Secondary Reading League

Leaders for Literacy in Grades 6-12

Upcoming 2020 SRL Events

  • Online Book Talk: Thursday, July 23rd at 7pm
  • Day of Reading: November 12th

We Stand in Solidarity

Dear SRL Family,

It has been a difficult and trying time for many reasons and for many people. Please read the Letter of Solidarity from the Illinois Reading Council. Now, more than ever, LITERACY FOR ALL is a must! Our children are suffering and literacy is the ultimate healer. Literacy brings equality and a way for others to see that they are not alone in their suffering, no matter what that suffering entails. Educators also can bring equality and can provide a safe space for students to share their struggles. Thank you educators, for caring about others more than yourselves.

Also, around March 13th, when eLearning hit the world, educators started getting inundated with emails suggesting tools that we need to be using and resources that we must access in order to be good eTeachers. However, your friends on the SRL Board, Barb, Leigh, Jenni, Renee, Angel, and I, have agreed that what we really need is to hear others’ experiences during eLearning.

Let’s continue this newsletter in the SPIRIT OF SOLIDARITY. We need to laugh, nod in agreement, and throw up our hands in exclamations of “yes! Somebody gets it!”

So in this newsletter, rather than tell you what you should, need, and must do, we are sharing stories of what we have been doing under the heading of My World and eLearning. We invite you to do the same on Twitter @SRLreads #SRLTogether. Let’s bond and tell stories. Because that is what literacy is all about - sharing stories and being a positive influence on others.

Our World and E-Learning

Rachel’s World:

I loved it. It was everything I have always wanted life to be. Teacher, Stay-at-Home Mom, watching my kids grow up - laughing with them and just plain ENJOYING them.

Well, except for those days when my husband was sitting at his computer calmly typing and getting his work done for Corporate America while I was flying around the house queuing up different iPads, laptops, and cell phones for my four children and I to engage on school Zoom calls that just happened to overlap perfectly to bring about three hours of COMPLETE and utter chaos.

Oh, and then there were the hours prior to those Zoom calls spent making sure all my kids were looking normal (from the waist up) and ready for their Zoom school sessions. And then there were the Mom speeches about “this is school and you had better pay attention and be respectful to your teachers and no goofing around because even though I promised your teachers that your Zoom calls would be supervised, I have to sneak off and run my own Zoom school, so don’t embarrass me.”

And then when I finally sat down to work with my students, I would realize that I had to go to the bathroom, needed to brush my hair, probably should chew some gum just in case coffee breath CAN be smelled virtually, and had a nice sheen of sweat on my forehead. Thank God for Mute Camera…

And then those sweet high school faces would appear on my Zoom call and tears would come into my eyes and I would feel that pull- you know the one: I love you children like my own and I am hoping SO BADLY that you really are okay and I would hug you if I could!

And then the Zooms would end and I would return to my family and all was well and good and calm...I mean for my husband who was still just methodically typing away in his Corporate America bliss.

But I would not leave this crazy, unpredictable, meaningful career for anything. I am so grateful for my students and my community and our schools. Supporting, teaching, and learning with others, as my career and as a mother, are the ultimate blessings.

Leigh’s Keeping It Real World:

On a scale of Loving It To Barely Surviving, my quarantine experience was somewhere below Barely Surviving. These last few months have been HARD for my kids, my husband, and definitely for me. I thrive on working in a school and seeing 100 different faces each day. My students keep me on my toes, they make me feel alive, and they make me appreciate my own children more. Instead, on March 13, the governor announced that the next few weeks/months would become my worst nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong - I love my children dearly. They are my everything, but parenting has to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Our quarantine days consisted of my kids parenting themselves from 8 AM to 4 PM while my husband and I fought over the WiFi to get our Zoom calls in. Then, after spending the day counseling kids, learning and then teaching Chemistry and Geometry concepts, and trying to figure out this new grading system, we had to get our second wind in order to do eLearning with our kids. In normal times, that is not easy. However, during eLearning, it was near impossible. Our kids fought us on every assignment. On top of the homework, my kids go to PT, OT, Speech, and Art Therapy every week that now became another Zoom call.

There was crying (mostly us), yelling (them), and bargaining (both). In the end, we had to make some compromises, ditch some assignments, and just accept our new normal. If we have to return to eLearning in the fall, I know we’ll be alright, but someone, anyone, please come check on me to make sure I’m not crying in the corner when that happens.

Jenni's World:

I can remember my neighbor asking me in early March if my district had brought up the idea of e-Learning in case this new coronavirus came to our area. I scoffed at the idea thinking how silly it was for people to think this was actually going to come here and be anything more than the flu. But the same chatter started at my school soon after and on March 13th we were told to “pack up” anything we’d need for an undetermined amount of time.

Selfishly, I was looking forward to our initial three weeks away. I needed a break from the grind and I was looking forward to seeing my own children more than I normally would during the week. I got together with my co-teacher later that week and knocked out our first five days of eLearning. We were all too proud and thought, this won’t be so bad. After finding a schedule that worked with everyone in my house, it seemed to be okay...until it was not.

Fast forward to May and what once looked like a three week foray into online learning turned into a overwhelming attempt to balance online lesson planning, connect with students on newfangled (and totally awkward) Zoom calls, and maintain some sort of sanity while my own kindergartner needed help uploading his reading, math, art, science, and PE work on a daily basis. Did I also mention my husband still had to (really, got to, in my eyes) physically go to work every day? My kids were bored and dying to play with their friends. Lots of bargaining happened between myself and my kindergartener just to get him on his Google Classroom meeting in the morning. I couldn’t deal with always feeling “on” due to students emailing at 11 pm or turning in assignments whenever they felt like it instead of adhering to the perfectly good schedule I created for them at the beginning of the week (“Schedule? I never saw that.” – I think you all know what I am referring to here.)

Everyone was angry and frustrated and I felt like I was going to lose it at certain points. But eventually I had to learn to be okay with learning happening at different times and really looking at what was important in my class – helping those kids who are also grappling with whatever their “new normal” was at that point. Certain expectations went out the window and getting by was good for now.

Angel's World:

Finding a balance and keeping many plates spinning at one time had me feeling like a circus clown from March - May. Initially, I had to figure out how to keep my 75 year old mother safe due to comorbidity issues that would make surviving Covid-19 very difficult. Planning for sheltering in place and making sure we had appropriate supplies was challenging. If there is one thing I am glad I am always meticulous about, is having an abundant supply of toilet paper at home. The toilet paper memes alone provided me with daily laughter all through March. I appreciated the little breaks of humor through memes. Keeping my 4 year old son learning at home meant creating activity stations all over the house. Turning my home into a “home-school” resulted in many Amazon packages arriving at my front door.

The ability to think creatively was impossible as I balanced creating online lessons for students and keeping an active boy busy. I needed activities fast and practical so that we all could survive. There were pangs of guilt as I considered all the essential workers who were involved in each purchase and delivery. I learned a whole new level of appreciation for the manpower that is involved each time I click checkout.

I have always been a very patient person. Teaching through remote learning has taught me how to be patient and how to give more grace not only to my family, friends and students - but also myself. Remote learning was not ideal for anyone. Allowing myself space to learn with my students was an eye opening experience.

This was my 25th year in teaching. Regardless of all my experience - this past spring we were all new teachers in remote learning. Having my colleagues to lean on and learn from was crucial. Finding creative ways to engage students, provide social emotional support and meaningful lessons was ratcheted up a level we had never experienced before. Zoom was our saving grace and Google classroom was a lifeline. Through April and May I learned so much about my students (mostly from the weekly calls home to find out why they didn’t log on all week) - that I may not have learned otherwise. Through these conversations I learned about their inner struggles, families and other topics we never get to cover during our busy school days. My days were full of activity, crisis management, cooking, dishes, cleaning, laundry, zoom meetings, lesson planning, etc. I was so glad to reach the finish line...time for some self care.

The first week of summer break - I walked outside, read books, cooked in my new air fryer and discovered pure joy in the TikTok app. This summer I will take all I learned in the spring and plan for a new school year. August is my favorite month because it’s a new start….and now more than ever, I can’t wait to see my students and embark on a fresh journey.

Barb's World:

Being retired from the classroom for thirteen years may give me a different perspective on effects of the pandemic in my life. It’s just me, my husband, our dog, and two cats.

We returned home from a Caribbean cruise March 5. Many restrictions were set in place by the cruise company, and after the fact, we felt this was the most healthy group of cruisers we’d ever traveled with. Whew!

We arrived home just before we sheltered in place in Illinois. It was only going to last two weeks, but I immediately thought of my friends and colleagues still working in the public school system. I wondered how I’d be able to handle e-teaching, and was relieved I didn’t have to find out. I was, and am, concerned about engaging struggling learners, like those I taught. Creativity, no doubt, would come in to play for all of you.

Well, two weeks turned into much longer. From friends and neighbors I’ve heard of very good e-learning situations, and some not so good. None the less, it wasn’t the same as being in the physical school building.

OK, so what was I not going to do now that we were sheltering in place?…….clean closets? No way. I decided I was going to work in my gardens, spend time outside, and read. Oh, yes, I was also going to try to remember how to cook!

When I was engaged to be married, my teaching partner, told me that if Bob ever asked if I wanted to go out for dinner after work, never say “no.” To many times saying “no” would lead to fewer and fewer times the question would be asked. So, after many years of minimal cooking on my part, I was forced to hone my cooking skills again, which I’ve enjoyed very much.

I’m fortunate to have space between the homes in my neighborhood, so I can be socially distant and still visit with neighbors.

I’ve learned how to participate in a Zoom events. Every Friday and Saturday night my husband and I Zoom with different groups of friends for dinner and/or cocktails.

My greatest pleasure, though, is sitting outside, reading, enjoying a beautiful midwestern spring and summer.

Over the years, I’ve collected books faster than I can read them, so I’m finally making a dent in reading them. I recently chose one that was written in 2000. The pages of the book are thick! It was Robert Ludlum’s The Hades Factor. I was unnerved when I read the first page of the book, because he thanked a doctor for his expertise about cells, viruses, antibodies, and antigens. You guessed it. The Hades Factor is about a pandemic. I will soon complete reading this gem.

Thank you, SRL members, for keeping our young adults engaged in their education. I admire your dedication, ingenuity, and integrity. We all need you to do what you’re doing. I’m fortunate to belong to an organization that dedicates itself to advancing adolescent literacy. ❤️

Renee's World:

If I never attend another Google Meets, Google Hangout, or Zoom meeting, I would not be upset; however, in some moments, these were my only connection to my students while we were sent home.

I had an extremely hard time adjusting to being at home all the time. I do not have the best workspace, I now have a young child to entertain, and I had to help my senior softball players cope. I felt like I was being pulled in all directions and felt very mediocre at every task. It was frustrating and difficult to adjust, but eventually I got into a routine. Now if my supervisor would stop putting meetings at the exact time that my daughter's nap routine starts, that would have been a start to lessening my stress.

Eventually, I started to feel more comfortable with Google Meets, as this was the platform we were only allowed to use in order to have an online class. Instead of having these meetings everyday, I decided to have office hours instead. Each week, my students could meet with me during a designated time for each prep. Of course, I would get about the same amount of students each week (7 to 8) and the discussion ranged from questions about grades to how many TikTok followers they have now. It was nice and it was the closest I got to connecting with some of my students again.

On one particular Friday, a student wanted to talk about books! Yes, you heard correctly, books! I was so excited. He was a reluctant reader and I could not believe he wanted to talk about books. It started with him saying, "I got so bored that I started reading books like you." I smiled instantly. I don't care what got him to pick up a book, but was elated that he actually was reading. We talked every Friday about the books we were reading. It was one of the few moments where I felt like everything will be okay. So even though I did not enjoy e-learning, I did connect with a student one more time before school ended. It was a bitter sweet ending to the school year.