Lent, Teaching

Day 38: The danger of misinformation, especially with school safety

Today was a shit show and a half. But the chaos started the day before. 

We were in code red before the first period was over. Only this time, it wasn’t a drill. My students were outstanding. We all went to the secure location, and everyone was silent. While we waited for a clear, all I could think about were the students out filming. Not even five minutes after the code started, the all-clear was called. 

When my students returned to my class, I asked them where they had gone. Some entered other teachers’ rooms, some entered the bathrooms, and others headed to grade-level offices. Two students told me they left the camera rolling when they ran off. I said that’s fine; maybe you captured something interesting. However, a few told me they were worried about the equipment. I reminded them I could always buy new cameras. I couldn’t purchase their life back if the unthinkable happened. 

Finally, the last three students returned to class. And boy, did they have a story. They were recording as the incident began. A male student had become hostile and was verbally threatening a teacher. The girls were packing up. They didn’t want him to break the camera. He was punching the doors and shouting at any and all authority that came near him. Before that could return to class, the code red started. They left the gear and went to a secure location. They could still hear the student yelling and threatening as the Administration detained the hostile student. Two of the three girls said they were concerned about his behavior, and my third said she wanted to stay and get footage because it would be a good news story. I joked and said, “Well, we know who the future newscaster will be. But in all seriousness, your safety is the number one priority.” 

We all went about our day, and aside from thinking about how well our students handled the situation, I gave little thought to it. 

This morning we had our monthly faculty meeting, and we found out the teacher didn’t mean to activate the code red. Although I think it was good, who knows if the Hostile student could have lashed out at an unexpected student walking in the halls? We learned that pressing our emergency badges three times, pausing, and then pressing them three times again counts as six times. And if they were pressed after that, it activates a code red. We all assumed that pushing it three times would alert the administration that they were needed in the room, and if we waited a moment or two in between that, it would just reactivate the administration call. Most of our teachers didn’t realize that even if there were moments between the three punches, it would activate a code red, which is what happened. 

When we arrived at school today, there was more police activity on campus than usual. Most of them chalked it up to the code red. That was until the principal told us the suspended student had posted a threat on social media. The principal wasn’t even aware of the danger until he arrived on campus. We have an extremely good system where parents and students can report social media threats or any threat. However, our local police force was on our campus faster than the reporting system this time. Somebody had notified them about the student making a threat to our school. Our principal had just found out this information not too soon before our meeting started. Our principal is amazing and very transparent with the teachers, the students, and their parents. He composed a message to inform us that there was a report and that the police were already handling the situation, which he sent out once our meeting was completed. However, that wasn’t soon enough.

Students were already making their way to campus in the morning. Those who travel by bus leave insanely early, and many parents drop off their students before school hours because they have to go to work. So while we were in the meeting, students were already on social media sharing the post that the student had threatened the school. And they panicked without knowing that the situation was being handled. They did not give us a chance to calm the storm before it took place. The rumor mill had already begun. 

This was probably the most dangerous part of the day. Teenagers gossiping. Students are not talking to adults but to each other, exaggerating and making the situation worse. Kids were already calling and texting their parents, asking to be picked up. Parents calling the school jammed the phone lines, limiting communication. 

But while there were kids that were worried and calling their parents, those who wanted to be sure the Administration saw every single post made. They wanted to ensure everyone was aware of the situation, and I was so proud of these things. They wanted to make sure that there was no possibility of anything wrong. Unfortunately, things became worse when rumors grew.

This was when I started getting emails from parents asking me what was happening. I told them everything was normal, and we were all fine. I asked where they heard things, and they said a teacher told their children the suspended student had returned to school. Which I knew was not true. I reassured them that everything was safe and that even though everything was safe, out of an abundance of caution, we had an excessive amount of police force on campus. Then some parents sent me screenshots of the local community input people were saying. Some parents didn’t even have children on our campus and were spreading lies. And then the thing that pissed me off the most happened. My former news station reported that we were in a code yellow. Code yellow is when teachers are still teaching but restrict the movement in the halls unless absolutely necessary. We were not in a code yellow. We were not in a code anything. It was a normal day being blown out of proportion by people spreading lies and rumors. This was ensuing chaos. One mother complained that it took an hour for her to pick up her child. Not only was there an excessive number of parents picking up their kids, but they must vet every single person who was picking up a student. The administration was not just going to allow anybody to come to pick up kids randomly. It always has to be checked, and there were parents complaining about that. 

Today was a fucking joke, and it wasn’t because of our administration. They were doing more than necessary to be open with all the parents. They did everything possible to ensure safety. And they were trying to keep the students on campus calm. Unfortunately, worried parents made the situation worse.

I fully understand the concern, but social media’s gossip mill made things awful. News stations reporting with false information made it even worse. Adults and students alike spreading lies and gossiping made things atrocious. Teachers were with the students all day. We were calming nerves dealing with those having panic attacks. This put us under a lot of stress and pressure to make sure all students were okay and safe. Not just physically but mentally as well. Some teachers taught while others, like myself, turned on a movie and tried to distract the students from thinking of anything negative.

Adults need to be smarter. They need to stop gossiping and spreading rumors, and inciting horrible comments about things they do not know what is going on. Some parents were saying how their students were telling them a different story than what the principal was saying and calling the principal a liar. Our principal is anything but a liar. The students’ safety is his number one priority, and today he took every precaution. Our administrative staff in the front office were dealing with hostile parents, who were making the situation worse than it needed to be. Parents need to remember these are middle schoolers. There is a total no chance that their precious little babies would exaggerate the situation. I heard them exaggerating the situation. There were rumors spreading that an administrator got into a fight with the suspended student and was in the hospital, and there were people that actually believed it. Which I found absolutely absurd, since the man was walking around campus unharmed and obviously not in a hospital.

I truly understand people being concerned and worried. But they need to be smart. They don’t need to make a situation worse. And that is all that happened today. Gossip, rumors, news stations sharing false information. All of this caused more chaos and is not helpful.

I can’t believe this is my second post in less than 40 days about the chaos in schools.

Lent, Teaching

Day 23: I like my classroom writing prompt

I didn’t know what to write today—I spent the first half in the hospital waiting for my husband to get his back injections and the second half trying to herd cats. Er, I mean, keep my students occupied before spring break when most didn’t attend school. 

I looked up writing prompts, and the one for today fit perfectly: I like my classroom because… 

Because it’s mine, it was the first professional space I didn’t have to share with a coworker. In every production company or newsroom, I have worked in, I’ve had to share a desk or office space with one or more coworkers but not this time. I could decorate my room to my liking without worrying about whether the person I shared my space with would care. 

What made the shared space even more challenging was that I usually shared it with males. I tended to bring girlie things to decorate my desk with, and they would tease me. Now it was never anything malicious, ever. I’ve been lucky to work with amazing men, but hearing “Alex the piggy? Really?” Yes, really, and over time they all loved the damn piggy. 

However, with teaching, I still have to be careful about what I bring in. I have to make sure it’s not something that a student can walk off with. Unfortunately, quite a few things gifted to me by students went missing while I was on maternity leave. 

I had my tissue box cover broken. Not sure how it happened, but the screws came out of the lid. Thankfully they fell under the tissue box, and I could fix it. But I was unable to fix what was stolen. 

Away from my primary classroom and heading towards my studio is a center room where students will go to work or decompress. They think I don’t know that sometimes when they go to the U table, I know they seek an escape. I don’t let students who I don’t trust sit in there. The room has blue lights thinking across the ceiling, and most of the time, the students only have them on. They love writing in the dark, but I don’t usually let them live out their vampire fantasies. 

My studio is probably my favorite of the three classrooms. It’s where I can truly see how much my students have learned. They have to set the lights and cameras. Students also keep the room organized and clean. It’s their space as much as it is mine. I’m so proud to see them troubleshoot technical problems and work as a team, even when things may not always go smoothly. 

Soon I’ll be taking everything off the walls of my classroom. I’m going to be moving from the middle school level to the high school level. I will no longer fully control my program and will work with my former t.v production teacher and mentor. I won’t have the same space I do now; however, my new classroom will be just as special. I won’t have a planning room or a studio attached to my main room. It’ll be down the hall. I won’t be the only person teaching the TV students how to use the equipment. It’ll now be teamwork. It’ll be a new adventure, and I’m sure I’ll have a thing to be my favorite in the classroom. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 22: There’s no room for your opinion on my newscast

There is a disturbing joke that is all too real that describes the modern journalistic world: “never let the truth get in the way of a good news story.” And doing the opposite of this is something that I stress to my news students. I constantly tell them your opinion has no place in the newsroom. We are there to present facts. It doesn’t matter if the on-air talent enjoys the story or not because they are not there to sway the audience one way or another. We are conducting a newscast, not a talk show, and even though this is lost upon many professionals, as of late, I’m doing my part in instilling it into my students. 

This week all my students were put to the test. We indeed had to practice what I preach. There is a new club starting on campus, one that not everyone agrees with. Quite a few of my students were very vocal in opposition to the club, while others did support it. I made a quick announcement before all hell broke loose. 

I asked my anchors what the point of the news is? They said to present the facts. I asked them whether they liked the club, a fact or their opinion. Quickly they answered with an opinion. I said good, because your opinions have no place in my studio. I told them all opinions are kept outside my classroom walls. Just like their discussion of their latest boy/girl friend has no place in my class, neither does their attitude toward a story we’ve been asked to cover 

This is where I reminded them that we have two religious clubs on campus. I asked my students if they knew my feelings about those two clubs, and everyone in my class said no. And I said good because my opinion on those clubs or any club does not matter, nor does my opinion on this new colorful, open to all safe space club matter. Because I’m there to teach just like they are there to report on what is happening at the school. Everyone nodded in agreement. 

When my anchors read the story about the new club, you could not tell how they felt about it.  Could they have had more personality in the newscast… Sure, of course, they could have, but I just chewed out the whole class for getting an attitude with each other. I swear World War three was about to go down over a rainbow club, and I was not about to have that. 

My students know that I believe in the freedom of the press and how important it is to have journalists. But I have also taught them how to look at a new story and break down whether the reporter is presenting facts or facts with a bias. My eighth graders have gotten good at pointing out opinions in a news story and my seventh graders are getting there. If my students never progress more in their TV Production career, I hope they learn one thing: how to analyze a story, discover what the facts are, and break them away from the on-air talents’ opinions. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 21: Future Movie Makers

When I started teaching middle school, I was told my students wouldn’t be able to keep up with a higher curriculum. Or at least that’s what the previous teacher had my administration believe. I’m thankful that I don’t listen well and love a challenge. 

Probably one of my favorite classes to teach is my film class. I start the year teaching them proper scriptwriting format. At first, the idea of writing this way is daunting to most of my students. I have quite a few kids in intensive reading and lack faith in their writing abilities. But by the end of the first nine weeks, every single student has written me a 15-page script. Most students go over my page limit, and I want to pull out my hair because now that means that we’re going to be creating 15 to 30-minute movies.

When I went on maternity leave this year, I was hoping that all my students wouldn’t have been able to spend those three months filming their projects. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. My students could not film their projects, and by the time I returned, there wasn’t enough time for everybody to film their projects’ edits and continue with the year. So instead, I had them break down their scripts into a three to five-page video diary of their main character.

Students could recreate their original idea or base the video diary on their favorite character. At first, everybody was upset that they would no longer be able to film their full-length film. But after breaking their script down into 3 to 5 pages, they appreciated the character work they had to put into developing their new story. We took about two and a half weeks to film and edit their projects. After they were done, we watched the films in class. I have a new rule. All students are to give me their cell phones before we start viewing because a few kids have secretly recorded other people’s projects and made fun of them. I do not like that students think they can make fun of each other in this way. Nobody is an Oscar-winning director, writer, or editor. None of my students should be making fun of each other for anything that they created because every single one of them is still learning and improving. No one is perfect. Even when they move on to high school, I will not approve of such behavior. They are still learning and still trying. No one needs to put each other down. 

When I was out Monday, I had my students do a table read of the feature-length script they were going to work on for the majority of our last nine weeks. When I posted the assignment at 5:00 in the morning, one of my students responded at 5:30, saying that I was going to torture the poor substitute with a Gong show. I told her that if they misbehaved, they’d be writing me a two-page response, single-spaced, font Arial, size 12, on how they could all improve their short films I had just graded. Needless to say, I got a very positive review from the substitute. The Substitute was also highly impressed that an 8th grader wrote a 27-page script. And how well she handled the students and their reactions to reading some of their lines for the first time.

She based her script on a three-year-old inside joke. A part of my TV one curriculum is to show them the 1902 French film A Trip To The Moon. Everyone in her class called the “astronauts” the cult of magicians. She wrote about how the leader had spent nearly a hundred years trying to find the woman that would rule by his side. And how he trapped an alien race from the Moon and would turn all humanity into their slaves. But the cult leader found his partner in middle school and had to pose as a middle school student. The whole film is adorable and silly. 

Today we had another table read that I supervised. My director had more control over the room and was guiding her classmates on how she wanted their lines delivered. I had her director of photography sitting next to her. I explained even though she may not have lines; she needs to know everyones’ lines and start thinking about how they will want to film the project. 

My class asked me when they would start filming the project, and I told them after spring break. They all groaned. 

“Guys,” I had to talk them off the ledge. “We have two days left, and raise your hand if you plan on getting a hair or your style changed.” 

Nearly every single student raised their hand. 

I sighed at their giggles. “That’s why we’re wanting.” 

“So what are we doing the next two days?” Someone asked. 

“We are going to move the desk and block out the film, so when you guys go out to shoot your project, you’ll actually have an idea.” 

A few kids nodded in agreement. 

“Don’t you think that could have been helpful with your short film?” I asked, and everyone agreed this time. “That’s why. We have limited time, and I want you all to do it to the best of your ability.” 

Lent, Teaching

Day 17: Controlled Chaos in the control room

When I asked one of my students what I should write about today, she said, “write about us!” I told her that I had before. However, I didn’t think today would turn out to be such controlled chaos.

Today was a hot mess express. Actually, the whole week has been a shit show and a half. Students are losing their damn minds with the full moon. If you don’t think the moon controls the kids, you haven’t spent enough time around hundreds of students on campus. But today was probably the most hilarious of them all. Usually, my students run the newscast by themselves without any assistance. But since the computer that usually does graphics died, and the replacement needs to have my profile on it, they can no longer do their job adult free. Not that I don’t fully trust them not to change their grades, but I’m not giving them the opportunity. 

Today’s class that handled the newscast has nine very vocal females and one far less vocal male. We had a guest classmate come in and add some testosterone to the room. It didn’t help much. The girls are still in complete control of the chaos. We did a few run-throughs of the script before recording. This gives everyone in the control room a chance to get familiar with what graphics will be coming up, who is tossing to weather, and setting the audio levels. Well, today wasn’t our smoothest rehearsal. 

First, we had audio issues. For some reason, the student running the board thought she should start the show with the volume faders all the way up. The moment the anchors’ mics came on, it sounded like our speakers were blown. Everything was overmodulated. She started screaming, confused about why everything was so loud. I told her to look at her levels and bring them down. Instead of bringing them down, she kept yelling over the anchors. Finally, the line producer leaned over and dropped their audio to a manageable level. 

The technical director rolled on our first take with the audio crisis averted. It should have been our only take since everything was going smoothly. That was until the audio operator forgot to unmute the weather anchor. Everyone in the back started yelling at her because we were only a story and a half away from being done with the newscast. My students pride themselves on being able to record in one take. They do their best to record live to tape and try not to leave anything for me to edit. They also know that the moment they mess up something, the ball starts rolling, and so many other things start to mess up.

And that is precisely what happened. 

The anchors flubbed their lines a few times, and I threatened to fire them. They quickly switched roles, so the other was now reading the names from the basketball game. Things seemed to be going great until our audio person became distracted and forgot to mute everyone while the weather opening played. The recording started over, and anchor one sounded dead while anchor two sounded like he took speed. I told them they were both about to lose their jobs, and they promised they’d do better. 

The line producer called standby and began the countdown. Then all hell broke loose. The floor director was in her own world and forgot to count the anchors in. So we just had the boys staring at the screen while the lounge producer started shouting in the head seat. Anchor one lost his shit, and my director ran out, nearly jumping up and down. She told him, “now read the announcements with that energy,” and he did. We were almost done with a great take until my audio operator squealed so loudly and threw up her arms that my weather anchor thought she had done something wrong. Everything was lost in the moment. We tried to pick up the take from the weather opening, but it was lost. We had to start over. 

At this point, we had fifteen minutes left of our fifty-minute class. The new floor director counted in the on-air talent, and Anchor one sounded like he could pass for a zombie while anchor two, well, he could read the names, so we just had to roll with it. 

I think I was ready to give up on the day. Everyone was out of sorts and making careless mistakes. We didn’t have time to switch, and the two that usually were my go-to on-air talent decided that today they were protesting because “like we always do it.” 

We finally got a passable take. There were some graphic errors because the right arrow became stuck. That problem was the only one that could be fixed in post, so we kept it. 

I really can’t be too frustrated. The kids did great. Repeating the script, punching the show, and rolling with tech issues with a fair amount of emotional control. I worked long enough in the professional world to know that not many adults could keep their composure as my 12 & 13-year-olds did. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 16: deep dive into mythical creatures, folklore, and urban legends

The end of the third nine weeks has brought the end of getting my students back to working order. While I was away on maternity leave, things were lax, to say the least. So to get them used to working again, I let our big project stretch out longer than usual. As I talked with those who finished their project, we discussed the topic for the next news package. I really wanted to have them create a news package on their favorite book or comic, but the students didn’t seem as interested in the idea as I was. 

As two students were talking, I overheard them discussing Bloody Mary. Student A explained to Student B the urban legend, and most of it sounded like the legend I heard of when I was their age. However, what I didn’t hear was the origin story, and when I asked them if they knew who Bloody Mary was based on, they said no. That slightly aggravated me. I was and still am an inquisitive person. If I hear about an urban legend, myth, or magical thing, I look it up. Sadly my access to information was far more limited than theirs. So while I rattled off her back story, I made my decision. My students would do a deep dive into the backstory of their favorite mythical creatures, folklore, or urban legends. 

The next day, as my students edited, I had them stop so they could begin thinking about their next project. I decided to tease them with the idea of using their favorite book for their news package. The number of groans I received was hilarious. Even my students who loved reading complained this wasn’t their Ela class. So I gave them all a minute to calm down and asked them how they would feel about doing a project on their favorite mythical creature. This time the sound that erupted from my students was excitement and shouting over who would do what. But after three years of working with me, my eighth graders knew it would be a little more than that. I told them to avoid having ten projects on unicorns. They would have to select five different options and a summary of their topic. 

Everyone stopped editing and started googling what they were going to pick. I regretted telling them so early, but when they get excited about a project, they wrap up the old one fast. My students know that I’m not too fond of bare-bones information. Even if they were creating a one to two-minute news package, they needed enough research to answer any follow-up questions I might have. 

The point of the extra information is not just for my benefit. It’s also to help my students learn how to research, find multiple sources, and summarize their knowledge in an informative and exciting manner. This skill isn’t something they would only use in my class but throughout the rest of their academic and possibly personal life as well. My goal with my class has always been to encourage my students to be curious. If they hear about something interesting, my biggest hope is they want to learn more and, because of my class, will know how to find it and compare all sides. 

Student C, knowing I hate clowns, asked if she could research Pennywise. I asked her if she meant the character from IT. And she nodded with a ridiculous smile. I told her the only way she could prove the character was based on something that came before the novel. Of course, I already knew that it was based on John Wayne Gacy, but I wanted to see what she would come up with. The next morning she came running into my class telling me a giant laundry list of what she learned and all the rabbit holes it sent her on. She hadn’t even started the project and had already learned more about her favorite character than she had known for the last two years. 

I really do regret agreeing to let her choose pennywise however her seeking out the information was precisely the point of this exercise. I guess I’ll have to watch her project from behind my hands when it comes time to grade it. 

Lent, Teaching

Day 15: Fire (not a drill)

In the last ten to fifteen minutes of school today, my building had to evacuate. When the fire alarm went off, all the students froze and looked at me. We weren’t sure if it was a drill, especially with how close it was to dismissal.

My class is usually organized chaos. My TV production students tend to be all over campus recording projects and being a little boisterous because they’re acting in their films. So for them to automatically stop what they were doing and look at me for guidance made me proud. As the alarm drilled over our heads, I picked up my walkie and listened. This was clearly not a drill.

At our last staff meeting, they made it very clear that if we were ever to evacuate our building or had to leave campus Because of an event, all students in staff members should have their cell phones. They even told women to grab our purses just in case we wouldn’t be allowed back on campus or into the building to get our keys. So I told all my students to grab their phones and throw them into their back pockets, and we waited for the announcement to dismiss us. South Florida schools no longer automatically run out of their classrooms when the fire alarm is pulled. We remain until our building is dismissed because we want to be sure it is a real fire or a drill, not someone who has decided to play a prank and pull the alarm or something more horrendous.

While we waited, there was a knock on my door. I looked through the gap, and it was two of my three students who were out filming. I asked where student C was, and they said he went to the building two office. Usually, that is not a wrong decision on his part, but today that was the wrong choice. That office, which is over the classrooms next time mine, is where they suspected the mechanical fire was coming from.

When they dismissed us to our location, there were only three classrooms who are dismissed. I watch students who usually constantly misbehave and act out, walking single-file lines and listening to their teacher without having to be told multiple times to behave. I cannot say how proud I am of each and every student that was at my school that took the situation seriously.

Students usually complain about the fire drills and ask why we do them. But today shows why they were important. Every student knew precisely where they needed to go. Every student knew how to handle themselves appropriately and listened when the teachers called roll to ensure we were all accounted for and present.

As we waited, my students asked if this was why I always asked them to create a schedule breakdown with their locations. I said besides that, it was an industry standard, but it also helped me locate them in case of an emergency like today.

Lent, Teaching

Day 4: Work Life Balance

There is something strange about having a tiny communications device always attached to you. Because of this, it gives people the false sense that they are entitled to your time. This way of thinking is highly prominent when it comes to work-life balance. People expect you to respond to them immediately and get upset when you don’t. They don’t understand that, yes, they may send you a message, but that does not mean that you are under any obligation to respond. 

I have found this way of thinking to have been amplified since becoming a teacher. 

When I worked in broadcasting, I received a plethora of emails at odd hours. The network I worked at aired in the Middle East, and since I lived on the east coast of Florida, it meant my primary communications would be late at night or in the early morning hours. But I also worked from 3 to 11 at night to accommodate this kind of communication. 

There were a few times when I was on vacation that I had to call into work and walk someone through where to find the files. I received compensation for working during my time off. 

This kind of compensation is not extended to teachers or really to anyone for that matter. 

As a teacher, I expect emails from parents and students, but I did not expect the entitlement of how quickly both parties expect responses back. I have received emails from students while I was teaching, and I could not respond. That student sent me six emails in a matter of fifteen minutes, demanding I answer their question. Mind you; this student asked when I would enter their grade for their late work that should have been turned in three weeks prior. While this kind of correspondence is utterly uncalled for, I can excuse it slightly because my students’ ages range from 11 to 14.

What isn’t excusable is the same behavior from their parents. 

My contracted work hours are from 8:45 am – 4:15 pm, Monday through Friday. I do not earn extra pay or time off working outside those hours. I arrive at work usually around 8:15 and begin answering emails. I will even answer emails after hours if I’m not busy with my family. In the last three years, parents and students have exploited this time extension. 

When I started teaching, the emails came between 4:30 to five. But now, in my third year, emails are coming in at all hours of the night. Students and parents are emailing me between nine and ten at night. A: I don’t read them because my newborn needs my full attention, B: I’m usually getting ready for bed, and C: I teach tv production, and nothing significant requires an immediate answer. 

Students have become so accustomed to emailing teachers whenever they feel like it they don’t ask questions during school hours. They don’t feel it’s necessary because if they have any issues, they can email at midnight. Even though it’s not expected or encouraged for teachers to communicate after hours, that does not mean I haven’t received hostile emails from parents because I didn’t respond when their student asked me a question—those emails I choose to ignore until the next school day. There are zero reasons for me to get upset or flustered over things I can’t fix at home. 

If a student had a question on a project, they should have asked it during class. I make sure students have ample time to complete their work in school. I know students these days have a lot on their plate, and as I said, I teach TV Production. They shouldn’t be stressing over my class when they have much more complicated math and ela classes to worry about. 

It’s disappointing how many emails I have waiting for me when all my students know my classroom door opens a full hour before school starts. When I have encouraged them to come in in the mornings for help, they tell me it’s too early, or their parents won’t bring them because it doesn’t fit into their schedule. I’ve been told that if I just answered my emails over the weekend, they wouldn’t have to come in early. But then I informed them that answering their emails after hours didn’t fit into my schedule. 

woman in red long sleeve writing on chalk board
Teaching

Teaching during the strangest time ever

I entered teaching at probably the strangest time ever. On my first day, I wasn’t standing in front of a classroom full of kids that I had no idea who they were, and they had no idea who I was. Instead, I wore pajama bottoms and a professional-looking shirt and had a steaming cup of coffee next to me as I logged into my computer. 

Everyone said that this would be the hardest thing I have ever done. In reality, starting teaching virtually where I wasn’t genuinely face-to-face with these kids was really easy and probably the more comfortable way of transitioning into this career. 

Now it’s my second year of teaching, and kids are at school for the most part. We have kids that are constantly being quarantined and missing out, but I’m not logging on setting up a Google Meet.  If these kids are truly sick, I want them home recovering, not worrying about school. 

What I do miss from that first year of teaching virtually is if the kids who didn’t want to participate in class turned the cameras off. They weren’t disrupting class. They weren’t being rude or disrespectful or screaming in the hallways or kicking my door. They just didn’t answer when I called on them. And sometimes, I would like to go back to not having those disruptions in class, which allowed those who truly wanted to learn the chance to learn. But there’s a catch. When they’re at home avoiding class, not learning, playing video games, or zoning out binge-watching TV, something is being missed, and it’s not just an education. 

Some students genuinely need their teachers, and it has nothing to do with what’s in a book. Teachers see your student every single day. We may notice something is off with a child before a parent ever does. Schools give kids a chance to learn and grow socially, whereas when you’re at home and have a device stuck in your face, you’re never going to do that. People are braver behind a keyboard when they don’t think anybody can see what they do or experience the hurt they may cause someone with their words. So while I wish I could go back to last year and not have to deal with some of these students who drive me up a wall, I wouldn’t. 

I have seen how much help teachers can give students. I have seen how much guidance teachers can provide parents who are lost and don’t know how to help their child. I have been an advocate and have seen other teachers be advocates for students who need help with learning disabilities that their parents don’t realize that their child may have.

When I worked in news, I turned off my computer and went home. I didn’t think about anything else. The show was over, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. However, you turn off your computer at this job, and things stick with you because sometimes these kids only have their teachers to take care of them, even if they drive their teachers crazy most days.

I read an article the other day that said they expect 20% of the teachers to quit by the end of the school year. I get that. I see how much these people love their job and love their students, but the shit that teachers deal with day-to-day would have most people quit their jobs. Teachers don’t just come to work and teach. Aside from creating their lesson plans participating in parent teacher conferences, they must also complete a variety of continued education courses and district-wide compliance courses. Some of it makes sense, and some of it is complete bullshit. Most teachers walk on a fine line about what they can talk to their students about and what they can’t. I have seen videos of teachers losing their absolute minds and being downright disrespectful to their students to the point where if it happened to my child, I’d be taking the teacher to court. However, at the same time, many parents allow their children to be disrespectful to their teachers, scream at their teacher, argue, and fight, and when a parent hears about it, their very first reaction is to blame the teacher. 

No adult wants to put up with this kind of mental abuse on a day-to-day basis. Many people wouldn’t last a week in this field. They would look at their paycheck and say, “Fuck this. I’m out.” And guess what? A lot are about to do just that. 

I used to joke and say, why do kids get so many days off school. Well, now I know they’re completely burnt out. A large part of the students’ education, crammed into their heads, seems to be solely for a test, not something practical. There are so many standardized tests that these children must pass and, half the time, it’s just reflecting on if the teacher was able to spit out what the district thinks the kids should know in that particular window. There is nothing that focuses on what the teacher has truly taught them or even if the kids are learning and retaining. Some kids are great test-takers while others aren’t, and those test-takers earn the school district a better grade. 

In these two short years, I’ve learned that those days off aren’t just for the kids, and they are there for the adults who have to watch your kids while you go to work and have free time away from children. So while these teachers and administrators love their jobs and want to take care of your kids to make sure that they become well-rounded adults, most don’t have the support from their community. They could be like Palm Beach County and have an entire school board filled with people who have never been inside a classroom making decisions for teachers. 

These are things that I would never have known sitting in a newsroom. These are things that I would never have known as a parent when my daughter enters kindergarten next year. 

Something has to change because the people who take care of your kids when you’re at work will be gone soon. And while I may still be here, six other teachers might be gone. Something has to change because we can’t keep saying that this is the strangest time ever to teach because eventually the strangest time becomes routine, and people don’t won’t put up with this kind of bullshit for long.

Teaching

Not a Waste of Time

As my last class of the day ended, a student of mine informed me that one of her academic teachers did not like my class. The woman’s words were, “That class is just a waste of time.”


I’m not going to lie; many snarky comments ran through my mind, and then I remembered that I teach middle school and what I say affects them. So my only response was, “that’s unfortunate.” What was truly unfortunate, aside from this woman’s thoughts towards my class, was that I’ve never had a negative interaction with her. I’ve never said anything bad about her, yet she was still trash-talking my class to the middle school students.


How wonderful is that?


What is even more unfortunate, outside a trash-talking adult, was that this adult was putting down the student. The student was discussing the upcoming project when the teacher decided to share her opinion.


After digesting my frustration, I stopped to think for a moment. I don’t believe this person understands everything my class has to offer. It’s not just a place for students to learn technical skills that can be used in a future career. It is a chance for them to express themselves where they most certainly would not have the opportunity to do so in an academic classroom.


First and foremost, video editing is no longer isolated to the broadcast world. When I was looking to switch careers, nearly all job postings asked for basic video editing skills. The main reason for this has to do with social media. Almost all companies now use social media to promote themselves. Employers are looking for people who understand design to drive business to their social media accounts, websites, or even better, their front door. So if I can instill a basic understanding of graphic design and video production into my students at a young age, I am giving them an extra building block they will need in their adult life.


If we look beyond the technical aspect of my class and at what else there is to offer, you will see how vital the arts are to all students—especially those at the middle school level where they are trying to discover themselves.


When I started at this school, I was warned not to expect much from my students. They are young, and they probably won’t be able to handle everything I expected them to do. I listened. I assessed, and I decided that everyone was completely wrong. If we constantly tell our students they can’t do something or are too young to do it, they won’t be able to do it. But if we push them and give them the tools to climb the ladder, these kids have no clue that they “shouldn’t be able to do it.”


I have a group of 11-13-year-olds shooting live to tape news productions. I spent two weeks with them, teaching them how to use the Tricaster, line producer (basic line producing but still pretty hard), along with every other job in the control room and those in the studio.


Do they mess up?

Heck yes, they do.

But do they give up?

No.

It’s not in their vocabulary.



At the beginning of the year, I had a parent who wanted to pull her daughter from my program because she was scared her daughter wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. I expressed to my guidance counselor that that particular student was fully capable of doing everything in my class. The only reason she had issues last year was she didn’t log into class until it was a quarter over and didn’t want to do the work. Five weeks into the school year, I knew if I needed to send out a student to get a news story or collect footage for a project, her hand would be one of the first to go up. She is now interested in either line producing or technical directing—two of the most challenging jobs outside of reading the newscast.


This student wasn’t my only shy student. Nearly all my classes have a handful of those who don’t want to be on camera. I get that sentiment. I hate being on camera. It’s why I’ve spent my career behind the scenes. However, I do not let my students hide. They are allowed to work through their anxieties, but they cannot succumb to their fears.


Last year, one of my strongest anchors was a boy who refused to turn on his camera at the beginning of the year. When he returned to school, he was very shy, so I tasked him with being my floor director. That meant he had to speak up and relay the messages from the control room to those in the studio. It may not have been his words, but he was finding his voice. About a month into it, one of my anchors was absent, and he asked if he could anchor. I very enthusiastically said yes. Every single student in the class was in shock. Students who had grown up with him said he barely talked. Let me tell you, that was no longer the case. His other teachers said they saw a boost in confidence that wasn’t there in his prior two years at the school.


Confidence.


Confidence is probably one of the most beneficial life-changing things that a student could take away from my program. Students gain confidence from failing while growing from their failures. I have students of all academic levels, from honor students to high functioning ESE. I hold them all to the same standards. Though I do not expect the same level of work, I expect them all to try their hardest and execute their best. Not everyone’s best will be the same. Thankfully, since I am not a core class, I know that I’m not forced to reach specific standards or pressured by a statewide test, and I have the chance to pause and work with my students.
This year my T.V. One students will be creating a 2-3 minute silent film that they have written. They will create a travel promotional project that expands their knowledge of different cultures and places worldwide. They will be making a text-based informational video about one of our 50 states, teaching themselves and classmates interesting facts they didn’t know before. The last project they will be creating is a 5 minute documentary on a topic of their choice. In making their documentary, the students learn how to research, analyze facts, and present a compelling narrative with the least bias possible.


But you know this class is a waste of time.


My second and third-year tv students are writing a 15-page script. I will be able to workshop with my students and review their work. I will be able to expand on what their ELA and Reading teachers are teaching in class. Because Lord help me, these students write like they are texting. The finished film will be about 15 minutes long. The directors, actors, crew, and basically every step of the production are under the control of the students. I am just there to help along the way when needed. Students are not only learning teamwork; they are learning time management and problem-solving skills.


Again this is a total waste of time.


This teacher was right. Students shouldn’t worry about my class. Their entire school experience should be about their core classes because those teachers can get in their standards while expanding on other necessary skills that young minds need to learn.


Or maybe people can see the value of having a well-rounded education and not judge what they do not know.