new year’s resolutions–covid edition.

2020 was, to quote CNN’s Jake Tapper, “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a trainwreck.”

And others agree. Towns rang in the new year with literal dumpster fires; the Holderness family pushed out a Billy Joel parody about them; and one YouTube channel even swapped out the traditional Yule Log for a flaming dumpster.

However, with a COVID vaccine on the horizon, that light at the end of the tunnel no longer feels as much like an oncoming train.

Or the glow of a well-kindled dumpster.

Better days are a-comin’, but I’m beat. And chances are, you are, too. To get through the rest of the school year while white-knuckling my sanity, I’m resolving to make five changes. Or at least try to. I figured writing them down was at least a good first step.

1) I resolve to Leave the Office–for Good.🚶‍♀️🖥

A portion of every day includes remote teaching/support, making it even easier for the school day to spill into the late afternoon. And dinnertime. And the hours between dinner and bedtime. It’s tough to shut work off entirely. Just one more email. If I can just tackle this last set of quizzes. Just five more research papers. If I can just get a head start on… My laptop and phone have become appendages, preventing me from being Present for the rest of life. And I know I’m not alone.

In that vein, I’ll be setting an end-of-the-workday alarm to signal Quitting Time–a la Fred Flintstone. I’m still working on what that time will be. (I start at 4 AM, so 4 PM sounds liberating–until I do the math and then add in the weekend work sessions.)

2) I resolve to TAKE One Weekend Day Off. 🛀

I’m reclaiming my weekend–or at least half of it. I wish I could reclaim all of it, but that isn’t really a thing for teachers. (If you’ve figured that out, please contact me–stat!)

Every weekend is spent prepping for the upcoming week. (Weekdays are reserved for teaching/prepping, checking in with quarantining students, answering emails, reaching out to students/families, providing extra help, etc.) Pre-COVID, I shared a two-week calendar with my students that listed all of the classwork and homework. However, while the homework was constant, the classwork was flexible and could be posted the night before.

This year means posting an entire week’s worth of content for two cohorts: the group that is in front of me, the group that is working at home (while the other group is in front of me), and both groups for our weekly Zoom days. Classwork and at-home work needs to be created, posted, and hyperlinked by Monday AM. It’s just a whole different animal. Once the planning is done, we’re in good shape. But it’s the planning part that consumes the weekends.

In order to maintain this schedule through June–without resenting my life choices or the humans around me, I need to reclaim one of our two days off to reset. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about school, but I need to step away from my laptop and just Be.

3) I resolve to Prioritize Connections Over Corrections. 👥

Teaching has always been about relationships. Yes, we love our subject matter and we help our students meet the standards. However, I quickly learned that students won’t buy what we’re selling if they don’t first sense that we respect and care for them. So, for the most learning to take place–especially in a disjointed year like this one, connecting is a nonnegotiable.

But that’s challenging when our facetime with students is limited. In our district, we only see students in-person once a week. It’s like reverse Dog Years: Even though I’ve been teaching them for four months, I’ve seen them face-to-face for the equivalent of three weeks. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be able to master their names in three weeks–let alone establish relationships.

Accordingly, I’m resolving to focus more on CONNECTING with my students than CORRECTING every single assignment they submit. I think that’s more important than ever in this current climate.

4) I resolve to Remain a Student. 📚

My dream job is to be a professional student. I’m currently accepting donations if anyone wants to fund a doctoral program. There’s always something to learn, always a way to be better. Hence, the name of this site.

Teacher-author Penny Kittle captures this best: “We can’t wait for someone else to develop us. We are in charge of how we grow. Teaching is always a draft. …[and] we want each draft to show evidence of revisions and improvement. After 31 years of teaching, I’m always hoping next year I will be a better teacher–next week, even.” She has been one of the most influential Career Professors, inspiring me to rethink just about everything I do in the English classroom.

COVID has sent even the most seasoned of us back to school. I resolve to continue learning from my students and my PLN (i.e., professional learning network)–in spite of the Chaos. Even in a year like this one (or especially in a year like this one?), I resolve to constantly strive to be better — in how I structure my classes, how I engage students on Zoom, how I provide feedback, etc.

5) I resolve to Beat Myself Up Less. 🤕

Since educators are taught to have high expectations for their students, most of us have high ones for ourselves. Just ask to see a teacher’s To Do List. It’s a mile long and usually ends in disappointment when, after a vacation or weekend or even teaching block, there are still tasks that didn’t get crossed off.

Trying to make it all happen didn’t work before COVID. In addition to our full-time gig (that whole teaching business), there’s the part-time job of preparing for tomorrow while leaving student feedback on today. (That literally is a part-time job in and of itself, but that’s a post for another time.) And then we’re raising babies or supporting our own kids’ remote learning (PSA: That’s not “homeschooling,” right?) or tolerating teenagers or caring for aging parents or working additional jobs to pay the bills…it’s a lot.

We’ll never be able to do it all–and we need to be okay with that. Our mental health depends on it.

All of these resolutions are pretty lofty considering where I’m at right now. However, they’re vital if I’m going to survive the 2020-1 school year. When I do find myself rocking in the proverbial fetal position, I know that this is only a season. A really, really long one.

But we’ve got this.

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