First year of teaching in a physical classroom – done! If you read my blog or look back on a few of the more recent posts, you can tell that I lost steam when it came to writing and reflecting on my website. It was a really tough year. My previous posts alluded to that but eventually I had to be more strict with my time and energy in order to make it through. It wasn’t just me that thought it was hard. I want to take time to dive into the challenges I faced this year.
1. Behavior and student trauma – students experienced intense and sustained trauma during the time away from school, everything from the death to close family member to sexual assault to homelessness. There are not enough behavioral and mental health professionals working on a school level so most of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are not addressed. The result is that many children this year acted out their trauma unconsciously – shouting, screaming, cussing at educators, having fights with their peers, disrupting and skipping classes, and failing their work. Many schools are electing to give students grace and not suspend them, but by doing so, these bad behaviors continue. This study finds that violent behaviors have increased in 2019 even though suspensions have dropped. As a teacher, those suspensions are sometimes necessary to give the student a chance to reset and then to come back ready to learn. Instead, the badly behaving students continue and also encourage other students to act out. A possible solution would be to hire more mental health professions to work with the students on a weekly basis to address the root causes of violent behavior.
2. Learning loss and cell phones – Many students didn’t engage online in 2020-21 so the students who did return this year were behind in reading and learning. They also picked up a ton of bad habits over the remote learning year: endless scrolling, seeking constant entertainment, cussing, smoking weed, lack of interest in learning, cyberbullying, and irregular routines. Trying to teach students when they had their cell phones in their hand and were scrolling was a constant battle. This study agrees. And so does this one. We had rules and systems for students to not distract themselves, but they are (like most of us) incredibly possessive of their phone and refuse to turn it in or put it up. They don’t know how to responsibly engage with social media and instead use it to cover/distract themselves from negative feelings (boredom, anger, sadness, etc.) and transport themselves somewhere else. This makes learning in the classroom very difficult.
3. Absences and quarantines – although the pandemic was “over” and we were back in school, students, faculty, and staff continued to get very sick from COVID and were forced to quarantine. I had one student miss 5 months of school because the weren’t able to get the vaccine and their family refused to send them to school. The vast majority of the staff at my school got COVID at least once. We were testing students every week with PCR tests and enforced mask mandates, but kids still got sick. It took a toll on the learning and having to pretend like everything was back to normal when it definitely wasn’t. This effect on mental health has been documented in studies like this one.
4. Teaching / staff shortages – this study in 2020 shows an uptick in teachers and staff wanting to quit the profession from COVID stress, as well as all the other things mentioned above. Teachers couldn’t take days off because there weren’t any substitute teachers who were able or willing to fill in for the day. Most of the subs were contracted into long term positions for the full-time teachers that abruptly left.
This is a reality that I am not going to sugar coat. I think too often people are not honest or transparent about the situation educators face. Instead we focus on teaching for the love of the children, for the love of learning, or for the content. That’s great, but it will burn-out more teachers more quickly if we don’t also paint a realistic picture of the adversities teachers face.
Since we have gone over the challenges, let’s go over some of my wins since January!
1. Black History Quilt. My high school students were tasked with researching a topic within African American historical facts, events, or people that they knew little to nothing about in order to broaden their understanding of black and American history. I provided a list of suggestions like Marsha P. Johnson, the Cicero Race Riots, Henrietta Lacks, Junteenth, Ida B. Wells, and more, as well as tutorials on a variety of different stitches. We also used their researched photos and printed them on transfer paper. They were then ironed onto the quilt! I am SO proud of both my students and myself for diving into something new and for doing such a great job. This quilt and a handful of other artworks were showcased in the Baltimore Museum of Art FYI Show this past March 2022.
2. Exhibitions and Still Life artworks. My students had work in two exhibitions – one at BCPSS headquarters at North Avenue and another at Mondawmin Mall. The artwork included still life drawings of the students’ objects in which they mastered compositional techniques like the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, leading lines, value, shading, and more! I’m so proud of their work, and many students sold their artwork at the Mondawmin Showcase. You can still see large posters of the student work if you head to Center Court, 2nd floor art gallery above the fountain!
3. Clay! This was the first year that I taught clay. Ever. Due to the kindness of the BCPSS Art Department, I was able to enroll in a clay class taught by the amazing Miss Mural aka Amanda Pellerin. She taught me and 15 other art teachers how to teach units on everything from pinch pots, to slab bowls, to mural tiles. She also gave us useful supplies tools like glazes, kiln gloves, rolling pins, glaze containers, a tar mat, and much more to use in our classes. I don’t have a kiln so my mentor art teacher was able to hook me up with her kiln. I am very proud of the clayworks the students produced, and I am extremely excited and confident in doing more clay projects next year! Here is her padlet if you need lesson ideas or help with clay.
This summer at Towson I am taking a watercolor painting class and an “Artist-Teacher connection” class in which I explore my own love of art making through whatever mediums I want. Since I will have more time over the summer to reflect, I hope to post more about what I read, make, and do around art. So stay tuned! Thanks for reading