Pivot

Educators in Ontario are starting 2021 by pivoting. Again. 2020 saw us pivot from what we quaintly referred to as “school” to “emergency remote learning” from April to the end of June. Then, in my school board, high school teachers started September in “quadmesters” organized into what is possibly the weirdest teaching I can imagine (and one which I still cannot describe succinctly): we teach one course for approximately four hours a day every other week. During that week, half of the class is in person one day and the other half is at home; the next day, they switch. Teaching is hybrid because the at-home cohort requires “some” synchronous connection with the in-class cohort during the day. Once both cohorts are home and have had a lunch break, they are supposed to do asynchronous learning for another hour. I’m pretty sure we used to call that homework, but whatever. The next week, we switch to a different course. Apparently, this is a mere pivot from our previous practice.

Now, as 2021 starts, we are “pivoting” again because Ontario is back in lockdown – or at least partial lockdown. First, we’re teaching fully online for three weeks. Because that doesn’t feel quite challenging enough, we are going to teach two classes a day for 112 minutes each (the two classes which we previously taught on alternating weeks for 225 minutes). The instruction must be synchronous for some amount of time that I can no longer remember, and there will still be an asynchronous component at the end of the day for those whose heads aren’t already spinning.

Also, while no one knows exactly what will happen, we’ll probably pivot back (re-pivot? un-pivot?) for the last week of January when we may or may not return to the original 2020 quadmester plan, except that this would give one course a full week of instruction and the other course none – so I may or may not be seeing the students who may or may not need something to learn. I mean, it’s not a problem because when we get there, we’ll just pivot.

But the current pivot means that all I need to do during winter break is cut my pre-planned two weeks of hybrid daily instruction plans in half, spread them over three weeks and – maybe? – two days, download and practice using a few apps (hello, colleagues who have time to practice with me) so that fully virtual learning can go smoothly, convert any planned in-person instruction to a different delivery mode, and get ready to handle any residual upset the students might be experiencing from the last time this happened – when we told them we were extending March Break & then separated them from all their friends & didn’t allow them back in the school for 5 months.

You know, pivot.

As 2020 ends and people suggest various phrases that define the year – “You’re on mute” is a fave – I vote for “pivot.” Oh, how I have come to loathe that word. To me, it implies an easy twist to a new position. Just turn a little and keep doing what you were doing. No biggie. No need to reconsider your pedagogy to take into consideration the trauma adolescents might be experiencing as the world around them goes haywire. No need to think about how that affects their ability to learn. No need to recognize that in-person, hybrid, and online education are, in many ways, entirely different beasts. No need to examine which educational practices are foundational and which are, perhaps, merely habitual. Just pivot.

So I looked it up. Because I’m a word nerd like that. And, while I regularly tell my students NOT to start essays with definitions (Dear Heaven, but they don’t need another way to avoid saying actual things), I’m going to share two of the definitions I found at dictionary.com.

Pivot
– to modify (a policy, opinion, product, etc.) while retaining some continuity with its previous version
– Basketball. to keep one foot in place while holding the ball and moving the other foot one step in any direction.

Suddenly I am back in high school, playing basketball with my athletic younger sister at the top of our driveway. She is on the Varsity basketball team. I am terrible at basketball, and my inexpert play is not helping her improve her game. Frustrated by my inability to block effectively, she sighs, “Just… set a pick,” and she places me between her and the basket. “Spread your feet, bend your knees a little, and stand still.”

I do, and she dribbles around me again and again, her brown hair flying as she finds different ways to create space for her shots. Sometimes – often – she pivots, confusing the imaginary defense before she spins around me and shoots.

Pivot, huh? Keep one foot in place and move the other foot in any direction. Retain some continuity. It sounds easy when the government or our school board assures people that we will simply pivot to online teaching, but I know better. Pivoting isn’t an effortless turn, a round peg gliding smoothly in a round hole. I think of my sister, relentlessly seeking improvement, earning her starting position one afternoon at a time, bouncing and bouncing, turning and turning, intentionally putting obstacles between herself and the basket. She was working.

Thanks to twowritingteachers.org for hosting this weekly space where teachers can hone their writing skills – and have fun doing it!

Still, even if we had to work at it, we had fun on those afternoons, and we got better – or she did, anyway. I didn’t, but I was mostly just standing still. It wasn’t easy, but, well… I think I need to go try out a couple of new apps. I’ll try to remember to keep one foot in place, but I’m constantly stepping with the other because on Monday, we pivot.

Over the edge: Slice of Life 17/31 #SOL20

It is only Tuesday. I had to double-check that after I wrote it. I checked twice. Still Tuesday. I’ve been holding it all together pretty well, but today has taken it out of me.

7:30am – after a restless night, the phone startles me awake. How am I still asleep at this hour? On the other end of the line, my mom is saying that she is going to go ahead and drive up for her planned visit. My grogginess disappears. I ache to see her, but she should NOT cross an international border (with corned beef and cabbage in the back seat, and a giant stuffie in the passenger seat) for a brief visit during a global pandemic. I know it sounds really obvious when I put it like that, but I really really want to see her right now, and I know she wants to see us. What usually feels like an easy drive with a quick pause at the border is insurmountable in the new reality of COVID19.

9:00am – Eric and Andre have made sausage biscuits (which I pretend is “homeschooling”). I post a picture online because he is so dang cute and immediately feel guilty because it’s basically all show. By now, all the construction guys have arrived and they have a LOT of cutting to do. For much of the day, one guy is in the basement cutting through the concrete with a wet saw (?), another is sawing and hammering something just outside the front door, and two more are either finishing siding – pound pound pound – or cutting through brick to finish a window on the second floor. Sometimes the whole house vibrates. I spend the morning trying to either a) convince the children to unpack their bedrooms or b) do some work for my online course. I am successful at neither.

Every few minutes, the noise crescendos and everything I am thinking about disappears. Eventually I cobble together enough thoughts to realize that I am living Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”; this would make a good slice, I think, but as soon as the idea takes shape, the pounding recommences, the walls shake, and the crew continues to work.

I try to unpack but run into the tetris conundrum: we can’t put anything in the master bathroom because they are cutting a window in the wall, so the bathroom stuff is stashed mostly in the closet which means that I can’t move the things from the bedroom to the closet which meant that I can’t… you get the picture. I call a friend. As we talk, the fire alarm goes off – for the first time.

At least the continuous bone-rattling clamour mostly prevents me from worrying about how to reconcile social distancing and construction work. In the precious seconds between chainsaw buzzing, I console myself that these men have been crawling all over this house for 9 months. They spend more time here than at their homes. And our house isn’t actually all the way finished, so we don’t have a lot of choice. We clean a lot and don’t hang out with them much. It’s the best we’ve got. 

12:00pm – I keep trying to work. I have essays that need marking, an online course that requires reading, and a blog that needs writing (that’s this one), but the more I try to focus, the more I feel sick. Am I feverish? I don’t think so, but my head hurts a lot. Our exchange student, God bless him, asks if he can go to his girlfriend’s house. I feel like I should say no, but Europe has closed its borders; Canada has all but closed its border; Ontario has declared a state of emergency; this pandemic could last for months, and this poor sucker of an 18-year-old is stuck in our nearly-finished house with a tween and a mouthy 9-year-old while the walls shake from construction. So we say yes, with strict instructions for them not to go out at all. He smirks and says that “shouldn’t be a problem.” Sigh.

1:15pm – The fire alarm clangs on and off for over an hour before they figure out what’s causing it. The furnace guy comes to check the furnace and then leaves again. My head is still pounding and now my stomach hurts, too, so I go for a walk in the neighborhood – nevermind the occasional “wintry mix” that is our weather. My heart falls as I walk past shuttered business after shuttered business. The coffee shops, restaurants and hair dresser, all closed. The playground in the park is abandoned. Only the local pot shop is thriving: the line stretches down the street. So this is what it’s come to.

3:45pm – I walk for a long time and my head starts to clear, but eventually I have to go home. I’ve just put in earplugs (as useless as getting out a broom during a tornado) and settled as far as I can from the noise, when an infernally loud beeping begins. It’s not the fire alarm; now, between shrill yips, a calm computerized voice says, “carbon monoxide detected” over and over and over.

We grab the kids and hurry them down stairs as the construction lead comes in and begins to open the windows. Clearly we need to get out of the house, but everyone is quarantined or social distancing. And while it’s not actively spitting snow/rain/sleet, the skies are ominous. I think on my feet and suggest our friends’ place – they’re still on vacation (in Mexico! imagine!) and their house is empty. We know the code for their keybox. We hurry down the street only to discover that their back gate is iced shut. The kids offer to scale it just as the wintry mix begins again. I text our friends; they are delighted to let us use their house. The kids find the key box & get the door open. 

3:55pm – we are in. No one is hammering or sawing or pounding. There is no fire alarm, no carbon monoxide. I don’t have my computer or anything to do. No matter: I sit in the glorious silence. Slowly my headache subsides. The boys are on the other side of the house, watching TV and I am just sitting. I have not done any of the things that needed doing. I have not read or marked or written. I haven’t unpacked or cleaned or cooked. I haven’t organized or even been able to think all day long. And I am so tired. 

I text my friend. I say that I am tired. He replies,

A move plus no school plus a deadly furnace plus a pandemic is a lot to happen in a week. 😦

6:00pm – as we walk back to the house, now free of smoke, carbon monoxide and sawing of any sort, I get a message from my sister: her boys are out of school until the end of the school year. She is panicking. My 9-year-old starts to say how awesome that would be when his brother hushes him. “This is really serious, isn’t it, Mom?” he asks. I nod. “Maybe I’ll start a journal when I get home,” he says quietly.

And then I know I am over the edge. I will need to sleep before I can think properly again. It’s a lot for one week – and it’s only Tuesday.  

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