In this episode, we speak to Dr. David Conrad, professor of Educational Administration at Governors State University. Dr. Conrad discusses trends in principal leadership in the State of Illinois, including responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My middle grades teaching career began in August 2003 when I found a teaching job in line with the guidelines for the Master of Arts in Teaching alternative route to certification. My family moved from the metro suburbs to a rural community. Yes, we moved one day, and I attended a teacher inservice the next.
I worked full time as a 7th and 8th grade teacher of record with a provisional license, teaching three classes of each grade level for a total of approximately 160 students. The administrator and language arts department assisted me, but I had come from the private sector — administrative assistant in marketing — and feared relying on others too much. Certainly I could handle reading 160 essays, providing feedback, and grading revisions before the statewide portfolio assessment was due.
Teaching full-time, grading students’ papers and writing my own, and leaving two little ones behind while I attended class each Saturday made me question (many times) why. I felt stuck — we had moved, I needed to finish this degree, and I did not know if I could handle one more day. One Saturday, I entered the university classroom, saw other students with their composition notebooks, and realized my journal assignment was incomplete. Before class even started, I had hot, overwhelming tears of frustration spilling from my eyes, no longer containable.
It is years later, and I am okay. I have written several times about classroom successes and exciting professional experiences. My colleagues — friends — make me thankful each day for choosing such an amazing career.
But not everyone is okay right now.
The Padlet board “An Anonymous Teacher Speaks” reminded me of hot, overtired, stressed, one-more-thing tears of not enough — not enough me to be my best.
Not enough of my best to read, provide feedback, and grade
and learn new technologies, plan engaging instruction, implement online activities
and conference with students and parents
and attend workshops, trainings, and committee meetings
and be a parent
and be something for myself.
I hear you.
Tell me how I can help you be okay.
When the weekend feels the same as any other day of the week, it is difficult to make Monday feel like a real workday. Or Tuesday. Or whatever day this is.
The current “learning” situation: two children have been e-learning since March 17. Somewhere during that time was a spring break. The college junior was on spring break for two weeks and has had online classes since March 30. I was on spring break for one week, designed online lessons the next week, and started teaching online March 23.
Moving everything online has tapped me out. I like teaching my summer online course, but I get to plan ahead of time how to monitor discussion board posts, projects, and assignments. In face-to-face classes, our “discussion board posts” are class discussions using big pieces of butcher paper. Everyone has been challenged in multiple ways, but this is seriously affecting my ability to focus on anything tangible. Another day passes and I still have over 100 discussion board posts/comments/replies.
Was it the right move for me to shift whole class meetings to small group and individual Zoom meetings? I do know that providing a more flexible online class schedule allowed some of my students to pick up extra shifts at their second jobs (second) when their primary employers (daycare worker, teacher assistant, etc.) closed doors. However, other students are Missing-In-Action, not responding to my emails, announcements, or other requests for communication.
And I get it. My own college daughter is struggling with her professors’ expectations, all of them different.
- Does this professor expect discussion board posts?
- Is this the class that requires a comment on someone else’s post?
- Am I supposed to watch this video-recorded lecture?
- Which PowerPoint slides go with this quiz?
As a program coordinator for secondary English education, I have to ask questions from the teacher preparation standpoint, as well.
- What has the pandemic and remote learning changed how we think about classroom preparation?
- What will schools/districts expect student teachers to know how to do this fall or next spring (especially if there are thoughts of another extended closing)?
- Will principals require two weeks of remote learning activities in teachers’ back pockets as opposed to the traditional 2-3 days of substitute teacher lesson plans?
These are important conversations to have now – right after I read these new discussion board comments, log student engagement, and email anyone who appears to be struggling like I am.
Tell me where you are struggling.
The new semester begins barely days after the summer term ends. I feel mostly ready for classes this week – there are always details and adjustments I can continue to make if I let myself; yet, it is important to take a few minutes to reflect on what I learned from teaching this summer’s online course before it fades into a too-distant past.
One course, the middle grades English Language Arts methods, was a hybrid with a blend of face-to-face meetings, email check-ins, and asynchronous online engagement. Even though it was a short, 8-week summer term, we created a community of learners who learned a great deal from one another. The presentations, interactions, and conversations challenged each of us to consider the middle schooler at the heart of instruction. Informal feedback seemed to indicate positive responses to the overall course design, which demonstrates that necessary changes from the previous summer have moved the course in the right direction.
This was the third summer teaching the second course, the young adult literature with a methods focus. The first summer was a complete shake-up finding a new professional text as the anchor and developing genre explorations through choice literature selections. The second summer built upon the lessons learned from student feedback with changes to some novel selections and the sequence of assignments. Students responded positively to this second iteration of the course — its design, the choice YA literature selections, and the assignments — at least informally. It seemed to be moving in a good direction.
The course as it has evolved first asks pre-service candidates and current teachers working towards master’s degrees to learn “who” would be in their classrooms by interviewing teenagers and posting the transcripts on our discussion board. The cross-interview analysis requires candidates to consider the reading and writing interests of these teenagers as well as suggest a book for one of them with a book talk. Other assignments have the candidates engage with writing as they would have their own students do in the classroom. They collaborate on Google Docs on scripts that have different book characters “talk” to each other in other settings (talk show, alternate endings – based on Jennifer Buehler’s Teaching YA Literature). Through Google Classroom, a popular platform across school districts, candidates post summaries of novels and connect to one another’s posts through questions, comments, and possibilities for classroom use.
Enter this summer.
Throughout the summer, most candidates had shared with me the difficulties they were having in balancing this class with their work and family responsibilities. Many candidates told me how burnt out and stressed they were with having a final, required course before their student teaching capstone internship in the fall. I met with a candidate who shared how his initial confusion and frustration changed after he acclimated to the rhythm and flow of the assignment schedule. This did not seem to be true for others. Surveys indicated negative feedback with pacing, texts, assignments, instructor availability – nothing seemed to work well for the few candidates who submitted the formal Student Evaluations of Instruction. These surveys are anonymous, but notably no graduate students responded.
After receiving the SEIs, I emailed each candidate for feedback on the course so that I can improve its design and my role in instruction. I am particularly interested in hearing the voices of the unrepresented graduate students. Though the feedback anyone provides at this time will not be anonymous, I hope they will share honestly in order to guide me in further improving the course. However, I do wish concerned and stressed-out candidates had reached out to me early in the summer. Perhaps my lessened role in this course compared to their previous methods courses with me was off-putting. I wonder if we had not formed the necessary relationships during the fall and spring semesters to maintain the connection they needed at this pivotal point in their program.
I am a reflective practitioner who will consider all feedback, anonymous or not, as I begin this new semester. It is my job as instructor, program coordinator, and university supervisor to develop future teachers. My job does not end in the classroom; it only begins there.