2020 Epic Fails

I swear, every single day of anything virtual seems to fall under epic fail in my classroom: Trip over a cord while in front of virtual and in-person kiddos? Check. Look into the wrong camera while asking students a question and they only see the back of my head? Check. Pencil sharpener going strong while I’m teaching virtual and in person? Check. Have the wrong video pulled up to present? Check. Students not on mute and having yelling siblings in the background? Check. Laugh at the end of every day and know like Scarlett O’ Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day”? CHECK!

Carla Kelly, 2nd grade

“2020, am I right?”  It’s become a mantra.  A way of explaining, with a shrug and an eye roll, that the whatever wildly unpredictable disaster that just ensued had less to do with us and more to do with the chaos that is this year.  And in this particular year, no one has a better excuse to claim the mantra than K-12 teachers.  What other occupation has been so violently disrupted in this pandemic yet remains so vitally important to the future of our society? But sometimes, because we care so deeply about what we do, it is easy to fall prey to the frustration when our best laid plans, things that we used to pull off without a hitch, go sideways because of tech or exhaustion or a combination of the two.    Here I don’t attempt to make any glib comments about how “we learn so much in failure.”  Of course we do; we all do, partially because our brains and bodies evolved to go into hyperdrive to remember, learn, and perform in moments of stress.  But that’s beside the point.  Sometimes failure just feels plain bad. And sometimes it helps to know we are not alone.  Without further ado, here are some amazing colleagues with stories of failure.  May we all be encouraged by their good humor and persistence in the face of challenge:

Margaret Clark, MS Latin, shares her story of a perfectly planned lesson GONE WRONG. We’ve all been there, friend. We’ve all been there.

Let’s just say putting a first question on a vocabulary test for third graders that asks for their names is quite important!  I will never forget having to ask 72 children to retake the test because I did not have a place for their names or emails on a Google Form.  I look back at it now and realize it is just funny, but at the time it was so embarrassing!

Carolyn Wilmesherr, 3rd grade

For my second unit in World History I this year, I think I tried too hard to shove last year’s Mesopotamia unit square peg into this year’s hybrid learning round hole.  Because planning my first unit had taken so many hours, I tried to save myself some of that time for Unit 2 by adapting old lessons and assignments to the new block schedule and hybrid/virtual environment.  It went wrong at every turn.  I realized halfway through the 2-week unit that my 9th graders were not absorbing much of anything I was trying to teach.  And it wasn’t their fault!  The way I had planned the use of class periods and homework assignments felt choppy and was only detracting from the already-inconsistent and hectic feel of school right now.  And activities that worked in a 50-minute period with all students in person, were taking twice as long in the hybrid environment. They weren’t learning, I was miserable, and by trying to save myself time I had actually created more work for myself. So I did something that felt very un-teacherly…I cancelled the essay they were supposed to write at the end of the unit, let them work on some stand-alone exercises for a couple of days…and then I started over.  I spent a (very long!) weekend rethinking a system that would work better for the kids and for me.  It forced me to break away from some old lessons that, frankly, I probably needed to drop years ago. And I finally implemented some methods I had learned about in the Global Online Academy classes I took this summer.  Things like creating a rhythm for each class period that was consistent from day-to-day and giving the kids a “menu” of assignments that allowed them to have some choice and agency in planning their days and got them off their computers for part of every period.  This time, about a week into the 2-week unit, I realized things were going pretty well!  The kids seemed to be adjusting to the new schedule and assignments, I felt like I had a better rapport with them.  It wasn’t perfect, there are things I will continue to adjust every unit.  But it was working, I felt a hint of “normal” school again.  I’m a person who HATES change. So I’ll confess that only that failure would have forced me to make the substantive changes I no know are necessary for my class to work this year. 

Emily Jones, 9th Grade History

Where do I start?!  First: There was the first 4th grade class where I forgot to turn on the mic and in the middle of class the teacher returned to tell me a parent had called and the kids could see me but couldn’t hear me! Second: Same day as the 4th grade oops! I was in 1st grade and didn’t want to have the same problem so I tried to make sure it didn’t happen and wound up turning off the camera. Third: Again 4th grade and add 3rd to the mix-up.  I had taught 4th grade and “thought” I had left their meeting – went to 3rd grade and began teaching, thinking I had joined their meeting.  15 minutes later Greg Buyon came in and informed me I was still in the 4th grade meeting, teaching 3rd grade science to them.  

Kathy Vial, 1st-4th Science
Emmi Sprayberry, US art, shares her stories of being a “repeat offender” in epic fails. #RELATABLE

I was giving a spelling test to 12 students in-person and 9 virtually. I created a google doc for at-home children to type call-out words, and a space for dictation. I thought I had turned spell-check off for this document, but I hadn’t. I got through 15 call-out words before one of my virtual students sent a message to me in the chat box: “Mrs. Howard, spell check is fixing all of the words I spell wrong”. 100s for everyone. 

Dalton Howard, 3rd Grade

Teaching hybrid is a lot like being a first year teacher.  You plan and plan, keeping in mind that you’re not only trying to engage the kids in front of you, but you also have to have a way for the kids at home to participate in the lesson.  And, of course, all of this depends on a reliable link to the internet, because if you don’t have that, all your best plans come to a screeching halt.  So here I was, working really hard to keep all the balls in the air:  Jamboard link set to “anyone in the network can edit” – CHECK!; computer linked to the apple TV so that the in-person kids can see their at-home classmates – CHECK!; ipad hooked into the google meet and streaming the class view so that the kids at home can feel like they’re part of the in-person action – CHECK!; computer plugged in because battery life is…well, you know! – CHECK!; breakout rooms created and students assigned – CHECK!; Google Classroom, syllabus, jamboard – all the tabs I’ll need set up in a new browser so that I can simply share a window without losing the view of all my at-home kids – CHECK!  And here come the kids, both at-home and in-person!  Suddenly, the at-home kids are saying they can’t hear me…well, maybe every third word.  This is the moment when you can lose it all as a teacher; do you simply “call it a day” and let the kids do their homework in class??  NO!  We’re better than that, right?  Luckily, during workshop week when we were testing the technology, our Upper School Head tried calling into the meeting and then using his phone as the audio communication device.  Of course, it took some trial and error to realize that all other devices had to be muted (the initial feedback was brutal!) but IT WORKED!  The lesson went off without another hitch.  Like we say, “Find a way, or make one!”

Linda Rodriguez, US Faculty & Virtual Saints Catalyst
Catherine Bishop tells the story of her fabulous plan to empower her dance students to help each other. It worked great the first time, but the second time around . . . not so smooth. I literally just had the same problem with a google meet recording last week, Catherine!

Epic fail last week… every time we move classes, we log in to that homeroom’s meet link. One day I was in Frame’s class and logged on to start my class. I was soooo confused… because, I saw Mrs. Pace in my meet! I thought to myself, wow, Susan really got mixed up and is in the wrong class! Turns out, I had logged in to Jimenez’s link instead of Frame’s link and I WAS THE ONE WHO WENT TO THE WRONG LINK! It got both classes, including us teachers, laughing hysterically.

Val Dembny, 4th grade math.

Many thanks to all of you for sharing these (oh so relatable) moments with all of us. May we all hold tight to the fact that we can only do the best that we can, that grace centers us in our imperfections, and that the most glorious part of being human is found not in our flawlessness but our ability to tell the story of our failures to our friends, laugh, and be possessed with the radical audacity to get back up and try again.

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