Month: April 2020

Students, Parents, and Teachers: It’s Okay to use the “Survival Shuffle” in this Marathon

For millions of students and teachers around the nation, the news has become official. We will not be returning to our home away from home. Our school. Our classroom. Our students. With that news, we are now immersed in this system of crisis teaching and learning for the long run. For six weeks, we have been able to show the world what makes teachers great. We don’t make excuses. We adapt for our students and families. We solve problems for our students. We connect with our students. We support each other. We counsel. We advocate. And we are not afraid to learn new skills.

I have recently heard politicians, doctors, and media members repeatedly refer to the response to Covid-19 with a similar term: a marathon. Terms like steady, pacing, and one step at a time have been tossed out into the public discourse, too, when discussing how the world will overcome this latest obstacle. Marathon terms.

Now, it’s been 8 years since I ran my first full marathon. It was May 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to be exact. And when you are training for your first marathon, there are tedious times, times of joy, times of pain, times of frustration, times when you are alone for long periods, and undoubtedly, times of mental and physical exhaustion. You think you can do it. You know you can do it. Then, you think you just can’t run another mile, another half mile, or another step. You run the full gauntlet of emotions before you even get to the starting line for such a race. But you get to that starting line.

Ironically it was on the treadmill when a piece of advice came back into my mind. And it is advice that is there for the teachers out there who are trying their best day in day out to be there for their students, the parents and guardians who are trying to maintain a safe and supportive environment while being pulled in a plethora of directions, and the students who are coping with a loss of all sense of normalcy in this world. The survivor shuffle.

It was on my first “20 miler” when I heard this advice. The survivor shuffle? An experienced runner shared that there will be times when you need to use the survivor shuffle, times when you drop your pacing goals, trust what your body and mind is telling you, and just do your best to keep your feet moving forward. The survivor shuffle, huh? You set out to finish what you started for all the reasons you signed up to start it. It may not look like what you planned, what you envisioned, what you dreamed about, but you survive. You take a quick rest, you get a drink, and you get back in the race when you are ready. One foot in front of the other, and you get there.

But no, I did not want to hear about the survivor shuffle. I would not need it; I went into my first marathon overconfident. Then, everything changed. For me, it was hot, humid morning that came out nowhere. This was not the race I was prepared to run. However, I started to run it as if it was under the exact same conditions that I trained for. And I broke down physically.

Now let’s fast forward to 2020. We had field trips planned. Traditions to carry on. Moments and students to celebrate. Colleagues to rejoice with as they entered into well-deserved retirements. Then March 13th came. We did not prepare for this sort of race. This was not our training as a teacher, as a parent, or as a student. Personally, I started into this race trying to maintain the same pace that I had before everything changed. As a parent, as a teacher, and quite frankly, I even had a desire for my children to do the same as students. Not surprisingly, I had the same result as my first marathon. I was insistent on “winning that race” in the first mile.

But you can’t. You shouldn’t. And here is the part that was the most difficult thing for me to understand and accept: nobody expects you maintain the same pace you had before. What is going to save me as a teacher? The survivor shuffle. As a parent? The survivor shuffle. And I hope students around the nation recognize that it is perfectly okay to “run your own race” at this time and trust what your body, your mind, and your heart are telling you to do.

Conditions have changed. Take a rest when you need to. Look to others for encouragement and support when you think you just can’t do it. There will be more obstacles ahead for each of us. It’s okay to save a little in the tank for when you need it. In a marathon, you find things out about yourself that you never knew you could do. You deal with setbacks, both within and outside of your control. You push the limits of what you thought your mind and your body could handle. But you just never know when you are going to need that survival shuffle to slow the pace, reassess what is most important, and to get help when you need it. There is no shame in using it.

Students, parents, and teachers: It’s okay to just do what you can do, at the pace that you can go in that moment. It really is. Just get back into this race when you’re ready.


The Students Not on My Roster: Balancing My Teacher Guilt and Parent Guilt in a Virtual World

“Dad.” “Dad.” “Dad.” “Dad.”….”Dad.” “Dad.” …”Daddy.” “Dad.”  (There were a few more Dads in there, but, you get the idea.)  This past weekend, my preschool-aged son, Noah, was trying to get my attention.  He had to have called out my name at least a dozen times before I even acknowledged him. Sure, I was sitting with him on our back porch, pretending to pay close attention to him as he played with PlayDoh and I typed an e-mail back to a parent on Saturday afternoon to solve an issue her child was having in the new virtual learning world.

Then, it hit me.  That wave of parent guilt that many teachers feel on a regular basis during the school year.  Perhaps it is when we are staying after school to get caught up, or when we attend weekend activities with our students and miss a family function, or, quite frankly, when we are spending more time with other people’s children than our own.  But, there’s no way that can happen in a virtual learning environment, right? Wrong. There is no sidewalk to walk out of school now, no time to reflect and change gears on the car ride home, no bells or goodbyes to signal a change.

This year, I have 109 students on my roster.  109 students with different interests, family lives, abilities, needs, personalities, and talents. But, it is the 110thand 111thstudents on my roster that are often being ignored as a result of attempting to be fully available and committed to students 1 to 109, as well as their parents, during this crisis.

Enter my preschooler and 1st grader.  They see me on Zoom meetings with my students, laughing, smiling, and teaching. I’m sure that they hear me telling them “wait one minute, buddy” or “hold on, my dude” in exchange for not having to have one of my students wait at all for an e-mail reply.  When they think back to this crisis 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, are they doing to think back to this period and remember that “daddy did not spend much time with us”?  That keeps me up at night.

My children are younger, and love attention from their parents.  But for those teachers with older children, I am sure, even if they do not admit it or are masking it, are craving your connection during this crisis. But, this leads to the ultimate choice of having to knowingly or unknowingly select teacher guilt or parent guilt.  So how do you balance these two?  Honestly, that is something that has always been an area of potential growth for me and an area that I am struggling with now.  For me, the easy choice over the past three weeks has been selecting parent guilt. Because I think, “oh, there will be more time for me to be with my children after this e-mail, after I make this screencast video, afterI do this demo video for an administrator, or after I talk a colleague through something on the phone instead of sitting down to read a story one on one to my child.”

So, teacher guilt vs. parent guilt, what’s the solution to feel neither and to make yourself fully committed to both in a virtual environment?  Being a realist, I do not think I will be able to discover the solution to this in my blog entry.  In fact, I think, to a large degree, that merging both lives enables me to be a better teacher, connect with analogies and lessons from my own life, and to let my guard down for students to see the real me. But, in this virtual setting, I am finding a whole new ballgame and I am going to implement a few changes that I feel may help.

1. Set a more clearly defined schedule, write it down, and schedule your children in there.

I have been guilty of keeping my agenda for office hours, meetings, and every different type of Zoom meeting on my computer.  What is not on my calendar is any type of defined time for my own children or time with my wife.  That is going to change, and, I feel that if I “see” it on a schedule, I will be better equipped to follow that commitment.

2. Build that sidewalk away from school in your mind.

Let’s be honest with each other.  We enjoy teaching, so we find excuses in our minds to always be looking to bring our own lives into our lessons or vice versa.  But, in this virtual world, there has to be a limit of a boundary.  I am going to allow myself to work at night, however, will have to put some time restraints on myself to cap that. Can this wait until the morning? Will not responding right now cause emotional stress for that student?

3. Learn from Oklahoma! character Ado Annie.

I grew up as a musical theater boy.  In fact, in 8thgrade, I got to be part of our high school’s production of Oklahoma!(we had a small school and boys in grades 7-8 were needed as townspeople…)  But, I remember a song in there that I am now using out of context, but, it is titled I Cain’t Say No.  So, when we hear that phrase, “Hey, can you do me a favor?” or “Hey, it would be great if somebody…”, we gravitate towards filling that need.  We can’t say no, we want to help.  But, I need to remind myself, that it is indeed okay to say no, because, that will better enable me to say yes to my children.

4. When you hear a colleague say “I’m bored”, let it go.

Bored? Bored?!?!? Just this week, I heard another colleague, a good friend, say that he was bored.  This is the complete opposite of what I had been feeling.  I feel like I am playing a game of whack-a-mole.  So, I think, “What in the world am I doing wrong that I am not feeling this bored feeling?  I had a to-do list of things I would like to get done during this and I have not touched one of them. I must be the worst parent in the world if I am having trouble spending time with my own children, let alone crossing items of my to-do list.”  So my takeaway: everyone is dealing with this crisis in their own way and has their own situation and responsibilities.

I look forward to making this a focus of mine to work on in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead. I also welcome any advice, tips, or strategies that have been working for you in your own situations. We’re off to check out the Pink Super Moon as a family!