I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Day 140 - One Teacher's Summer

I watched a school board meeting last night.

I heard one parent state that teachers have been out this summer ("vacation, restaurants, bars, protesting"), so what's the problem with returning to the school building? (Even though, once again, teachers are not deciding these things. And, once again, I'll say I, too, want to return to school when it's safe or when we can maintain six feet distance.)

So... I thought I'd document all the things I've done outside my own home this summer:

  • Grocery shopping every week - with mask on and distancing in place.
  • Sometimes we pick up food from a drive through. (We're saving a TON of money not going out every weekend like we used to.)
  • I picked up four house plants (didn't even get out of the vehicle - they put them in the back seat).
  • Social distance lunch (three of us) to celebrate a teacher who retired this year and give a gift. In case you're wondering - no hugs for this coworker.
  • Backyard planning with a coworker - never closer than six feet - not even heading into the house to use the restroom.
  • Front yard distanced lunch with two other teachers.
  • Social distance walking (me in the street, because I'm the "rebellious" one).
  • Social distance bike ride (one).
  • Played tennis with Hubby.
  • Front yard distancing at my parents' house. I decided to hug my parents on Day 100 - with a mask on. I know some teachers who still haven't hugged their parents yet.
  • Walks and bike rides.
  • Still learning my Spanish on Duolingo - 581 day streak as of today.
  • I went to my school building to pick up my book for a book club. No need to go past the foyer.
  • Two nights of camping for our anniversary - just Hubby and I. Hiking on our own, driving around, just the two of us. Here we are that day in June:
  • Drove one day to Illinois Beach and one to Warren Dunes State Park to swim in Lake Michigan. Loved that everyone kept their distance both days.
  • We hit golf balls at a driving range once (so far).
  • Each of us got our hair cut. Our second one is set for August.
  • I plan on going to the school building next week to take out the extra furniture I'd purchased myself to make our room more comfortable for my seventh graders. I'll wear gloves and a mask and not need to see anyone.
Maybe I should mention that day we... nope. We didn't do anything else this summer. Unless you count taking great care of the lawn and landscaping and house and puzzles and television and reading and writing and listening to music and making our own meals and ordering $180 worth of scrubs + masks when we heard school was starting "all-in" and keeping myriad ideas in mind until we heard I was going to teach remotely. THEN I could finally start planning. I've now had four days of planning for my next school year... on my "summer vacation." I want to do my best for the children.

I've held myself accountable and had this type of summer for a few reasons:

  • I want to stay healthy.
  • I want my family to stay healthy.
  • I want our nation to kick this virus.
  • I want to go back to school safely and be with (stranger's) children again.
I don't assume all parents are out and about with their kids not distancing or wearing masks. I have seen some, but I would never say a blanket statement about all parents, or really about any one "group" of people. This summer has been a struggle for many. We're in a pandemic.


Ideas that I heard at the meeting that I hope educators can do this school year:
  • I'd love to be able to meet the students before we start - somehow, someway.
  • I'd love to be able to meet 1:1 somehow with kids (maybe our homeroom?) each week or so to set goals and check in on progress and create new goals if needed. I hear it's not safe to meet 1:1 virtually, so I hope districts find and share ways to make it safe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Negativity Switch

On my walk this morning, a block away from my home, the massive construction truck is on the same street as me, no signal on to turn, so I go to step off the curb to cross -- and he turns, cutting in front of me. I back up, hold my hands up, and think, "No. I'm NOT going to let myself feel like this all day today."

The next truck I see is actually one of those asphalt-scraper rigs, heading slowly down the street I'm still walking along, and I wave good morning. He waves back with a smile. I think, "This could cancel out the negative encounter I had this morning. THAT'S the kind of "cancel culture" I need right now.

I've learned that it's human for our brains to focus on the negative.
It's even got a name: Asymmetric Effect with Negative Bias. YUCK. I've had this affliction before.

I've got to cancel out these negative thoughts when I can. Here is what I try:
  • When I spot an educator shaming another educator on social media, I make sure to thank another teacher on social media - or maybe the one being shamed, depending on the situation.
  • When I have an appointment I am not looking forward to, I schedule something afterwards that I DO look forward to.
  • When I stop by Facebook and see scary posts, I look for something to share that's helpful to others.
  • When I'm breathing in too much toxicity from my laptop, I head outside to breathe a deep breath in nature.
  • When I start to worry (again) too much about our future, I remember that action helps me move forward and past the worry, so I choose to DO something.
  • When I think someone's acting like an idiot, I find something new to learn.
  • When I get off a difficult phone conversation, I purposely spend some time alone in the quiet (or outside with the birds and traffic noises - just no talking).
  • When I am bombarded with reminders that we're still in a pandemic, I stop and decide to notice things for which I'm grateful.

Another one I tried one time in my life and I'd like to try more often...

  • Hear negative self-talk? Repeat positive affirmations to yourself.

Sounds like a plan.

Can negativity truly be canceled? Nope.
I can, however, pause, then switch my thinking to try to turn if off for a bit.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Health Advice Should We Go Back to School Buildings

One of my (myriad) older cousins (David) has been a surgeon for longer than I've been teaching (>25 yrs). I wanted to share his advice far and wide. Planning helps me get through mental stress, and I hope this helps those heading back. Please let me know in the comments what else you will be doing to keep yourself safe.

Should we head back to school buildings:

At the end of the day the only way to minimize your individual risk of contracting the virus (and therefore spreading it to anyone you live with— doesn’t mean you will, but seems more likely than not) is to minimize your contact with people.  ALL people. The more you limit your exposure, the better your odds.  Still not 100%, but better.  

IF you go to a high risk environment (not necessarily as high risk as the nurses caring for Covid patients)— and I would consider any group of people in a closed space for ANY period of time high risk— then what can you do to minimize risk of bringing it home?  Well, no one knows for sure, but the medical people will: 

— Wear clothes that are easy to wash. Take them off in an antechamber (ie garage) put it immediately into the wash (high temp).  If the washer were in the garage it’d be ideal, but otherwise the space between the garage and the washer/whatever the dirty clothes touch needs be considered contaminated
— Leave your shoes either outside or in the antechamber (now a contaminated space)
— Typically they then go directly to the shower (either naked or in underwear depending on level of paranoia, I suppose), wash (including hair) in warm/hot water
— Get dressed in clean clothes
— The next day repeat— ad nauseam
— Remember, the idea is to keep your house a clean zone.  NOTHING comes in without being cleaned (ethanol/bleach/heat/UVC). I try to consider the car a clean zone as well (Purell on entering), but recognize it’s really not.

The concept is this will prevent any virus on your clothing/self from coming into the house.

It doesn’t do ANYTHING about your contracting the virus yourself.

To minimize THAT you need to: 
— Prevent any of your mucus membranes (lips/mouth/eyes) for coming in contact with the virus
— DON’T touch your face!!!!
— You can touch whatever you want with your hands (but minimizing contact with people- who may not/certainly won’t be as diligent as you--shaking hands etc). You have to consider your hands contaminated the whole time and don’t touch anything/decontaminate (soap and hot water/Purell/ethanol/bleach) frequently
— Remember, cloth/disposable/surgical masks probably DON’T protect you (there may some minimal protection, but only against droplet/direct gross contamination)— they are there to protect everyone else from you
— If you wanted to TRULY protect against what is almost certainly an airborne threat you’d need to wear an N95 mask and goggles.  I DON’T think you should attempt to reach this level (I don’t think it’s possible, actually, for a bunch of reasons including you’ll never find them, won’t wear them properly secondary to discomfort/poor practice, etc)
— Unfortunately, closing your eyes fast isn’t even in the realm of being helpful.  Your face is not contaminated (severely) as are your clothes and the air you breathe in. I told him my uncle I probably don't need goggles as I can turn away from sneezes... đŸ˜¬


David said more, but it was about parenting and how the kids may not be being so safe right about now... we've seen this in person and online, so I don't need to add that here.

For me, this means I'll do the above. Plus... 
     -- I will wear my glasses instead of my contacts.
     -- I will most likely go with the scrubs option (at least on top - Hubby wants me to get the bottoms, too, as he thinks my jeans won't last through so many washings). 
     -- I will not be bringing any physical work home. Forget the backpack. 
     -- I might purchase recyclable water bottles for a bit, unless I can have Hubby put out hot soapy water in the sink before I get home to toss my much beloved water bottle in it.
     -- I will bring cold lunches in brown paper bags and have garbage instead of my reusable lunch bag.
     -- When I take my mask off to eat, I will only hold it by the ear loops and then place it face down on a clean surface like a Tupperware container specifically for the mask.
     -- I hear it's great to wipe my face when I do take the mask off - with simple facial wipes.
     -- I will keep my car key in my pants pocket.
     -- I will wash my hands/arms liberally before heading out to the car, and I won't touch anything on the way to the car.
     -- After my shower, I will make sure I spend some time outside. Being out in nature really helped me mentally and physically in the spring, and it's been helpful all summer long.
     -- I will search high and low for - and use - these disinfectants - in the car, wiping down my phone, I.D., and... ?
     -- I will continue to eat healthy, drink my probiotic, and get outside to exercise daily.

What are your tips? What have you heard that can help us stay safe?

P.S. How can I pass up these pants that are called "Joy" ??  I never knew there were such cute scrubs! I'll fork out the moolah. It's not like I'm buying anything this summer anyway.

Days 121-126 Ramblings

Sunday, July 12, Day 121 - Trump wore a MASK for the FIRST time in public. Well, to be fair, he wore it to visit wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Seriously? It's Day 121. Over three million Americans have died from COVID.  
Mecum auto auction was on television. I noticed many white men spending lots of money. I also saw masks and face shields and somewhat social distancing. I also heard the difference in speech of those with masks on and those with only face shields.

Monday, July 13, Day 122 - Rice University in Houston is going to host some classes outdoors - some in circus tents.
Our library opened! They still have curbside service, and I have to say I only touched the ONE book I checked out.

Images that have made me go, "Hmmm..."

Wed., July 15, Day 124 - More than 11,000 Children Test Positive for Coronavirus in Florida
Also... you can get a mask with YOUR FACE on it. I'm considering this clear one, though.
Also... Our superintendent hosted multiple Zoom sessions (with more to come for at least a week) to answer any questions we had about various items.
Also... I seriously practiced WEARING MY MASK IN THE HOUSE. I tried for 25 minutes.

Fri, July 17, Day 126 - 
What if #45 had SHUT DOWN the U.S. for three full weeks? Would businesses be up and running totally now? Would students and teachers be ready to go back to the buildings? I hate lingering on "what ifs," but this annoying bugger keeps biting me in the butt.
I love that many educators in my district are joining - and sharing thoughts - on our three book clubs this summer that focus on equity.
My district approved a resolution (?) last night at the BOE meeting: 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Day 120 - Hope

After three days of trying to stay away from the media or news or... everything hitting us left and right, and after three days of dealing with a migraine and heartache, I am emerging today, I am fresh from my first haircut since February, and I'm choosing to focus today on HOPE.

I would think "It's amazing what a haircut can do for your outlook." Yes. I know this is true, but I also see signs everywhere - through the murk and distractions - through the politics and news - signs that I need to continue to have HOPE. It may sound corny, but a quote a friend shared with me on Facebook is back in my brain today -
"Do not succumb to discouragement." ~Sr Pastor Dr. Michael Eaddy

  • My students have been posting helpful links on Instagram (probably other social media, as well, but I'm only connected to them through Instagram). Posts about Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, atrocities across the nation (and how to help), clothing lines from which to steer clear, why voting for Kanye won't help, reasons WHY others should care about soooo many causes. 
  • Students in my area are signing petitions and attending school board meetings...
  • Commercials on television, ads on my phone games, and news broadcasters all show others wearing masks. This message is from Uber:
  • Artists are doing their thing - helping us see so many sides of the angst in the world. (Alicia Keys HERE)
  • Sports are trying to start up again - in bubbles. Athletes are understood when they say they're skipping the season to keep their families safe. My hope here is that teachers are provided grace when we say we, too, would like to keep our families safe.
  • Athletes are speaking out against injustice - with players in their own leagues, with owners, with sponsorships... I am seeing beautiful role models. My pick-me-up show is PTI - I suddenly follow sports way more than I used to. Thank you to ESPN for sharing how Dream reacted to this woman:
  • I'm seeing posts about what educators can do to stay safe if IL schools truly are to go back to the school building full time in a month. I'm also seeing that some schools are sharing ways to keep some students and educators safe through hybrid models.
  • Just under 50 participants in my district signed up for the book club I'm co-facilitating around So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
  • I had a two-hour talk with two other white women regarding race and the anti-racist LiveBinder yesterday. It, too, was promising. We had tons of questions and knew we'd mess up. Still, we kept the conversation going.

There is HOPE in this world. Some days it's hard to find through the pandemic, politics, killings, threats, arguments, slander and bullcrap. Today I am physically and mentally healthy enough to see it, notice it, name it, and share it.

PLEASE try to take the breaks you need. Please reach out to others when you need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. You are NOT alone. I'll be reaching out when needed, as well.

Oh, and a haircut may have done me some good, too...
 I'll never again not think of haircuts as a luxury.
Before - and - After

Updated 7/16/20 (Day 125):
  • My district has three book studies going on this summer to help educators and administrators keep the conversations going about equity.
  • The line above - means educators who were quiet on Twitter for a bit are becoming more vocal about their ideas about How to Be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. I have hope that this means they'll continue to use their platforms to share more widely with the world. If I don't see them on Twitter, I have hope that they'll become more comfortable sharing more publicly at some point. Their tweets from a district chat last night show me they believe it's important.
  • My district's superintendent is hosting tons of Zoom meetings in this week ahead to answer questions from all staff.
  • My mom and I had a great (Google Duo - like FaceTime) talk last night. We both cried, and yet we're learning more about how to talk to one another about the tough issues.
  • This thread from a doctor is so amazing, as it brings up so many OTHER issues I haven't really heard others share (yet).

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Day 111 - Fears & Worries

Note: This is not one of my posts I would share with the world. This is reflection. This post helps no one but me. It's writing I have to get off my chest. I suppose many of my COVID posts are like this... hence not sharing via social media. Reflection can be therapeutic.

I WANT to be back in school.
I want to sit with my students in a group and facilitate their tough discussions.
I want students to socialize with each other and learn from each other.
I want to see their smiles and hear their stories.
I even want to help them LEARN!

That being said, I'm fearful and worried about everybody being in the school building again, and I just have to write about it.
  • My husband is 68 years old. 
  • My parents (who I am able to distance from right now) are 76 & 85 years old.
  • We struggled mightily to find substitute/guest teachers when there wasn't a pandemic.
  • Some students come to school sick due to not having care at home.
  • It will be on us to be the constant reminder to "keep your mask over your face."
  • What type of learning can happen when students that are there are worried about getting the virus?
  • What type of learning can happen when students need to stay in their seats all day and aren't allowed to get in partners or groups?
  • How will we walk in the hallways between classes?
  • Some seventh graders lose things. All the time. Will we have backup masks in each room?
  • Eating in classrooms? It's kind of difficult to eat with a mask on... Supposedly I'm exempt from being required to eat with students. Will that staff need to be hired? Who will volunteer for that?
  • I hear that we'll have to monitor the bathrooms to be sure students aren't "congregating." And how are we supposed to do that while we're monitoring our classrooms down the hall? And then why am I seeing these students congregating in the neighborhood without masks?
  • If planners for this next school year are meeting remotely, what does that say about opening schools?
  • We may suddenly be back at home if someone contracts the virus. 
  • What we might be doing is not an "online course." I've read that online courses are effective. I'm glad. It also has nothing to do with what we tried in the spring. Online courses are CHOSEN by students. Classes are spaced out or completed on students' own time. Those who voluntarily take online classes most likely know how to prioritize and organize more than our K-12 students, or they have someone at home helping them along.
  • One of my students on our last Zoom meeting of the school year said that they were going on vacation the very next day with at least one other family. One of their friends shared via social media two days ago a huge gathering (100 or so?) at a local park where (although it was a quick video) I didn't spot anyone wearing masks. And that was just the latest post that got me even more fearful and had me write this post today. It is my fear that these will be families who will send their child to school, along with children of those families who need to send them because they have no other options.
  • I'm worried about some of the questions Sarah posted on this thread. (Update: Her blog post is listed below.)
  • I laugh and cry when reading this thread from Jen Roberts.
  • I'm worried I won't be the teacher they need.
  • I'm not worried about getting sick. I'm worried about my husband and parents getting sick. I'm worried about how my husband and parents would RECOVER from being sick.
I have a feeling I'll be adding to this post as the day we return to school buildings gets closer.

I feel as if whatever way we go, there will be educators and parents and educator-parents who will be worried, fearful, and feel they have no choice as to what to do based on income, family, and position. I don't have the answers. I'm just fearful and worried. And yes, the income for our household is on me.

And I WANT to be back in school.
I want to sit with my students in a group and facilitate their tough discussions.
I want students to socialize with each other and learn from each other.
I want to see their smiles and hear their stories.
I even want to help them LEARN!

I'll be smiling in front of students, no matter my fears. I'm aware I'll be setting the tone. I've purchased two masks with messages for my students: "I am here for you." "Let's learn." I wish this one didn't command others to "smile..." It may just be my yearbook photo, however.

Update 7/3/20 - I was intrigued by this idea, yet know it's very unlikely to happen.
     I never added ISBE's recommendations... HERE they are.

Update 7/12/20 - More stories to read...that I might not actually read myself.
     3 Arizona Teachers Test Positive for COVID-19 After Sharing Summer School Classroom, 1 Passes Away
     How Many Sick Children and Teachers Are Worth It?
     Nobody Asked Me: A Teacher's Opinion
     Mask to Mask Instruction May Be More Problematic than Distance Learning
     Nation's Pediatricians Walk Back Support for In-Person School
     'I Don't Want to Go Back' Many Teachers are Fearful...
     Thinking about Reopening Your Schools? Read This First...
     Photos: How Hong Kong Reopened Schools, and Why It Closed Them Again
     No One Wins, But No One Dies...
     Facebook thread...
     What Teachers Want You to Know about Reopening Schools

Update 7/18/20 -
And to those who are thinking... what about everyone else? Why should teachers not have to go back to work? How are they so different? (Note - I did NOT tweet this, as I know there are sooooo many pieces to this puzzle that I don't even know about, in addition to the pieces I DO know about, and again, I do not have a good solution.) Not so different? Try being surrounded by 150 preteens/day - many who don't even wash their hands during flu season. We can go back to work remotely, like many others have done. There is no easy solution, but we have a few weeks to hear other ideas. Plus, as a nation we could try three full weeks with masks and distance.

Some Students Should Go to School; Most Should Stay Home - opinion piece from 7/17/20

I Spent Three Weeks in School with COVID19 <-- Will in-school be like this??