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Iíve spent the day assessing work and writing comments for my 70+ Year 6 students. Itís the first week of the two-week school holidays and I really should have completed this by Friday last week but with everything thatís been going down, that wasnít going to happen. As soon as theyíre completed Iíll enter the grades online. Iím not the only teacher in this situation and Iím trusting that parents will be understanding. They usually are. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive of what the school has been doing and how weíve catered for the studentsí learning needs.
With the school reports finished and uploaded, I find myself floundering somewhat. For the last three weeks Iíve focused on doing what needs to be done. Today I found myself with time to spare. There are so many things I could be doing now but Iím finding it hard to focus. Perhaps thatís to be expected. A little down time is a good thing. I havenít picked up a book in a while despite the rising pile next to my reading chair and Iíve barely stepped foot into the studio except to check on the annoying leak in the ceiling.
We were able to secure a six month pause on repayments for our three mortgages today. Itís been made possible due to an initiative launched by the major banks to prevent massive mortgage defaults during the current crisis. Weíve also learnt that our tenant in our smaller city apartment has not indicated heís lost his job or sought any reduction in rent so it appears he intends to stay. Needless to say weíre breathing a little more easily now. With so much uncertainty surrounding just about everything at the moment, not having to worry about mortgage repayments is a blessing.
Iíve been watching way too many Facebook videos. I donít know why. I check one, click on another and before I know it Iím getting hot under the collar over some blinkered religious zealot trying to explain how Trump has been sent by God to save the world. What is it with these people? Or Iíll watch some mindless but oddly endearing animal video or something from the BBC archives. I think itís the ridiculous jumble of stuff you find there that makes it so compelling Ė that and the need to take my mind off whatís going on in the world.
While the infection and mortality figures for Covid-19 rise alarmingly around the world, here in Australia there are some glimmers of hope. Our infection rate is slowing significantly while our mortality rate, although rising, appears to be doing so slowly. There is talk of the curve having been flattened. This is cautiously good news. Weíre told weíll still need to maintain the current restrictions for 6 months or more but thereís increasing optimism that the government made the right decisions early enough and that enough people are heeding the advice on self-distancing and staying at home. We can only hope.
The streets are now eerily quiet at night. Around 10:30 each evening I grab the leash and take the dog along Chapel Street. One could easily imagine we were walking through some quiet country town after dark. Itís like being on some empty dystopian film set, the kind where most of the population has been carried off by some mysterious virus, except this one has merely sent people scuttling behind closed doors. Thereís a perverse kind of satisfaction to be had from the newfound quiet as a solitary vehicle turns left in the distance and a lone cyclist sails by.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how quickly everyone is adapting to this new reality. During the day people are out and about, albeit in reduced numbers. People still need to buy food. The panic buying seems to have abated. The coffee shops are still open but only for takeaway. Melbournians can survive many things but we canít survive without our coffee. People step back to make way for others passing at a safe social distance. Thereís an emerging sense of resilience and shared purpose. No one knows how long this will last so we persevere in the face of uncertainty.
Social media is full of conspiracy theories right now. If itís not about 5G masts being responsible for the current pandemic itís about the Bill Gates Foundation secretly releasing the virus or about quantum dot tattoos that will render us forever tagged and at the mercy of some new world order. In the absence of knowledge and understanding and any sense of control, people clutch at conspiracy straws to try and make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible. The thing is, thereís nothing incomprehensible about the current pandemic. The only mystery is to my mind is why it hasnít happened sooner.
If this pandemic had occurred twenty years ago we would have been far less able to respond and adapt in the ways we have. The technology simply wasnít there. As it is, weíre able to connect and communicate with friends and loved ones across the globe. Governments are able to communicate and coordinate their efforts in ways that were previously unimaginable. Twenty years ago, working from home simply wouldnít have been the option it is now. Historically speaking, this technology has barely existed for five minutes but suddenly weíre all waking up to what we can actually do with it.
Thereís a lot of talk about the hunt for a vaccine right now but quite honestly, itís not going to happen in the 12 to 18-month window that we all keep hearing about. Indeed, we may never have a vaccine, just as we donít have one for HIV. Itís much more likely that weíll have a range of treatments and that Covid-19 will remain a managed condition. This in turn has huge implications for international travel. Even travel within oneís own country is going to remain problematic for some time.
Life as we knew it wonít be returning anytime soon.
I spoke to a friend today whoís just emerged from 14 days of self-isolation. I was curious to know what it was like. She said that beyond the initial sense of cabin fever it was okay and that the lack of a daily routine and social commitments freed her to experience living simply, day to day, moment to moment. She made origami cranes, listened to music, read books, cooked simple meals, drank wine out on her balcony and watched clouds drift by. To her surprise she discovered she didnít resent the time in isolation. Indeed, she really rather enjoyed it.
It was announced today that the emergency measures here in Victoria have been extended for another four weeks. We are flattening the curve here in Australia and compared to so many other places around the world weíre doing well, but thatís no excuse to become complacent, hence todayís announcement.
And oddly enough, Iím not resenting but actually enjoying the change of pace, which isnít to downplay the gravity of the situation but rather to acknowledge that itís hard to maintain an indefinite state of high alert. At some point we need to take stock, accept whatís happening and move on.
While I was listening to Boris Johnson talk about his near-death experience from Covid-19 and his praise for the NHS this morning I couldnít help but wonder how such an experience might change him. Iím guessing that under his watch, the Tories will completely re-evaluate how they choose to support and fund the British health system. Having nearly crippled the system through years of austerity measures and funding cuts, itís my bet that Johnson will want to ensure that the very health system he now owes his life to receives the funding, the support and the credit it duly deserves.
Today was the first day of the new school term. No students today, just staff and staff meetings. It was interesting. About half the teaching staff were onsite, the rest were at home. We held our meetings in the main hall with everyone appropriately sanitised and distanced from each other. Absent staff joined us via Zoom. A couple of technical glitches notwithstanding, the technology worked well. All the tables in the staff room have been separated with just one chair at each. Appropriately spaced blue crosses cover the forecourt to show where people can stand when talking to each other.
I had my very first Zoom meeting with one of my classes today. It was a trial run in preparation for all classes commencing tomorrow. It was wonderful to see all the girlsí smiling faces. Itís the first time Iíve had a full class this year because Joey was able to join us. Sheís been in China since the end of last year, unable to return to Australia. At least now she can participate fully with the rest of the girls. Iím impressed with how easily they have adapted. Indeed, Iím impressed with how easily all of us have adapted!
I had to deliver an art activity to three Year 5 classes simultaneously today. I prepared a video for them in which I introduced them to a Margaret Preston print and instructions on the kind of drawing response I wanted them to produce. I had all three classes messaging me in real time with various questions and also sending me their work so I could provide written feedback. It sounds full on but with three tabs open, one for each class, I was able to keep pace with them all relatively well and the quality of their work was commendable.
Quite how Iím going to integrate Zoom into my lessons has yet to be determined. As a specialist teacher I have to combine up to four classes simultaneously, far too many to fit meaningfully on my MacBook screen. Iím guessing Iíll have to set them ongoing project work so I can spend 15 minutes at a time with a particular class while the other classes focus on the work itself. Itís not ideal but weíre all having to make the best of a challenging situation. What does matter is we as teachers remain accessible in real time for the students.
I havenít picked up a paintbrush for well over two months now. I have neither the inclination or the headspace to focus on painting right now. What free time I have is spent thinking about how to meaningfully deliver my teaching online. When teaching in an art room I've everything at my finger tips, as do the students. When Iím teaching from a laptop there is no room for improvisation. Everything has to be fully considered and planned in advance. When Iím teaching in the art room Iím in my comfort zone. When Iím online, Iím still finding my feet.
Iím feeling really tired and I have no one blame but myself. For some reason Iím spending more and more time watching ridiculous and sometimes not so ridiculous videos on Facebook late at night when I should be turning out the light and going to sleep. Iíve been making excuses for it but now that has to stop. Staying well is paramount in these difficult times and losing sleep over late night video binging is doing little for my health. Youíd think Iíd know better. All the advice we give to kids and here I am doing the same thing.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Iím surprised it didnít happen sooner. Our first Covid-19 argument. I donít mean we argued about the virus; rather, we argued about something seemingly trivial, though of course nothing is ever trivial during an argument. They seem to emerge from seemingly nowhere, without warning, and like a grassfire quickly escalate into a full-blown blaze, except in this case a more fitting analogy might be a deep-freeze. Itís the nature of relationships, long-term or otherwise, and itís not as though anyone is necessarily at fault, simply that we sometimes trip over fault lines.
Some days are diamonds. Today wasnít one of them. I hate it when we argue. I hate the constipated communication, the lack of meaningful dialogue, the skirting around each other and the skulking way we go about our business. Having a few hours away from the house has helped but the lack of sleep has not. Dealing with the demands of pandemic-style teaching has taken its toll and I end the day feeling drained and malnourished. Itís not all bad. There are signs of a thaw but the energy expended feels completely disproportional to the gravity of the perceived crime.
Life returns to normal, or perhaps more accurately, it returns to the new normal we find ourselves contending with. We agree to disagree without exactly stating the fact and move on, because thatís all we can really do. We may wish that people were more like we are but we also recognise theyíre not, and after 26 years weíre well aware of where we both are on the spectrum of what may change and what remains the same. What might have felt like disappointment when we were younger morphs into a resigned recognition of what is now that weíre older.
Itís bizarre the way weíve all made the adjustment to the new normal. We step around each other in the street. We stand apart when lining up for coffee. We wait in queues at supermarkets until enough people have walked out to ensure we can maintain an appropriate social distance once inside. The road traffic is sparse and so is the foot traffic. TV presenters are broadcasting live from their living rooms. Sports reports have been whittled down to nothing. Weíre all indoors, online, our lives on hold, day after day, night after night, waiting to see what happens next.
Iíve little doubt I would have found this whole pandemic much more challenging had I been a lot younger. Iím at an age where Iím comfortable in my own skin and quite content with my own company but this hasnít always been the case. There was a time when the thought of not being able to move freely and be in the company of others would have been my worst nightmare. Nowadays I rarely move beyond a three-kilometre radius of where I live and the only people I see on a regular basis are my partner and my work colleagues.
Who knows when international travel will resume again. Right now, itís not even possible to travel interstate, let alone overseas. All travel in and out of the country has been halted, save for the few remaining Australians stranded overseas who are desperately trying to get back home. And with so many airlines grounded throughout the world, itís likely that many will go broke, and that will be the end of cheap air travel as we know it. Weíre being advised that Australia wonít open its borders until 2021 at the earliest. Who knows what the world will look like then.
My curriculum this term has by necessity been heavily focused on drawing. No matter what else my students may or may not have at home, they all have pencil and paper. Iíve been pleasantly surprised by the response. They seem to have a real appetite for it. It makes me question why Iíve been avoiding drawing myself for so long. I donít mean drawing myself as the subject but rather, engaging in the process of drawing. Itís something I used to do; itís something Iím actually good at, but itís just something I never seem to get around to doing.
Iím currently proof-reading a new novel by a friend, an historical account of the life of Niccolo Machiavelli. Iím about half way through. Itís his second book, the first being a fictional account of Shakespeareís imaginary trip to Italy during his youth. The former was what you might call a thumping good read. This one is an altogether more considered and more challenging book because of its historical complexity. What I find so fascinating is that itís emerged from the mind of someone Iíve known for over fifty years, a fact quite lost while Iím immersed in the book itself.
Online teaching is exhausting. I spend most of my day responding to and commenting on the work that my students are producing, and boy are they producing! Maybe itís the fact that I have them working away from their devices with the simplest of materials, pencil and paper, but the level of commitment that many of them are demonstrating and the quality of work they are producing has taken me quite by surprise. Once completed, they photograph it and send it back to me so I can provide them with feedback.
Providing feedback has rarely felt so valuable or worthwhile.
Itís been raining for hours. My empty classroom was leaking today. Now Iíve come home to discover my neglected painting studio has also been leaking, despite my recent efforts to remedy the situation. The leak is much less pronounced than it was but a leak is a leak is a leak. Itís annoying, and another boring job to add to the to-do list. Nevertheless, I like the sound of the rain as it taps on the roof, splatters on the window and splutters down the drain. That, and a welcome glass of red combine to calm my state of mind.
Where did the month go? In some respects itís been a bit like Groundhogís Day. I wake up, walk to school, sit in an empty classroom for nine hours or more designing and delivering curriculum online and then assessing and responding via voice messaging or written comments. I might pause to grab a coffee or a bite to eat but there is little time for idle chatter. If I stand still for too long I get rear-ended by the constant flow of planning and assessment that teaching online produces. Itís not all bad, but it wears thin after a while.
The Tip Jar