A Day in My Life: Teaching High School in a Pandemic

It’s been a while since I posted. Writing has always been a part of me, but recently it has been difficult – recently, life has just been difficult.

I’m a teacher and have been for about four years now. I’ve taught many levels, but I’ve mostly stuck to high school and, last year, I made the switch to solely high school. So far, even though it was the right choice for me, it’s been a roller coaster. During my first official high school year, school shut down and all the IB exams were canceled. This year, our school is still suffering from the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the work load in the slightest; in fact, as I tell my students, the expectations have doubled while the restrictions have tripled. There’s been a lot of changes but, despite everything, we are doing as good as we possibly can. I am very proud of that.

A typical day starts relatively the same. I’ve had a slight obsession with Starbucks this year (that autumn Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew was to die for) that got a little out of hand, but I’m getting back into making good coffee at home. I’ve used the extra time at home to build up my coffee bar to include different syrups, which makes mornings even more exciting.

I get my temperature checked at the gate. Because of new procedures, teachers don’t have a room to call their own this year. Students are separated by classes and teachers travel from room to room. I miss having a place (and an actual desk to keep myself somewhat organized), but there is less movement in the halls. Instead, I camp out in an unused classroom with one other teacher, each of us on opposite sides of the room. Truthfully, I was very disappointed to hear that we wouldn’t have a classroom this year, as I’ve lost the creativity that I’ve always poured into decorating my room.

Rooms like the cafeteria and library have been converted into makeshift social-distancing classrooms that are better for our larger classes. Once class starts, there really isn’t time to take a personal break until the end of the day, but that really isn’t much different than any other year.

Our classes are completely hybrid, which means that I have students constantly in front of me and virtually. At first, the virtual student list was strict but, with constant outside COVID cases popping up in families and staff, the list is constantly fluctuating. In the middle of this, I am still prepping for five different classes, as I teach three Higher-Level literature courses, a Theory of Knowledge course (at two different levels), and a foreign language. Everything is constantly changing or being pushed around, often times right in the middle of class.

I spend most of the day endlessly guiding both my in-person and virtual students at the same time through assignments over novels they definitely didn’t read, fighting constantly collapsing WIFI and connection issues, hopelessly reaching out to blank screens and muted microphones, desperately trying to keep everyone on track to make our assessments by the end of the year, and constantly reminding students to wear their masks correctly. We also have our lunch with the students in the same room in order to keep them separated by class and supervised, which is lonely and tiring. Technology is supposed to make everything easier, but it’s just making it easier to pile on the work. There’s less interaction and communication among teachers as we are physically separated and, in turn, curl up in our own little world for days on end. Student cheating is so common that I hope my students are at least learning something. All of my interactive projects and kinesthetic, collaborative assignments have ultimately been scrapped or heavily adapted.

However, I’m trying my best to introduce fun, modern readings and interactive online activities. I spent a lot of time at the start of this year passionately revamping the reading lists and curriculum for grades 6 – 10. Currently, my 10th grade has read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, learned about the Apartheid through Trevor Noah’s standup and his short stories in Born a Crime, and are now starting an absolutely beautiful graphic adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

We do lots of independent writing and peer editing. I’ve written and developed a lot of my own assignments in Google Classroom. Despite everything, I still see an improvement in many of my students and, if anything, now we’ve both gotten to see each other at our most vulnerable times. We’re understanding of each other and our mistakes. We’re making it work.

I come home usually with a headache, always dehydrated, and sanitize everything I own upon entering the house before heading straight to the shower; then, I collapse on the couch until the sun sets and I get a spurt of energy to complete all of the chores that never go away. Every day. I don’t feel like I do, or can do, anything outside of work, and that’s a rather sad feeling.

By the end of the year, I hope to come back to this post and be able to see how far I’ve come. The lull after the holiday break is always the hardest and February has hit with full force. Right now, I can only do the best I can to keep myself and the people around me safe. I’ve personally grown to like the masks, especially if I didn’t have to babysit a bunch of 15 to 18-year-olds who still don’t understand that you have to cover both your mouth and nose. (I swear that the elementary school kids wear them better than any of the teenagers!) There are still a few clubs and after-school functions, but student morale is low. Students hardly mix grade levels and stay in the same, sometimes windowless, room for hours on end. And, if that wasn’t enough, the world often feels like it’s being torn apart at times.

As all of student work is online, it’s easy for teachers to pile on the homework. I’ve worked on keeping communication open with my students and have focused on being more understanding and patient; it’s a very different school year for all of us. No matter what my students accomplish this year, I want them to know that it was enough.

I know that everyone’s pandemic story will not be the same but, if you are feeling a bit lonely, I’ve reconciled with knowing that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes. It won’t last forever. I have great friends and family who, even if I can’t see in person all the time, are always reachable via phone or video chat. I know there are a lot (if not all!) teachers out there who are in a similar situation.

In the next few weeks, I hope to get back to doing what I love at home: reading for me (and not only for work), finding the passion to write both for my blog and creatively again, sketching, picking up fun hobbies like cooking and cocktail making, exploring other WordPress blogs and interacting with other amazing people and writers. I’ve let it get away from me, but I’m excited to get it back.

-Haley

9 thoughts on “A Day in My Life: Teaching High School in a Pandemic

  1. Honestly, high school students aren’t THAT bad in how they wear their face masks; I’ve seen GROWN adults wear their face masks improperly, which infuriates me. Teaching during a pandemic sounds like quite the feat; having been out of school for several years and almost two years removed from my former occupation as a teacher, I’ve had no idea how schools operate during COVID-19. The only insight I’ve across was when I worked the elections with some high-school seniors, and they informed me of their 100%-virtual classes, with the requirements of going onto campus once or twice a week for specific classes (at least, in my city’s school district in California…). It really is a weird time to be in, and it’s going to be interesting to see how formal schooling changes as the pandemic continues, and even after it subsides. Best of luck to you, Haley!

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  2. My school has been talking about going hybrid, and I am honestly SO anxious over it… It’s not ideal to be in small classrooms of 27-35 kids with an airborne virus raging, but so far we’ve managed to keep numbers at our school low, and I MUCH prefer teaching in person than juggling the nightmare that hybrid teaching seems to be… Hats off to you. Totally agree about the masks…if I had a penny for every time I have to remind a student to wear it properly, I’d probably double my salary hahah!

    I would love to know more about what you taught on Born a Crime !! It’s a subject I would really like to do with my higher level students, any particular extracts you studied, or tips for which of his comedy specials have good clips to draw from ? Thank you and hang in there !!

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  3. So far, we have been doing pretty good, despite everything. There’s been as much social distancing as possible. Most of the high schoolers, like irritating adults, don’t have that sense of urgency about mask wearing, so it’s been emotionally taxing to constantly be on them. There are currently COVID cases popping up in classes as students get comfortable in their sports, outside activities, ect. I enjoyed virtual school as it was a bit more comfortable to be in my own home, but we’re making it work 🙂 I look forward to seeing the changes this will bring to schooling too – it will be interesting! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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  4. Don’t be too anxious!! It was a bit of a learning curve but it’s easy to pick up. Truthfully, I forget the virtual kids are there sometimes – I always require their pariticpation when I remember, but I focus more on the in-person students. I usually always drop internet. Google Classroom has been a lifesaver, as I can go in and see their work in real-time (and I can also call out the kids who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing!).

    I loved introducing Born a Crime – it was my first time and overall, the students loved it. I had them research a bit of background – the Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, Afrikaans, ect, as he references them in his text. We read the first two short stories “Run” and “Born a Crime”. They focus a lot on his childhood and his mother, who is so very cool. Youtube has been a great resource this year – there’s a great interview with his grandmother in their family home. I also showed a clip of his stand up about his mother’s near-death experience, as it was an emotional story that blended serious, funny, and had lots of commentary on injustice and inconsistency in government/medical. I just screened a few of his stand-ups for language, but Noah does a good job at telling meaningful stories without much profantiy. Personally, I loved doing research and discussing his stories – I never learned about any of this in high school and love that I have the opportunity to show my students more about the world than I knew at their age.

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  5. So well-written. I’m a teacher in Elementary school and only had to work remotely from March to May of last year and since then I’ve had all my students in the classroom (I live in France), but these past months have been really hard, for us and for our students and families. I absolutely agree with you, the most important is for our students to know that what they do is enough, and to be easy on themselves. It’s such a difficult time.

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  6. Thank you very much! It’s been such a tough year, espeically with all the expectations. It’s almost as if everyone’s trying to push forward like it’s a normal year, but it’s nowhere near that. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that we are doing enough.

    I’ve been keeping myself sane with enjoying everything I can outside of working hours – cooking, sketching, and now I’m going to look into gaming! 🙂

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  7. Absolutely! I don’t know how it is where you live, but here they didn’t adapt the curriculum?! We teachers do adapt, but it’s been hard, especially for high school teachers.

    And same! Getting back to reading, blogging and gaming was such a life saver!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m in the US, in the south of Florida. There’s been a little adaptation to the curriculum in regards to end of year testing but other than that it’s the same and very stressful on all of us. Some of our staff was forced to retire or drop their positions when we returned in person last August, but they didn’t get rid of their work – we just got it instead!! But I’ve been getting better about going home and doing something I love or taking short walks around sunset instead of succumbing to the constant stress. This year has been very different than any other year I’ve taught before.

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