A schoolteacher without a classroom is kind of like a firefighter without a fire.
Or a police officer without crime.
But here we are – self-quarantined at home.
Our classroom sits empty, and everyday this week we sit here at home wondering what to do.
I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about all of you.
I hope you’re doing alright during this unprecedented moment in history. It probably seemed like a lot of fun when it first happened.
No school for the foreseeable future!
The whole thing came together so quickly that our district didn’t even have time to get together work to send home with you. And like most schools throughout the country, many of you don’t have home internet access so we can’t fairly give you on-line lessons, either.
So you’ve been at home with little guidance from us. Sure we have free breakfast and lunches available for pick up at the school, but you’re probably growing a bit stir crazy.
I know I am. (And I’m sure your folks are, too!)
I’m at home with my daughter trying to keep her busy.
We’ve been creating Mario Maker boards for each other on our Nintendo 3DS and Switch.
We keep trying to stump each other, and me, being a teacher, I keep trying to get her to think outside of the box.
“Why don’t you try making a board where you have to get a mushroom through a maze?”
“Why don’t you try making a board where the walls close in?”
“I wonder if you could beat a Thwomp in a race down a pit?”
We were having a really good time until I tried to get her to watch a science video. I put on the original Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” from the early 1980s.
My daughter loves looking up at the stars and asking me questions about the constellations. I thought this would be a perfect fit – after all, Sagan was an astronomer and can answer her questions way better than I can.
However, the old school effects were simply no match for today’s aesthetic. She revolted after about 20 minutes.
Today I won her over though with the new Cosmos series featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson. She turned to me after about five minutes and said, “Much better.”
We’ve been drawing and reading and playing video games and having a good ol’ time.
I hope you have people at home who can help you get through all this, too.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently from your folks.
They want to know what they should be doing to help you academically.
Whenever this whole thing is over – and it will be over someday soon I hope – they want to make sure you won’t fall too far behind.
Let me start with a word of caution.
We don’t know how long this self-quarantine will last.
We’re trying to stay home to stop the spread of this virus – COVID-19. It can be deadly to some people – even some young people like you.
It’s in everybody’s best interest that we wait this thing out so that the hospitals can deal with the people who get sick.
Then when the disease has passed, we can continue our normal lives.
But no one knows how long that will take. It could be a few more weeks – but more likely months.
It is very possible that we will not go back to school again until after the summer.
So it’s hard to say exactly what you should do to keep yourself in the best academic shape because we don’t know what you’ll be coming back to.
We DO know that we won’t have to make up some or all of the days we missed.
And we know we won’t (here in Pennsylvania) have to take the PSSA or Keystone tests this year.
But when this is over, what grade will you be in? Will you just move on to the next grade or will there be a bit of mopping up to do first? And if you don’t finish the curriculum, will you be ready for the challenges ahead?
We don’t know any of that yet.
But here are a few guidelines and some things you might want to do while you’re at home.
You don’t have to do all of them, but they’re some things to think about.
So here’s my top 10 things for my students to do during quarantine:
1) Finish Whatever School Work You Can
You may have some outstanding school work with you in your book bag. I know I sent my seventh graders home with their poetry projects. My eighth graders should either be done or have taken their projects home to finish.
So if you have work that’s not done, finish it to the best of your ability. You certainly have enough time.
2) Read a Book
I ask all of may students to have a self-selected book handy for sustained silent reading in class. Hopefully you brought it home. If not, take a look around the house. Maybe you’ve got a dusty tome hanging out in some corner. Or – hey – if you have Internet access, you probably have the ability to get an ebook.
Read something – anything you want.
It will while away the hours, relax you and maybe get your mind to thinking about things above and beyond how much mac and cheese you’ve got stored in the cupboard.
3) Keep a Journal
Do you realize you’re living through a moment of history? People will look back on this and wonder how people got through it. You could fill in the blanks for some future researcher. Just a description of your everyday activities, what you’re thinking and feeling, your hopes and dreams – all of it has historical value. Plus, you’ll get some practice expressing yourself in writing. And just think – a simple story about how you survived the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 could end up being taught in the classrooms of the future!
Make it a good one!
4) Take a Break from Video Games
I know some of you have built a fort out of sofa cushions, covered it in blankets and are nestled in this hideaway doing nothing but playing Fortnite or Roblox or Minecraft with friends on-line. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. You go ahead and do that.
Just remember to take breaks for more than just food and the bathroom. Getting lost in a fantasy world is great so long as you leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs to get back out again.
Don’t forget the trail. Don’t forget there’s a world out there that needs you. Set definite limits for how long you spend in there and try really hard to adhere to them.
5) Watch Something Educational on TV or the Internet
Education isn’t limited to something a teacher told you to do. Find a video or TV show that explains something you never knew before. Youtube is great for this if you know what to look for.
I don’t mean to find some rant by your favorite Youtuber. I mean find something about science, history, art, literature, math, etc. Make it something you care about but might not watch just for fun.
You’ll be surprised at what you can find out there. The channel CrashCourse with author John Greene (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and his brother Hank is particularly informative, entertaining and far reaching. I also love John Michael Godier for all things astronomy and Composer David Bruce for discussions of music.
6) Watch/Read the News
There are extraordinary things happening every day. Knowing about them can help you prepare for what’s next and think about what we can and should be doing to make things better.
7) Listen to Music/ Draw/ Do Something Creative
I know you. You’re a bundle of creative energy bound together waiting to explode. Go do that. Whatever you enjoy doing, create something. Write a song, make a comic book, paste together a collage. Express yourself, and if you’re not in the mood for that – enjoy the expressions of others. Listen to music, read a poem, watch a movie.
8) Help Out Your Folks
We, adults, can seem like we’ve got it all under control. We don’t. We’re just as anxious, fearful and uncertain as you about this whole self-quarantine thing. None of us were around the last time something like this happened (the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic). Anything you can do – helping take out the trash, cleaning up messes, even just trying extra hard not to argue with your siblings – can be a big help.
9) Talk to Friends and Family about How You’re Feeling
No one expects you to be a robot. These are trying times. It’s okay to feel a certain way about that. Share those feelings with someone you trust. And be a sympathetic ear for them to do the same. The best way we can get through all this is with each other’s help.
10) Know That You Are Loved
My dear precious little students! There are people out there who love you so much. There are people who would move Heaven and Earth to keep you safe. I know you’re scared and bored and anxious. But remember we’re in this together. And no matter where you are or what you’re doing there’s at least your crazy English teacher who loves you very much and can’t wait to see you all again.
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
Plus you get subscriber only extras!
Just CLICK HERE.
I’ve also written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!