A little extra understanding

The email caught me by surprise. Maybe if I’d woken up earlier, or if I hadn’t already had to help one of my kids with math – before breakfast! – or even if I’d felt more on top of things, maybe then I would have been more prepared, but I wasn’t. Maybe if I wasn’t cooking breakfast and checking work email, navigating my children’s schooling, my partner’s morning meeting for work, and my own job – maybe if I’d been in the school building, I would have remembered to check the timestamp before reading, remembered my personal rule of thumb that middle-of-the-night messages tend to be more emotional and less filtered and are therefore to be taken with a grain of salt. But I was at home, managing all the crazy, and the email was unexpected.

I know the student who wrote, know that the parents are often more worried than the student, know that the student is doing fine – even well! – during this time of remote learning. I can imagine the student’s frustration at being stuck at home with parents and the parents’ frustration at being stuck at home with children. I could hear all of this in the words on the screen. I could guess that the parents, not the student, had laid out the phrases that I was reading.

But it still hurt to read a even a short diatribe about how I’m not doing my job properly. Welcome to Monday morning, the beginning of week 10 of emergency online instruction.


To be honest, I’m behind on basically everything, constantly scrambling just to stay near the crest of the growing wave of “things to do.” I’m behind on marking, on providing feedback, on creating new assignments for this new reality, on playing the video game I assigned as text. (Walden, A Game – it. is. awesome. for right now. The grade 12s who chose it are really enthusiastic about it.) I’m behind on navigating the apps and programs I suddenly need to do my job. (Look, I *know* that Screencastify is easy, but I haven’t had time to use it yet.) I’m so far behind on email that sometimes I just scratch the old ones off the list because they’re no longer relevant. At home, I’m behind on blogging, on commenting, on laundry – actually, we *just* caught up on laundry.

Still, I know that I’m doing the best that I can, and that my best is good. I’ve read a BUNCH about online learning and teaching; I’ve been focussing on building and maintaining relationships with students where I can, calling “missing” kids at least once a week; I’ve started a weekly lunch hangout with the English Department, just to chat. I’ve been attending webinars on best practices for online teaching and anti-racist education. I’ve even created a website for Grade 12, just to have a central space for information. I’m really proud of it – even if, to be honest, the students are working in three interest-based streams, and I’m having trouble keeping all the streams up-to-date. Sigh. I know that I’m focusing hard on creating and co-creating work that the students find both interesting and important. And I’m letting my home life fill me up (well, except when I’m negotiating the endless fights about screen time), remembering the importance of time away from work

So after I read the email, I stepped away from the screen. I went for a walk, talked to my children, tried to work. I allowed myself to imagine some *perfect* responses that were cathartic if not especially kind; sadly, neither sarcasm nor lecture are effective responses if learning is the goal. I wrote a nice email to one of my children’s teachers. (They have so many from me at this point that they probably don’t read them anymore.) In the afternoon, when I recognized that the negative words were still a heavy pit in my stomach, I called a colleague. I read her the email, and we laughed and talked. We chatted about this & that, swinging from work to everything else and back again. I was able to focus on some of the more enthusiastic responses I’ve received from students. I loosened up, then used my newly-restored good mood to write a supportive response to the student.

After all, change is overwhelming, and we each deserve a little extra understanding right now. Maybe my response will help my student remember that; it definitely helped me.

Join us at https://twowritingteachers.org each week; come write a Slice of Life!

16 thoughts on “A little extra understanding

  1. I don’t know a teacher who hasn’t felt this: “I could guess that the parents, not the student, had laid out the phrases that I was reading.” But, it still hurts. Especially when you are doing your best to balance all that is needed, prioritizing what you think is most valuable only to find that the student wants more. It’s exhausting and defeating and you gave more understanding to yourself and your student. What an incredibly valuable lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Thankfully it was a complaint about SpecEd support, not my classes. I think I would have broken down in tears if it had been about my classes. Not that SpecEd isn’t important, just that it’s harder to address remotely – though I *am* trying.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My heart sunk with yours. I can imagine the feeling, especially given how hard I know you (we are all) trying. Good for you for giving yourself time and space before responding…and for reaching out to a friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jess. I really wanted to write something complex this week. I’ve been wanting to for a while. I’m largely upbeat & doing well, but I want to share the push and pull of this time. We’ve all had those emails, those days. It seemed worth it to tease out how I responded & why I did it.


  3. I am sorry; that stinks, but we have all been there. I try to reframe those types of comments (it has taken me over 30 years) and think of them as just displaced frustration. A parent or student would like to use me as a punching bag because they don’t know where else to place what is really bothering them. It doesn’t seem fair, but it might be the only way they can cope at the moment. It is so hard not to take those things personally! Good for you that you distanced yourself from the situation and phoned a friend. I hope you have a relaxing evening!


    1. That’s exactly my attitude: at least this student knows that it’s ok to vent to me. I won’t go away or stop helping. Still, though I always end up in that more “zen” moment by the end, sometimes it takes me a while to get there. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You sound like an amazing teacher, giving choices, recognizing and learning about strategies for equity, making connections with staff and students. You are doing all the right things. I loved it when you said you knew screencastify was easy, but. . . haha – I will use it if and when I have to. It’s not my favorite thing. I’ve gotten some really interesting feedback from parents – and mostly they don’t love online learning. I can relate to that. 🙂


  5. Oh, it’s so nice to be back and reading an Amanda Potts slice. I know I can count on you to lay it all out for me–gritty and real and uplifting as well. (Not to mention beautifully written.) I’m sorry about the e-mail–I always feel sucker punched by that sort of thing in the best of times, and it’s hard to rebound. I’m so glad you took time, called a friend, and wow! wrote back a supportive e-mail. I do think that responding with understanding is powerful in the face of frustration and anger. Well done on all fronts!


  6. Oh yes, what we all (students,teachers,parents) need now is a LOT of understanding ! I have students writing about too much work, too little work, too short a timeline, my flexibility, my inflexibility, my patience, my lack of understanding – all in the same class. I sometimes feel like I cannot win; yet, inside I know that this is hard for all of us….and I try to be supportive while reassuring. I also realize parents are growing concerned about the prolonged time out of school with lingering worries for August/September returns. Parents are also tired from teaching, working, and becoming short order cooks. My own perspective is that 16 ounces of kindness is the best medicine!


  7. I’m so sorry. From this view, you are doing more than is humanly possible. Juggling all the family stuff along with distance learning just makes me hyperventilate. Hang in there!


  8. I hear you. i can relate. When you put your heart into what you do, then the heart is more open and harsh words catch it by surprise and can hurt deeply. You gave the compassionate response.


  9. The fact that your response helped you, too, is what mattered. Responding with support and kindness were the high road and I bet it felt good to take it after you drafted all of the snarky emails in your mind.

    I’m sorry you were told you weren’t getting it right. That must’ve stung when I know you are doing so much to help your students and your family.


  10. This time is so hard. You are doing so much. I am glad you sought the advice and listening ear of a friend/colleague. I am proud you role modelled an appropriate response to the student because learning was the priority. You are stretched thin, this is evident from the activities you shared. It is okay. I am sorry you were hurt. But, I have to say I think you handled it better than most! Hugs!


  11. The whole situation is unfair … to teachers, who had no choice but to go with remote learning, to parents, who never planned to have learning brought right into their homes when life is thoroughly disrupted and when they may or may not have jobs now, and to the kids … nothing replaces the authentic classroom community where the atmosphere is truly charged for give-and-take learning. It’s hard to know where the student was coming from and what really prompted the email … only that it was a place of hurt and that you were, for some reason, the safe or convenient target. With absolute grace you rise above the pain yourself – allowing time to craft a supportive response. This student is doing well – I suspect that even if there’s no official expression of remorse, it will be felt. Your best is always THE best, Amanda. It’s impossible to NOT be lifted up by you, even from a distance – I speak from my own experience. ❤


  12. It’s so hard not to take those things personally! So hard not to feel unappreciated! I keep trying to focus on the celebration moments. I love the way you took some time before reacting and then reacted with empathy.


  13. Wow…you handled this situation with such grace, knew just what to do with self-care to allow you to respond in a professional, caring way. As a campus, we’ve been focusing on boundaries (my principal calls them hedges) to reinforce in the interest of self-care and avoiding burnout; it’s almost comical–and sad– how those hedges all but disappeared in the pandemic. I noted one sentence in particular– “I’m letting my home life fill me up”. It’s the difference in perspective, isn’t it, that gets some people through this intact and others, well, in not such a good place. Hopefully your words helped this student and family gain a more positive perspective.


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