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My Classroom Management Strategies During a Pandemic

Me in my favorite work mode- at home, on the couch, in fuzzy socks.

Better late than never, am I right?

As we enter the fourth week of school, I’m finally starting to get into a bit of a groove with juggling all aspects of life I’ve got going on. We have everything moved, we’re working on getting our house ready to sell, I’ve got some BIG career things coming up, and now I can finally dedicate more time to the blog- in addition to school, gym, feeding myself, etc…

It really never ends.

I’ve been pretty frustrated with school and my district as of late, but I’m here today to share with you some of the things I’ve been doing to make this year a little more tolerable. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got kids that have been out for varying weeks at a time, have more things piled on my plate every day, and just when I think I’ve caught up- WHAM! I’m getting yet another ask.

I’ve decided I’m going to be very firm this year on boundaries. I’m not taking work home, (because when I go home I’m working on my business!) I’m not holding 17- and 18-year-old hands to get work done, and I’m not complying with a million last-minute requests. I’m going to keep my sanity, give these kids some accountability, and do my best to at least make it to Christmas while grinding nights and weekends on getting my absolute dream job!

Sound good? Wanna know how I’m doing it? Let’s talk.

The week I’ve been having…😅

After the fiasco that was virtual/hybrid learning last year, I decided to completely overhaul my course structure. I wasn’t happy with the way I was doing things and wanted to decrease lecture time in favor of student conversation. To begin, I ask the students a question that is not related to the class. Some of these include:

  • What is your favorite type of dog?
  • What emotion have you been feeling the most today?
  • What is the best fast food restaurant?
  • If you could vacation anywhere, where would it be?

Most of the time, these discussions are ten minutes tops. A little bit of class time in exchange for students who are ready to talk, feel heard, and relationship-building galore! As they answer these questions, I pull out prior responses and it really helps to strengthen our relationship. It’s fun for me to learn more about them!

That’s not to say that I’ve stopped lecture. Definitely not! Lecture is how I convey historical topics to my kids like a story. I throw in weird or fun facts to keep them on their toes, and they really enjoy hearing a historical narrative. I make sure they keep in mind that the people we talk about were real people, with thoughts, emotions, and families just like they have. The wide-eyed looks I get when it clicks for a kid that the difficult events we talk about happened to a real person are why I decided to keep lecture, even if it’s pared-down. It’s fun, and I ask them questions as I’m speaking so they stay engaged and interested in the topic. As we continue into more recent events, I’ll be showing videos to help the kids actually visualize these events as happening to real human beings. A personal favorite of mine is this video that I always show when we talk about the Vietnam War. Showing my juniors and seniors these soldiers who are not much older than they are really drives home the brutality and unpredictability of the war environment.

I always end the course with at least 30 minutes for students to complete any missing or current assignments. They can ask for help, I can meet with them one-on-one, and we can keep in contact daily. I don’t assign “homework” and instead give them work that they can complete in class- if it’s not completed in class, then it must be done at home. On Fridays, I use an Intervention Sheet (freebie!) completed by each student to track their progress and have them lay out what they need to get done. I’ve found this to be a good tool for keeping students organized and on top of what needs to be done.

In the past, I’ve always had students working with primary sources and doing DBQs, but I wanted to bring that into the classroom in a different way- one not so structured. My district has set literacy goals in place for each school, so I’m using daily reading time to work towards that goal as well. Sadly, I have many students that are not reading on grade level. This everyday reading helps to improve their literacy, confidence, and vocabulary by bounds. Daily reading has improved my students’ understanding and given them background knowledge that they would not have otherwise had access to. When I’m lecturing and ask questions, they actually know the answers now thanks to their readings! They are able to speak to each other about them intelligently and expand on ideas that students haven’t understood well in the past. I’m definitely going to keep the daily readings as a part of class time. To see what I’m using, check out my updated, daily pacing guide on TpT!

This isn’t sustainable.

While I’m excited about my new class structure, I’m also insanely frustrated.

Our district is hell-bent on remaining in-person, five days a week, and I’m drowning. Various students are out for two weeks at a time and when they come back I’m expected to get them caught up?!?!

I’m having to remind the same students multiple times a day to wear their masks correctly for all of our safety, but they are not seeing any consequences. I’m expected to be in the hallway, sanitizing my desks, watching the students filing into my room, and reminding them about mask-wearing and dress code simultaneously!

How in the world am I supposed to do that? It’s physically impossible.

On top of all this, I have to keep up with absences, make plans for those absent to make up work, figure out when and where absent students will take the test they missed, keep up with IEP and 504 modifications, stay after school for tutoring at least once a week, make sure the children in my room don’t kill each other and teach my regular students new information.

My planning is taken by mods, covering other people’s classes, and meetings. I have next to no time to even grade, let alone leave meaningful feedback. I finally had to reckon with my students (a class of 29 with only 17 present) and explain that I am not physically able to catch 12 people absent for varying two weeks up on information and work while trying to grade, teach, and the myriad of other things I have to do for this job. I can’t do it, and frankly, I’m not being paid enough to attempt it. I explained to them that their education is their responsibility, and they must keep up. If they have questions, they must ask them immediately. I have one student who was on quarantine for the first two weeks of school. He came back for maybe two days and now is gone again until the end of the month.

This isn’t sustainable.

Sneak peek of the guide!

That being said, I used the summer to overhaul my American II course and have made it the best it’s ever been. I’ve implemented the changes I talked about before, linked all my note sets, readings, reading questions, assessments, and broken it down minute-by-minute. It’s a living document, meaning I’m continuously adding to it as I teach and see what works and what doesn’t. This style and breakdown aligns much better with the student-centered model I’m using to teach. They’re telling me about their readings. They’re answering the questions during the lecture. They’re telling me their favorite candies during SEL time! I took everything I’ve learned, created, and found over the course of five (!) semesters teaching the same subject, and put it into this detailed semester breakdown. I’m so proud of it! If you want to streamline your classroom, get new and updated lesson plans and materials weekly, and stop stressing about what you’re doing next week (no more Sunday Scaries!) check out my new American History II Pacing Guide. It’s only $10. 😉

All that said, I’m still feeling pretty excited. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled over the past year feeling very dissatisfied with teaching. Between the mess that was virtual school, sketchy district decisions, and even just the first four weeks of this school year, I’ve been feeling extremely burnt-out. It wasn’t even just those things, but also the realization that I have no upward mobility in teaching. I don’t want to get into administration (sometimes they get screwed even more than we do!) and I don’t know if I want to continue in academia by getting a Ph.D. I knew I wanted something where I would be producing a product with a great team that I could be proud of, then moving on to the next project and thing to produce. I wanted a clear path upwards, where my hard work would be rewarded not just monetarily, but with a tangible product I can hold and say “I did this.” It took a long time for me to figure out what that would be. I love history, but I don’t think I love teaching quite as much anymore.

Then I found it.

Instructional design. Creating materials to make educators’ lives easier, and keep students interested and engaged in history. It’s perfect! It also affords me the wonderful opportunity to work from home- where I have the comfort, security, and time to really focus on what I’m doing and produce a beautiful product. I’ve been designing learning materials for half a decade now, and I can see myself doing it forever! There’s always something new to try and explore. There’s always more to learn! I really love it, and I hope to continue working toward making it my career. Plus, I get to keep my dog out of her crate all day. 😃 I’ve got a very exciting announcement coming soon related to that, so be on the lookout!

Me in my real life…

To wrap it up, somehow I’m staying sane. I’m taking time for myself to be creative, make new materials, and keep a life outside of school. I’m excited to be growing my skills, connections, and knowledge of this new industry I love so much. I’ve started reading again- finally! In the past month, I’ve read the Cruel Prince series, the From Blood and Ash series, the Bargainer series, and Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. If you have anything like this I should read, let me know! I’m always up for suggestions. We’re getting settled in the new house, and things are going well. I’m looking forward to football season and watching my nephew play while my niece cheers him on! Overall, I’m just really excited about this new chapter opening in my life. I’m ready to bring you guys along.

Don’t forget- if you want to make your teacher life easier, get a better work-life balance, and have ALLLLLL the materials you need, check out my new pacing guide!

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Cheyenne Green Vowell

Cheyenne Green Vowell

BA History. MA Education-Secondary educator, education copywriter, financial feminist. Maverick Educational Copywriting. https://maverickedcopywriting.carrd.co/