By Rev. Mark William Ennis
Blog Number 21
May 25, 2020
Heroes in Hard Times
We are inundated with bad and scary news. During this month I will be doing blogs that celebrate heroes in our congregation. I hope that you gain some inspiration from these and receive a respite from the bad news that the media continues to feed us.
This is a shout out to Gregg and Martha (Marty or Marte) Martin. Gregg is an IT guy working from home and Martha is a local teacher. They juggle work and guiding their two boys as they home school. They are heroes! Marty described how they do it for this blog.
Thank you for asking about this new online education process and what it feels like as a teacher. It does feel good to be able to share.
Distance learning in my house exists on many levels. I have a son who is in 4th grade, Donny, and a son who is in 8th grade, Gregg, and then of course myself, a teacher of 8th graders. Then of course my husband, Gregg, who works from home too. So, here is a snapshot of a day in our lives.
Let me start by saying how lovely it sounds when people give the advice of “set a routine”, “make a schedule”, or “you need to have a plan for the day”. These are all wonderful, yet very unrealistic thoughts in our house. Here is why…
My husband will wake up any time between 5:30 am and 7 am to get the dining room table set up for the family learning and log himself on to work. This consists of some kind of easy breakfast food for us to pick at (fruit, cereal, muffins, etc. and something for the boys to drink). He also puts out each person’s Chrome Book or Laptop. (We are lucky to each have our own for the day.) Gregg has turned the upstairs guest room into his office, so he moves between there and downstairs throughout the day. I make every effort to wake up early, some days that works, other days it does not. It depends on how late I worked the night before. If I get up early, it is mommy time Yoga, if not, a quick shower, wake up the kids, and get downstairs. The goal is for everyone to be at the dining room table by 8:30 am with a fresh set of clothing and teeth brushed. Then I move to the living room for the first Zoom meeting of the day. While I am on my daily department meeting call (which I look forward to because it is outside adult contact) the boys must make a list of their assignments for the day, and check the times for their Zoom calls. Zoom calls require movement in the house so that we do not distract each other. You Zoom in the living room and do school work in the dining room. If Zoom meetings overlap, everyone shifts to find a quiet place, or mom goes to do chores (make lunch, prepare dinner, wash the breakfast dishes, etc.) while one child uses the dining room. Dad can’t move because he has phone calls all day.
After my 9:00 am meeting, I go over schedules with the kids, check their Google Classroom on my own, and we plan who gets help first. This is what I mean about “making a schedule”. The “Schedule” for the day is completely reliant on the Zoom meetings, and Zoom meeting times change every day after mine at 9:00 am. Now it is probably 10 am and we can make a plan for …. Today!
Then I dive in to help each of my sons with their work. Donny and I usually start with his reading while Gregg is either on a Zoom meeting or working on his daily work. Donny has to have his reading work completed by his Zoom meeting and this requires a lot of questions and typing. Sometimes to make sure he is done in time, he tells me what to type, and I type the answers for him. This way he will be ready on time. Then of course I might help Gregg with something he has to do. So while I do that, Donny will be either on a Zoom meeting, or practicing his instrument. Yes, we do that too! Practice, and record your assignments for the teacher. Sometimes I have to give up my laptop and trade for a Chrome book when we record because it does not work as easily on the Chrome books. That means closing out work and opening it up again on a new device. This pattern goes on most of the day. In between helping the boys (or when they are on their short breaks) I check in on the assignments with my students and look for emails and comments with student questions. I support my students as much as I can.
Lunch is determined based on Zoom meetings, so we always eat at different times. If I cannot get time to make lunch, my husband comes down and takes care of it for us.
Now the day is not just academics. We still have elementary school specials. One day is art, so Donny creates his artwork, then we take a picture of it and email it to the teacher. On Music day he has an additional Zoom meeting and then an assignment to complete. Gym is a few days a week so he has to log his activity for that. He also has a World Language class which includes another assignment on a specific website.
Now weather permitting, we try to fit in a break outside at some point during the day. This again is decided at the start of the day when we find out the Zoom meeting schedules. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have enough time, at the same time, to go for a walk as a family.
Now we also have Taekwondo classes, via Zoom, three days a week! This is fun, but more work. On those days, “all hands-on deck” is announced 20 minutes before class. This means we (my husband, the boys, and I) move living room furniture, vacuum, and get on our uniforms. While they get on the uniforms, I set up the laptop with Zoom. We have to use mom’s because it is the one that can hook up to the television easily, so that means me switching computers again. Class is about a half hour. Then one day a week we have a private lesson, and another day Donny has virtual dance class.
It sounds a little hectic, but it all really works at a pretty even pace throughout the day.
Of course, it is not always pretty. We get stressed out, and we all have moments of frustration. Sometimes I can’t help with math because I just do not understand 8th grade math. Then we email the teacher and ask for ANOTHER Zoom meeting for help. Or the questions on the reading for Donny’s science are harder than we thought. Or someone today has to work on an essay and it is hard for the teachers to help, so… mom helps. Some days mom is tired and not pleasant too. We all have at least one moment a day I think. We are learning ways to help each other through these moments too!
Then before I know it, Taekwondo (or dance) is over, the boys are finished for the day, and the house is rather quiet (unless Gregg is in the guitar -again), and I think great! My turn to do my work! Yeah! I can finally grade some papers and plan for tomorrow. But once I get set up I realize… it is time to make dinner.
So off to the kitchen I go. I make dinner, put food in front of everyone, and head back to the computer for my work. If I am lucky I can get right to some grading without too many emails to read and respond to. If not… I start grading later. Many nights I do not stop until I look up to see that it is 11pm and I still have to post tomorrow’s work. So when I finally get to bed it is after midnight. I know I am not the only teacher up either because the shared documents show other people working, and the text messages and emails are still going. This is the time many of us help each other with learning new technology, seeing which students need more help, deciding if our plans are working, finding out how to make things more interesting, and on it goes.
So that is a day in the life of what we call “Distance Learning”. It is not so terrible, but it is different. I love the time we have together as a family, even in the frustrating moments. We are lucky, my husband and I are employed. We have our health, we have a refrigerator full of food, we have plenty of “things” in our house to keep us from being bored, and we are all capable of doing the work that is assigned.
I pray every day for a cure to this virus. I want to safely return to the classroom, and move the seats to surprise my students with new lessons every day. I love to see their faces when they walk in and wonder what we are going to do today because the room looks different. That is so much fun. They are interested and they do not even know it. For now I will ask my daily questions to see how they are doing and hope that I can figure out what they need. We will all do our best and hope that we are able to teach and learn what we need to for the next school year.
Thank you for listening…
May we all imitate these teaching/parent heroes.
To read more of Pastor Mark’s writings, please order a copy of his book: