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Friday, July 17, 2020

What about our PPE? Teachers Need Protected, too.

On Tuesday, I called our pediatrician about our infant’s third ear infection in her short seven months.  They informed me they were not currently seeing sick kids in the office and set me up with an appointment at urgent care for later that morning.  

I was bummed because I love our pediatrician, but I completely understood.  Even though she wasn’t running a fever and wasn’t contagious, I appreciated the caution and care they were using regarding my daughter’s health and the health of other patients.  And really, after five restless nights, I was just excited to get some relief, for both of us. 

I’m impressed with how many ways the medical field has expedited the process of a routine office visit.  I checked in online.  I called to inform them of my arrival.  They texted me when they were ready for me to enter.  When I walked through the revolving doors, I was greeted by the nurse, fully gowned in PPE and holding the door for me.  She checked both of our temperatures before we crossed the threshold into the clinic.  She ushered me straight back to the exam room without either of us coming in contact with any doors or surfaces.  

The hardest part of the visit was the thirty-minute wait in the exam room trying to keep my infant daughter from pulling off my homemade fabric mask.  Though, given some wait times of over an hour in urgent care, this was nothing.  

The provider came in.  I was impressed by her PPE coverage: face mask, goggles, face shield, plastic sheath gown to cover her clothes, and new gloves when she sat down.  All of her personal features were completely unrecognizable.  I had no idea what she wore to work that day, what color her hair was, or even what her expression was when she saw us.  She may have looked like something straight out of a science fiction movie, but she was protected.  

Her first question asked if I wanted a COVID test for her.  It definitely caught me off guard.  First, is it really that easy to get a test?  Does my daughter need one?  And second, I’m here for an ear infection.  I have absolutely no concerns about her exposure to COVID. But, to the provider, this has become a routine screening.  After assuring her my child’s risk is low because she is not currently in daycare, we bypassed the test and continued with the exam.  

After a positive confirmation on the ear infection, the provider waited for me to pack my belongings and buckle my daughter in her car seat so she could hold the two doors for us our way out the door.  From the time I walked into the clinic to the time I left, I did not touch any surface of the facility.  


All this for a five-minute visit with two healthy people (minus an ear infection).  It was a little bit like the royal treatment.  During a dystopian novel.  

Then, I started thinking about what PPE coverage will look like for me, a teacher who could be forced into her classroom with 150 students in a building of more than 1,300 people. The nurse and doctor came in contact with two people, my daughter and myself, who are not high-risk individuals, and the amount of PPE they wore is far greater than what is being considered for any public teacher, especially in the state of Iowa.  

What will PPE look like for me as I spend 40-90 minutes in close contact with 150 students?  How often will I get tested for the virus?  How do I keep my students safe and socially distanced?  Will I wear a face shield with my mask?  Should I get a plexiglass barrier for my desk?  What about my students’ desks? Should I get different clothes to wear at work so my “nice” work clothes aren’t contaminated?  Will I not be able to hug my daughters until after I shower (like I have seen so many medical professionals do)?  

I am literally riddled with anxiety every day at all the factors that have to be considered inside a school system for this to be even remotely possible.  

As soon as I start to adjust to a new normal, more “guidance” is handed out by the state or federal level that contradicts and rolls back the work that has been done. And with all guidance, proclamations, and mandates, there is no talk of additional funding to support the needed PPE to keep teachers and students healthy.  But, that in itself, is another issue entirely. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Dear Students, I Miss You

This is not how I planned to introduce myself.  I planned to bounce into class Monday morning full of caffeine, baby pictures, and book recommendations.  I planned to take a day to connect with you, listen to you, and observe you. I planned to figure out where you were and what you needed.  Instead, I am snuggled in with coffee and blankets listening to my daughters play, and missing you.  

I wish I had advice to ease your uncertainties.  Heck, I wish I had advice to relieve my own anxiety.  Allow yourself, and others, a little grace. These are truly historic and unprecedented times.  No one knows how to act or how to respond.  

Don’t work on what you have going on in my class.  You are all in the middle of essays, and I do not expect you to pick that up after being away from it for four weeks.  We will figure out the next right step. 

Do read.  Read to escape, to learn, to understand.  Get lost in a book that comforts you or challenges you.  Did you know you can still check out books on your phone from home? I can help!  I will post recommendations for you on Instagram, on Twitter, and on GoodReads.  I hope to email you all specific recommendations, too!  

Do write.  I’m not suggesting write you multiple page essays.  Just notice, observe, and record your story. Write to remember.  Perhaps a note on your phone, a text message to a friend, or a journal entry.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal. I find that putting my words somewhere else frees up my mind and soul a bit.  

My goal during this time is to reach out to you, connect with you, and maybe even encourage you to read a book.  I plan to email each of you individually over the course of this week to check in and see how I can best support you.  If you have questions or need help before then, I would love an email from you! Keep me posted. Be in touch. 

Stay safe,
Mrs. Smith 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Teaching

I've been working on this list for over a year.  Trying to capture all ten years of teaching and growth has proven to be more challenging than I thought.  On the eve of the beginning of my eleventh year, here are some musings.   

10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Teaching

10.  I seriously love my job.  It's weird.  

9.  The kids are everything.  High schoolers are on the verge of figuring out who they are, and I love watching them experiment with life. 

8.  In order to be an effective reading and writing teacher, I must practice reading and writing.  There is no shortcut. 

7.  The lesson doesn't have to be perfect. 

6.  Policies and mandates are a reality.  Deep deep deep down, the intentions are good.  

5.  Teachers need to be empowered.  If you want true educational changes, let teachers do it.  

4.  Students will remember my passion more than they will remember the content and skills I teach. 

3.  I have learned so much.  Sometimes I want to apologize to my former students for what I know now.  

2.  I have so much more to learn.  And I will never stop learning.  The best teachers are the reflective ones.  

1.  Having and showing grace, especially within myself, is the most important thing I can do every day.    

Yes, teaching is hard.  Yes, teaching is stressful.  But it is also so rewarding.  And I can't see myself doing anything else.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Where to Start?

My anxiety shows up the minute I start to put myself back in school mode.

I am overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done in the few days I have before everyone else demands my time and attention.  I have grandiose ideas from my summer of reading and reflecting, and I want to implement them all now.  Right now.

A hint of guilt and regret creeps in as I am ashamed I haven't done more this summer to prepare and avoid this feeling.  But that is quickly swept away with memories of chasing the cutest toddler ever.  We filled our days with swim lessons, music classes, story times, park play dates, zoo trips.  It's much easier to forgive this guilt now than it was five years ago.

Right now, though, I can't even make a list.  I have no idea what list to make.  Lesson plans to create, classroom to organize, new grading practices to adapt, new curriculum to review, copies to run, websites to set up, letters to write, syllabus to update.  Where do I even start? Writing this down seems like a good place.

This feeling is all too familiar.  I can almost predict it.  Every year.  You'd think I'd learn by now how to get it together before August.  The most reassuring thing is that I have been there before and survived, prevailed even.

Until I make the decision of where to start, I can always go back to school shopping.  Hey, that counts, right?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Letter to my Students during Tragic Times

Dear Students,

I am so sorry.  I am sorry this hit so close to home for you.  I am sorry this is now part of your educational experience.  I am sorry I don't know what to say.  I am sorry I can't fix it.

There is a feeling that has haunted me all day because of this morning's events.  It's an uneasiness I can't explain.  It's a knowing that nothing will ever be the same in your world.  It's a protective reaction to keep you all safe and assure you there is still good in the world.

Every single one of the emotions and feelings you have right now is valid.  Each one deserves to be recognized and acknowledged.

I ask one thing: please don't hate.

To hate is an easy way out, and you are better than that.  I know the gut reaction.  I know the instinct.  But it doesn't do anyone any good to add to the hate. We've had enough.  Please find a way to rise above like the amazing people you are.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'" - Mister Rogers

I lean on Mister Rogers during times like these.  Sadly, it has come up too often in my life.  This perspective reassures me and strengthens my resolve.  I can't imagine what your future will hold.  You always have choices in times like this.  I hope you choose to be the good this world needs.

I don't know what I will say to you tomorrow when you fill my classroom.  I can imagine the looks.  I can predict the tone.

I do know I will do two things for you, always: I will give you a safe space.  I will listen.

Mrs. Smith

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ode to Grading

Ode to Grading
Nikki Smith

There you are
constantly taunting
my every thought
weighing down
my every hope

I want to read that new book
I want to capture moments of my heart
I want to dine with my favorite

But you haunt me
waiting for my undivided attention

I will pour hours into you
They will just glance at the number
Dismissing my stress and time
Ignoring the anxiety they caused
in asking, demanding your urgent return

I know you are always there
I know you are important
I know you inescapable  

You are my constant.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Importance of the Teacher Narrative

I want to capture the true teacher narrative.  My end goal is to have a series of stories that depict what it is truly like to be a teacher.  I will tell the stories of the celebrations, the complications, and the confusions that I face every day.  And how I wake up to do it all over again because I love the students.  

Often times, the public has a misconception of that the teacher's life is really like.  They see having summers off, school ending at 3:10pm, and playing with kids all day.  They have no concept of what really goes on behind the scenes.  Teachers are often not seen as professionals.

The writings will be a series of vignettes, small snippets and insights into the world of teaching.  Some will be about students.  Some will be about lesson planning.  Some will be about the external pressures from outside my classroom walls.  All will provide an honest perspective of the challenging and rewarding career I look forward to everyday.