What is it like to be the supervisor of an ACE school, overseeing “distance-education” during the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic? I wanted to write up a summary of a typical day during this two-month ordeal – more as a journal record for my own memory’s sake. But I’ll share it, in the chance someone else finds it interesting. At least my mom will, if no one else does!
The Friday before all this started (which *happened* to be Friday the 13th of March), I was half-joking to our four seniors, who were seated around a table working on school work together, that this might be their last chance to be together during high school. I took a few funny pictures of them. We had just announced a plan to allow students to work from home – if needed sometime in the future. Later that afternoon our governor closed all the schools, public and private, for the rest of the school year. The following week a few of us staff members pulled together kits for each family with all the remaining PACES, PACE tests, and scorekeys that each student would need for the rest of the year. Parents came in to pick up the materials and get instructions.
I moved my “headquarters” to the math classroom (see picture at top) where I set up a table with my computer and Test keys nearby, and a video camera to record math and chemistry classes to post for my students. And my jug of water, and my bowl of chocolate candy were within reach.
The day I am journaling about specifically is Wednesday, May 6th.
I have created some routines which help me navigate the lack of a school schedule and normality. Most days I still wake up at 5:30 AM, and get ready for the day with shower, devotions, catching up on email, headline news, and listening to a few podcasts while making and eating breakfast. I head to school at 7:45 AM, which is close to my “normal” time during the school year.
The building is empty, but I head to my classroom-turned-office and download all the PACE tests, math corrections, and other assignments that need to be scored or recorded. (I’m finding that my teen-aged students are doing their school work in the afternoons and evenings and sending me assignments after I’ve left for the day!) As I check the new emails, there is one from our pastor with the sad news that a man from our church who has been in the hospital with a heart problem has been diagnosed now with Covid-19. [Update: sadly he passed away a few days later.]
One of the first tasks on my list for Wednesday morning is to plan out the math class goals and chemistry class goals for the entire next week and write them on the whiteboard that students are used to seeing. Thursday is my video recording day and I want to start making those videos right away at 8AM, so doing the planning today is helpful, especially for chemistry class. Friday I will send an email to all the students and families with a picture of the math/chemistry goals and links to the videos I have made for their classes for the entire week.
At 9:00 one of my chemistry students shows up with her completed chapter test for me to grade and a cup of Starbucks coffee and a treat (yes, she did get a couple bonus points on that test!). After grading her test and giving her the score, I texted my pre-algebra students to remind them that we will have a live math class at 10AM. We are not using Zoom, but found Google Meet a good alternative. Our youth pastor uses it to teach live Bible class three mornings a week and chapel on Tuesdays, and I use it to connect with all my math and chemistry classes once each week. It has worked pretty well for the most part, except for a few times when my computer just refused to recognize the built in camera.
Meanwhile, my Wednesday morning is busy with chemistry tests being sent to me for scoring. One test comes in as photos attached to text messages. I’ve learned how to deal with “text messages” on my computer so I can right-click on those images, save to a folder on my computer, then go open the photos and use a magnifying glass zoom tool to read them better. The next chemistry test comes in as a PDF file – that student’s mom has an app on her phone that turns pictures of pages into clearer images, much like a scanner would do. Unfortunately, they all came in upside-down. Oh well, I printed it out to the office printer and now I can easily grade it. The next test came in as photos from a phone, but they are dark, not zoomed-in, and part of the page is out of focus – I just have to request that test to be resent with clearer images.
Once a few tests come in, I start grading them and then send a text or email back to the student telling them both their score and what questions they missed. Some students want more explanation, so they ask me to call and go over what they did wrong. Some just say, “Yeah, that’s better than I expected!” and move on! Oops, here comes a call from a chemistry student who is working on her test right now – she has a question and needs clarification. Meanwhile, another test comes through as images attached to an email.
I have a “live math class” at 10:00 but want to wish my 32-year old daughter a Happy Birthday out in Wisconsin. She is a busy mom of three busy pre-schoolers, so I record a greeting on Marco Polo and send it so she can watch it whenever.
At 9:58 I put my notebook computer up on a box to elevate it so that the camera is aiming at my eyes instead of up my nose (learned that hack from a YouTube video I happened to run across last week). I log on to Google Meet and start the meeting to make sure my camera is going to work today (it does – yeah!). Promptly at 10 one of my math students logs on, and after another minute or two, the other student logs on, and we can do the math class live. I can see that both girls are in their bedrooms to get away from siblings, and they can see that I am in my math classroom with a whiteboard behind me. They ask questions about lessons and corrections, and at times I swivel my chair around to illustrate how to set up a problem using the whiteboard. (Oops, a cat walks across the camera of one of my students, and the other student’s phone is picking up the noise from siblings running, playing, yelling in the background).
It’s 10:30 and math class just finished. It’s break-time for me – and I have an e-coupon I want to use at Dunkin’ Donuts which is a short walk from the school. I place my order online and then walk there to pick it up.
Upon my return to school I find that four PACE tests have come in via text messages and two others via a shared Google Pictures folder (that method actually seems to work fairly well and the pictures are better quality). The next half hour will be spent grading the tests, jotting down on a piece of scrap paper which problems were missed, recording the final scores on a log sheet, then replying to the parent and/or student to let them know the test results.
While checking my phone for messages, I clicked on an Instagram notification, and got sucked down a 15 minute rabbit hole looking at gorgeous scenery, reading funny memes, and catching up on special family posts from friends.
It’s 11:15 AM and I need to check my PACESuccess email account as well as personal email. More tests to grade. A question from a friend at church about the upcoming election – should she request a paper mail-in ballot for the Primary election or not? (I use it as an opportunity to send a message to the church family encouraging folks to consider voting via mail-in ballot for this one Primary election June 2nd, since our area will likely still be in the Red Zone at that time.)
One nice side-benefit of this new schooling model is that I can go home for lunch and heat up some left-overs and take as long as I need to finish eating. I don’t need to wolf down a sandwich in 20 minutes while supervising students!
After lunch, there are two math tests waiting for me to grade, and pictures of several math lessons. Also one late chemistry test just came in. Oh, and two students still haven’t sent in their chemistry tests, so I text them to find out when that will be coming in . . . “Oh, was that today? I’m not ready yet. I’ll study some more and do it tonight and send it to you in the morning.”
At 1:30 I discover that there is a technical issue with the PACESuccess website and it derails me for an hour trying to solve it via support ticket with the server company.
Being a church staff member, we all have a rotating schedule of senior citizen members that we take turns calling to check up on them and fellowship with them on the phone each week. I look at my list and pick out three names that I can call right now – I leave a message for one, but have a nice chat with the other two.
At 3:00 a former student dropped by to say “Hello” and we chatted for several minutes about what he’s doing these days now that he’s out of high school. As he leaves an Algebra 2 student arrives to get some help with corrections before he tries to do a test later in the week. We update my gradebook with his corrected lessons and go over a couple of upcoming new lesson concepts.
It’s after 4 pm and I want to be ready first thing in the morning to record teaching videos, so I take time to read the Chemistry textbook and take notes of what I need to emphasize as I record those lessons. I will also be recording a 3-minute devotional thought for our church’s Facebook feed. My “slot” is Friday, so I need to record that tomorrow as well. I work on an outline for that so I’m ready.
Then I indulge in reading some articles and watching some video clips about Covid-19, politics, and the politics of Covid-19. Why do I feel like I need to stay “up” on the current news? It’s all going to change tomorrow anyways! I don’t know, but it’s addicting.
The “school day” is over and I head home for supper and to participate in our church’s Wednesday evening livestreamed Prayer Service. It’s been a “typical” Pandemic school day and I trust that my efforts have helped my students be successful in their schoolwork at home today. But honestly I’m hoping we get back to “normal” in the fall! I miss my students!