It’s been months since my last episode, but I’m back. In today’s episode, I discuss where I’ve been, my thoughts and experiences on distance learning, and the future of the podcast.
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Today on episode 99, I’m giving you an update on where I’ve been since February, as well as an update on the future of the podcast.
Thanks for hanging out with me today, I really appreciate it! If you’re new to the podcast, welcome! You’re coming in at a good time! And if you’re one of my loyal listeners, welcome back! I know that it’s been such a long time since my last episode, and many of you have reached out to me and asked, When are you coming back? I’ve had a lot on my plate and was going through some changes, which I’ll discuss in this episode, and I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep recording. In the podcast world, we call this podfading.
In any case, I thought that you all deserved an update, as well as my thoughts on how teaching has been this past year. So be sure to stick around all the way to the end because there’s a lot packed in this episode!
Can you guys believe that this is episode 99? When I really entertained the idea of coming back, I was like. Wow, this is pretty cool! Episode 99! Ok, what do I do again? I literally had to listen to one of my episodes because I didn’t even remember how I started it. Even now I’m trying to remember all of the things that I have to do to get the episode out as well as promoting it on social media.
Some of you may have heard my special episode that I deleted where I discussed hitting the pause button. I had just filed for divorce and had a million things on my mind to worry about.
I just didn’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to produce anything for you guys, especially since I give so much in these episodes. I really research and think about them, and try to be mindful of what new teachers need at different points in the year. And at that point, I was just in survival mode.
Perhaps you can relate because you’ve had some sort of trauma in your life, whether it’s a divorce or death in the family. It was hard enough being a good parent and still being there for my students, but giving you guys the type of support that you deserve was just too much for me.
I put my house up for sale in February and promptly moved out. We closed escrow the Wednesday before the lockdown on March 13 happened, which I think was no coincidence. While it was a strange transition and time in my life, the solitude was definitely welcomed. I really needed that time to process my feelings and figure out who I was.
I know that sounds strange since I’m 42 and I should know who I am, but I think that when we’re with someone for a long time, we sort of become a mishmash of who we are and who the other person needs us to be. And as a wife, mother, and educator, those roles really defined me, but deep down inside I didn’t really know who Kim was.
Distance learning was probably the best thing that happened to me – both personally and professionally. I know that sounds strange since it’s not nearly as effective as being in person, but it really helped me reframe my priorities, both as a person and a teacher.
You see, once upon a time, I had to do everything as perfect as possible in my classroom. I had high expectations for myself as well as others. There were standards that had to be covered and material that I wanted to get through, and I assessed my effectiveness as a teacher based on that.
I managed just about every minute of my workday so that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice too much time at home, which allowed me to pursue other things like this podcast. I was just go,go,go with barely any down time. While I did manage to make time for my family, I was burning the candle at both ends.
And I realized that I was doing it to myself. I really didn’t need to do so much after school, but I wanted to. I’m someone who thrives on working and accomplishing things because it feels good.
But during the quarantine, I began to evaluate which things were really necessary and which ones allowed me to wear the “badge of honor” called busy. Because I literally did nothing during the quarantine other than try to figure out how to get toilet paper and spend time with my daughter. I had nothing to do, and it was GLORIOUS. I started meditating, which is now a daily ritual, working out from home, finding recipes and cooking and baking with my daughter, watching our new kittens grow up, and overall, taking the kind of staycation that I really, really needed.
When it came time for us to go back virtually, I wasn’t worried or stressed at all. I’d been so zen for all of those weeks that nothing really bothered me aside from my divorce proceedings. I decided that I was going to do something that was engaging but also allowed me to review important standards. We weren’t supposed to teach anything new, so I looked at what we had covered during the year, and then explored what I could do with my students that we would all enjoy.
I ended up having us listen and analyze the podcast, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. If you guys haven’t heard it, it’s FABULOUS. In fact, I’m going to do that with my students again right before we go on Winter Break!
The podcast was so engaging that I had quite a few students coming to class for the discussions. And while not all of them did the written work, it didn’t really matter. At that point, I was just happy for their company in class and happy that they were able to interact socially with other students. Since we already knew each other, this wasn’t that difficult.
During the first round of distance-learning, I also reevaluated what I thought I needed to teach versus what the students really needed. I used to think those were the same thing, but they’re not. Giving my students work didn’t ensure actual learning. I know that seems obvious, but when your free-time is precious and you’re trying to uphold a sense of peace and order in your life, you’re forced to really examine what this means.
I was really puzzled by all of the teachers freaking out on the internet in terms of distance learning. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just reframe what teaching and learning looks like and just make the most of it.
I guess during that time during quarantine, I learned to let go of the unreasonable expectations that I had of myself, and this translated to how I taught. I realized that I wasn’t less of a teacher because I wasn’t teaching as if everything was normal, in fact, my students really just needed me to be there. So I showed up and had fun with them, and in return, they showed up and engaged in conversation with me. I didn’t get hung up about the stuff that would usually bother me if we were in person.
This is actually one of the reasons why I didn’t create new episodes during the quarantine – I had a different experience with distance learning than most. I just couldn’t relate or give any helpful advice. So many educational pundits were putting out their opinions on distance learning, and I didn’t want to add to that noise. Honestly, if I had told you how great the experience was for me, I think a lot of you would have been bitter and tuned me out.
Fast-forward to this school year, and it’s been more frustrating. Teaching students how to use technology while they’re actually on it and when I can’t look over their shoulder has truly been frustrating. The disparity between haves and have nots is really glaring when it comes to internet access and a suitable location in their home to learn.
For whatever reason, these things didn’t seem as bad during quarantine, or maybe I was just in denial.
Also, since I didn’t know these students, they weren’t opening up as much. Nobody wants to show their camera, and I won’t ask them to. I get it – it’s uncomfortable and can be embarrassing depending on their living situation.
So the first few weeks of this school year was definitely frustrating, but I have to say that things are so, so much better now! I get at least 95% of my students attending daily, and for the most part, they’re getting the work done. Yes, I have students that are not coming at all and are failing, and I’ve gone to great lengths to get them caught up.
I continued my philosophy about teaching from the quarantine days. I took a good hard look at what I normally teach and picked out what was truly important. I wanted to maximize the amount of time that I had with them since our classes are only 30-45 minutes long, and each block sees me three times a week.
So I focused my energy planning lessons that really moved the needle and that would set them up to be ready to hit the ground running in second semester. I’m fairly certain that’s when my district is going back, so I wanted to get them ready for that.
I also focused on material that would be relevant and highly engaging. While many students enjoy coming to class, it’s harder to hold their attention due to the many distractions they have at home. So I intentionally select topics and texts that are of high interest, and I keep our discussions entertaining.
But I also realize that I can’t reach everyone and that there are some things that are truly out of my control. I feel like we’re desensitized to the growing number of COVID cases every day, and at the time of this recording, we’ve hit over 100,000 cases in one day! So we may have forgotten that these students or their families may have contracted it and don’t want to discuss it. So they just don’t show up.
I had some students tell me about this when we were having a class discussion. One student asked to unmute, and he shared how his mom recently got COVID and how hard it was on the family. Then other students wanted to share, and I realized that this virus is still so rampant. So I keep this in mind with those students that aren’t performing as well as others. Not only are they not able to get the kind of individualized attention that they could get in a classroom setting, they’re also dealing with uncertainty at home.
In any case, during this school year, I started exploring what I wanted to do with my life. Honestly, I’d had serious thoughts about leaving teaching. It wasn’t as fulfilling as it used to be, and I felt like there was something bigger for me. Something more that I could do to help more people. I love to teach, but that didn’t necessarily mean that I had to teach middle schoolers.
I did a lot of exploring other careers and trying to figure out what would make me happy while also allowing me to make the same if not more money. Every time I’d deep dive into something, I would get this gut feeling that it wasn’t right for me. Time and time again, I’d get excited and want to sign up to take a course or certification, only to find myself feeling like I wouldn’t be any happier.
I finally decided that I would keep teaching because 1) I’m good at it, and 2) these kids really, really need me. It would be unfair to leave them, even at the semester. But I would find other ways to scratch that itch so that I could find other ways to help people.
So I started a YouTube channel called Your Own Damn Way! I have a link to it in the shownotes if you’d like to go and watch my first two videos. In the same way that this podcast has helped so many of you, I wanted to help others who also realized that their life wasn’t fulfilling. Who realized that they had been living their lives based on other people’s expectations. And I wanted to take them on this journey to our dream life where we’re both financially secure but also fulfilled.
So I’ll be doing both the podcast and the YouTube channel. Truth be told, I’m focusing more on the YouTube channel right now since I’m super motivated and it really lights me up. I’m trying to put out 1-2 videos a week, as well as sell merchandise.
But I’m also going to create episodes for this podcast, although it’ll most likely be every other week or once a month. I don’t want to leave you guys hanging, especially since so many of you are so kind to reach out and tell me how you binge these episodes!
I don’t have all of the answers or even best practices for making distance or a hybrid model work effectively – I only have what I do in my classroom. And from speaking to my colleagues, what I do mainly works for me because of my personality and teaching style. If it doesn’t align with how you deliver your lessons, it probably won’t work.
But I’ll continue to be honest and upfront with you, and I won’t try to sugarcoat anything. You’ve been through a lot this year, and you deserve not only my support, but also my transparency. And if what I’m producing in my episodes doesn’t resonate with you, I really need YOU to let me know so that I can make sure it’s helpful.
But I’m back, and you guys, the next episode is freaking EPISODE 100! WHAAAT? I need to do something special! It’s almost too much pressure! Maybe have a Zoom dance party or something!
In any case, thanks for hanging out with me and coming back, I’ve missed you guys. I would love for you to check out and support my YouTube channel, Your Own Damn Way, which will be linked in the shownotes on whatever device you’re listening on. If I can get that channel really going and get a lot of subscribers and views, then I can keep teaching and keep the podcast going!
Thanks for hanging out with me today, and have a fabulous week!