In August, I returned to in person teaching to discover that I was completely unprepared.
I was overwhelmed, bewildered, frustrated, and just plain exhausted. After I struggled through each school day, I went home frustrated and fretted about the upcoming day.
At the beginning of this year, I felt exactly how I felt during my very first year of teaching. It dawned on me that I am a first-year pandemic teacher with twenty-five years of teaching experience.
I wondered whether others shared this feeling. I began studying my peers. Teachers with three, fifteen, even thirty years of teaching experience had the same look of exhaustion and frustration that I was feeling. We were all first-year teachers AGAIN!
In previous years, grade-level meetings at our school were required weekly for professional development. My grade level met each week to check the appropriate box for our school performance plan. Although we worked well together and attempted to provide support to teachers new to our grade level, our new members typically felt frustrated and overwhelmed while the more experienced teachers seemed to be teaching on autopilot. I am embarrassed to say that there were times that our teachers with less experience would not speak up because our more experienced teachers would dominate the meetings.
This autopilot phenomenon is not true this year. Our grade-level meetings were immediately different. Drastically different. Most of our prior teaching experience was unusable this year. School was not going well at all!
The first week of school, we gathered spontaneously in the hallway just to check in with each other. Anguish was evident on all faces. We continued to meet voluntarily during special-area time every day, not only for wellness checks (both physical and emotional), but to brainstorm ideas for the next day. Out of absolute necessity, the brief time we could spend together quickly evolved into real—and essential—opportunities for professional development. Realizing that we needed new procedures, teaching tips, and ideas, our daily meetings became our lifeline.
Together, we began to develop ways to help children learn in this new environment. We genuinely listened to each other’s successes and frustrations and began thinking of different strategies to solve problems. As we shared the different strategies that could be used to solve each problem, we began to see that not only did Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) continually drive the direction of our instruction, which was one constant that we were able to retain from the years prior, we discovered that we were using CGI in our meetings to solve our teaching problems! Listening to each other’s problems and developing different strategies, learning how our team member solved a problem, and then implementing another teacher’s strategy successfully helped each of us to improve our teaching daily.
It seems that CGI is not only for students, but it has truly helped our grade level of teachers redesign our second “first year” of teaching.
This school year requires a level of stamina and dedication unlike any other before. Lean on your neighbor, let your neighbor lean on you. Join an online community or book club comprised of educators who can support you. Most importantly, take care of one another.