had them finish up their essays and turn in. No new learning. (By the way, I’d like to get a blog post done on this unit soon, I’ve taught it several times NOT in a pandemic and it is really a great unit, some of my IG and FB posts in late February and March show the beginning steps of this unit).

For my Heritage 11th grade class, for that first week of “enrichment,” I assigned a different practice assignments for the AP Spanish Language exam (which most of them signed up to take this year since we had to do so before November, this year, and it was free for them). If I haven’t said so before, allow me to say it now: those students do not need an AP class to do well on the AP exam, but I do think they need to practice the format a little bit

But then…what? My original plan before the pandemic was for 10th grade heritage to do a “second cycle” of youth activism by adopting the cause of their favorite youth activist, researching it, and writing a little information book about it. For 11th grade heritage, we are winding down, the last unit was an information writing unit where they write a guide for one of their favorite free reading book (kind of like those “A Guide to Everything Harry Potter” books – the official name of the genre is “companion books”). But…two things happened. I got an email from several students in my 11th grade class saying they were overwhelmed with the workload and could I assign less so they could focus on their other classes, and we got an email from the principal saying we only needed to cover whatever was left of the “essential learning” for our courses.

And…it got me thinking. Both of these classes (10th and 11th) are concurrent enrollment classes and 95% of the students registered for credit. But those classes are 211 and 212, respectively, which are equivalent to the second year courses for L2 students (or, in our school, equivalent to L2 Spanish 4 and 5 classes). What does that mean? We’ve made sure they are getting some type of college credit for their class (so that it’s equitable), but the truth is, they could take those final exams the first week of class. Their language abilities are way beyond what is necessary to do well on those finals. And what about the 11th grade kids who are taking the AP test? As I already mentioned…they will be fine on the test. They needed a little prep on the format, and they already got that. Their language level is fine (well, more than fine, but sufficient to do well on that test right now, today). 

So…I went to my principal and I explained all this. Of course I know what I had planned during 4th quarter is valuable…but necessary? “Essential learning”? Must be “mastered” to go on to the next level or finish the requirements for the course? Uh…nope. I suggested that I continue to provide lessons and assignments (I had to modify a little, but pretty much I still am doing the same topics I mentioned), but that they be optional for students – only a way to raise their grades. And I wanted to TELL them that, super clearly, so they would feel free to not do the assignments…and put their time and effort somewhere else. 

Thank goodness my principal is very reasonable and very much a fan of equity, and approved my plan because it aligned to “equitable grading practices.” My students were THRILLED. I had to distinguish what I’m offering my class to what they are doing in their other classes. By now, students are thinking if they are guaranteed their third quarter grade, they don’t have to do any work for fourth quarter; but, the expectation is that they are doing it. But in my class? The expectation is they are not doing it. They have what they need. They are advanced. They are amazing, talented, bilingual learners. For once, their bilingualism is being treated as an asset and not a deficit in a way that clearly translates to time and hard work.

For once, their bilingualism is being treated as an asset…in a very concrete way.

I wish I could end it right there, but I wanted to say two other things. First, not all work is excused: they will eventually have to take a final exam (not sure what those look like) and probably will be assigned a non-optional practice final. And for the 11th grade students, I will probably do one last practice for the AP test before the day of the test to review the two formats that will be on this year’s much-abbreviated test. (Maybe a post about that…later).

Last thing. I have had some questions about what teachers would do in a class of heritage learners who are not in this boat: a class where the students still have work to do, and no community college final to prove they already have the necessary proficiency level. My colleague is teaching the 9th grade class, and my thoughts for him were: as long as they are reading and writing, that’s plenty. If you were able to send them home with some sort of book for free reading (feel free to use this google doc and modify for your own kids, thanks to Jen Lopez for sharing it with me originally), or a class novel, and you have some sort of writing component (journal entries, reading responses, etc.), that’s plenty as far as “academic” stuff. I would just focus on connecting with them (maybe they can write you emails instead of journals and you can respond? Or doing zoom chats?) and letting them focus on their other classes. 

Like I said, friends. Not rocket science. But for now, it’s all I have. I hope you were able to find a nugget or two in this post. We miss you!! Happy teaching, happy loving your students, happy taking it a day at a time.


PS Keep your eyes peeled for some important updates about our June workshop this summer!

4 thoughts on “When we wish we were better

Add yours

  1. I like your perspective. I’m glad to see that you’re really thinking about it and not just sending out busywork. Good luck juggling everything and keeping up with your kiddos!!! Excited to see you in June (hopefully in person!!!).


  2. My reality with my Heritage Language students seems to be different to yours. We are in Week 2 of our District Continuous Learning. I have been communicating with my students via email, Google Classroom, Zoom, and GroupMe. Most of our conversations are about their current circumstances at home. Many of my students are now working long hours at supermarkets, cleaning houses and/or offices, or helping their parents taking care of younger siblings. My rate of participation in Zoom meetings is around 15% of my +100 HL students, although many others email or text me just to say hi or to ask questions about other classes. When we meet over Zoom, we just go over the week’s activities and link them to their own lives briefly. I don’t want to lower expectations but I worry tremendously about how this confinement is affecting the lives of my students.


  3. Thank you for this. I feel like this. When I see what great things everyone is producing I think, why am I not doing that too? I don’t have too many heritage learners, but I do have a few. I ask myself, do I give them something different to do in the honors class or keep it the same?


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