January 39th

If each month is a chapter of our life, January felt like an entire book.

It’s been a month full of constant change. Admittedly, it’s exhausting. Our staff and students yearn for normal, but we are also redefining and reinventing . . . well everything.  We still don’t have a way to project anything on our aisle: no way to demonstrate, no WiFi, no TV, no way to show video clips or YouTube. Heck, an overhead projector like I used 10 years ago sounds pretty good right now! I do have a whiteboard though, and that’s progress.

As an English teacher, I would usually have laid a foundation of skills by January. We would be writing essays and preparing for state testing in the spring. Instead, I am teaching at OSH, in the middle of a hardware store. We’re still trying to create the best “classroom” environments that we can and are constantly moving things around, trying out new devices for sound, and hoping that maybe one day we’ll get WiFi instead of spotty hotspots that develop our ability to breathe deeply. We have a changing population of students too- sudden withdrawals make us sad and other students who had been enrolled in other schools are returning unexpectedly.

It’s a strange existence, yet there are some unexpected advantages here as well. The teacher–student ratio is ideal. Sherry and I are co-teaching our seventh grade English classes,  and we typically have classes of 16-18 students. Teachers are used to being in charge, but now we take turns leading and assisting.  One day, I sat down with 6 or 7 students each period at our makeshift “cafeteria” tables.  I taught a lesson on inferences as students tried to unravel the clues of The Stranger together. As they discussed ideas and listened to each other, I saw students’ eyes light up when they grasped the big idea. It was amazing to see how connected they were! I teach computer classes on my own, and I’ve started taking turns sitting down with those students too.

Inpromptu field trips are now a possibility. Instead of setting up field trips far in advance with over 150 kids, we now have 60. So one Tuesday morning, we went to Llano Seco, a wildlife refuge just 20 minutes outside of Chico, to see thousands of snow geese and other migrating birds.  It was quiet except for the sound of the birds calling to each other, and the sound of middle school kids taking selfies. But we were outside, in natural light, on a warm-ish day in January without any echoes from the OSH store.  I know the teachers found some peace that day as we viewed birds through binoculars and breathed easily,

An interesting camaraderie develops when a school is placed in an open setting like OSH. I equate it to living in a dorm— we share the learning space, eating space and even the restrooms. It’s great for socializing, but you can never get away, so we focus on getting through the tough times and celebrating whenever possible. Last week, each of our English classes sat in a circle in the front of the store, sheltered by partitions and volunteers read their fictional stories aloud. A few reluctant writers received individual assistance in the “cafeteria” with one teacher. As our students huddled together, they listened to stories and enjoyed hot cocoa on a cold day.  We may not have much, but we have those little things to celebrate.

Some days, a little bird watching, or stories with hot chocolate, can soothe the soul.

 

 

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Author: Erica Blaschke

I am a middle school English and technology teacher from Chico, CA and have traveled the Skyway to teach in Paradise for the past 16 years. A fast moving wildfire changed the lives of our entire community on November 8th when the #campfire destroyed the town. We are now redefining what school and learning can be as we start over, unable to return.

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