COVID-19

“It’s Time To Make The Donuts:” Teaching in 2020-2021

In 1984, Dunkin Donuts released a commercial starring Fred the Baker. Fred becomes somewhat famous, and his one-liner resonated among workers who related to his daily grind-“it’s time to make the donuts.”
As the 2020-2021 school year continues on an endless repeat, I have begun uttering: “It’s Time To Make The Donuts,” as I drag my exhausted self to work each day.  
Typically an early arriver, I find myself parking my car farther from the entrance as I enter the building closer to the 7:25 AM contract time. The weekends are full of necessary chores, lesson plans, and long naps to prepare for the long week ahead. I wish that I could muster enough energy to remain awake during more of my free time, but like a well-trained soldier, I must sleep while I can. The battle is Monday-Friday. June 25 is the end of this tour of duty. I announced to my husband that there would be no summer employment for me this year. I have spent too many summers compensating for my lack of compensation. This summer we will eat from the garden and be frugal. I plan to spend my days in a lounge chair reading novels and watching chickens free-range. I cannot make any donuts during July and August. Not a one. 
The “Making the donuts”  stage of this school requires such extreme planning, patience, and commitment that many teachers are at their breaking point. Since September 14, 2020, the teachers in my school have pivoted more times than a celebrity in “Dancing with the Stars.” We changed from seventy-minute blocks four times a day to thirty-minute periods nine times a day. This scheduling feature alone persists in hindering our planning and lessens our ability to offer deep investigation once provided by the block schedule. If I can’t deliver a topic in twenty-five minutes, it is not happening–those donuts are just dough. Can I bake them tomorrow? Who knows? 
Pivoting from block to period teaching makes everyone experience the stress of an unprepared teacher. Planning periods of twenty minutes (after using the restroom and checking your email) is inadequate for preparation. In an attempt to save our sanity, many of us have taken a day off to work on lesson plans. And, then, there is the grading. There are no due dates anymore, so much of the grading is like doing the dishes–never done. The students know they have until the end of the marking period. Although teachers will set a firm date, students will hand in work until grades are due with puppy dog eyes. 
We began the year on a hybrid cohort A and cohort B organization. Cohort D remained online, synchronously learning at home with either group A or B as home as well. Cohort C? They, often having distinct needs, have been in person every day. Who do you pick as your favorite to teach distinctly? Which modality fits all, most, or some? Who needs you more? Where will you make your donuts? Will you instruct all online or focus on the in-person students? But it is not like “Sophie’s Choice,” you must teach all in all ways, at all times. You will make the donuts constantly and in every location. 
At least we had Wednesdays. Wednesdays were days when everyone was online. We could make the donuts in one place. On Wednesdays, I could work with only two monitors, not three. Often, I could pause and speak directly to students whose avatar was my only connection. Wednesdays were my sanity until those were gone as well. The district informed us (via the media) that the in-person cohorts would rotate each Wednesday to provide more in-person time. Teachers: pivot and dance while you make those donuts!
From an earlier than usual Spring Break, we returned on April 8, 2021, to find our class sizes grow from an average of five to over twenty. Over the break, confirmation came that, yes, all students who desired in-person learning would attend five days a week. Six-foot social distance reduced to three, with plastic barriers resembling prison visitation booths in the cafeteria. The halls were loud again. It felt almost normal, except for many students (especially underclassmen); it was their first day of school. It was a surreal experience to have the first week of school in April. However, I marveled at how my colleagues and I raced around, accomodating the needs of our students. I also noticed how many students seemed uncomfortable with the increase in the student population. I played an active review game and had my students read a historical play. Things felt hopeful again. Most teachers were fully vaccinated, and life was moving again, BUT the remote students remained tethered by the Google Meet. Everything and nothing changed. The donuts still needed to be prepared and made the same way; only the order changed.  
Nine weeks remain, but the ending is fuzzy. There will be some New York State Regents Exams, at least four, maybe five. The last day of teaching might be June 16 or June 18, or if everything changes, it could be June 25, 2021! How does one plan for this? How many donuts do we need to make? No one knows.  
Teaching this year is a perpetual baking show.  
It is always time to make the donuts.   

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