It is OK to Just Do OK

This post was written by educator Dr. Kerri Westgard.

Dr. Kerri Westgard teaches geography at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Middle School in Minnesota. Photo by Dr. Kerri Westgard

There are lots of things I wish were different now, one of them being that I wish I had time to write down and process all that is happening. But out of nowhere, I suddenly don’t have time. Moving to distance learning with our students has blindsided me—the enormity of it all, on top of the fact that we are in a national healthcare crisis.

I am normally “freakishly organized,” as a coworker once told me, and manage my time with military precision. What happened? I can’t seem to keep up with tasks and it is driving me crazy. Students are reaching out for help, coworkers at school rely on me for answers to their tech questions, or are leaning on my experience teaching online as we move to distance learning with our students. I can’t even begin to imagine our healthcare workers right now, with no time or space to pause and process.

Personally, I hate not having enough time to get it all done. I don’t like putting things off until tomorrow; it is not in my nature to do so, and I feel like I am failing. Time is just getting to be one big blur. I have never been busier in my entire life living in this world today. The only day I know anymore is Sunday, because my husband makes monkey bread every Sunday. The rest of my days I feel like I am in that Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day”: get up, meet online, prep for distance learning, repeat.    

Through it all, it has been nice to virtually see students and hear how they are doing. Some are great, others are really struggling with anxiety. I am trying more to address the social and emotional needs at this moment with eighth graders, who are so reliant on their friends at that age for processing, yet they can’t be near one another. Finally doing schoolwork after a two-week “vacation” for spring break has probably made this pandemic more real to them. The fact that they can’t go back to school–probably for the rest of the year–is an eye-opener to the enormity of it all. They are just starting to process the crazy times. But they make me laugh, and send me video clips of them staying six feet apart from one another, and give shout outs that they miss me.

In my quest to begin to process all this and find ways to support my own learning and that of my students, I was reminded by a coworker recently that it is ok to do “just OK.” These are not normal times to do our normal. So, perhaps my advice to you all at the end of another week is: it is OK to just do OK. I know I needed to hear that right now.

Seeking validation for this feeling, I read an article from University Affairs called Doing an OK job: navigating teaching in the age of COVID-19. It helped me wrap my head around the uncertainty of being an educator right now and come to terms with the fact that we are in a grand experiment of sorts. The salient points from the article that I am trying to keep top of mind are:

    1. Stick with what you know, then take small steps and adapt in ways that work for you.
    2. Pick one impactful concept or skill your students still need to master.
    3. Modify your existing plans.
    4. Go as low-tech as possible.
    5. Be creative.
    6. Feel your feelings.
    7. Be kind and compassionate.
    8. Use your time and energy wisely.
    9. Reach out.
    10. Remember that this is not forever.

As we all navigate uncertain times together–but apart–I have noticed so many educators taking the time and effort to be kind and compassionate, whether it be on social media, in virtual staff meetings and online classes, or with themselves. You have all been amazing supports and collaborators as we figure out this new normal.

So, what are you doing to manage this new world? What tips can you share with us about navigating distance learning with students? How are you adjusting to being OK with just being OK? Join me and 2020 National Geographic Education Fellow Dwayne Reed on Sunday, April 26 at 8 p.m. Eastern for a #TeacherStrong Twitter chat on the topic of self care at a time when success may feel hard to find. Let’s figure it out as a community.

As always: take care, stay safe, and wash your hands 😉

Dr. Kerri Westgard is an 8th grade geography teacher at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Middle School in Minnesota. Follow Kerri on Twitter: @dr_westgard

Feature image by Dr. Kerri Westgard

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