Short Stories From a Distance: The Teacher Has Spoken

A few weeks ago, I mentioned I wanted to briefly change directions with what I was writing about, and I’d like to start telling my audience a few quick stories about things I’ve found funny during the Distance Learning year; I think of it like a mini-series. 

Remember the really neat Dictado strategy that my awesome 5th grade team and I have been doing for a few years? This story picks up on the heels of the first installment of “Short Stories From a Distance”, a couple weeks after one of my students sent an immaculate message to me. (Read about that here, if you want a decent laugh)

The following is the second installment of “Short Stories From a Distance”

Every week, I carve out a few hours for students to work on any missing or incomplete assignments. Usually it’s at the end of Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Somehow, a select group of kids can’t seem to finish even the simplest work I assign in the given time, so they decide to spend some time after class with me, and occasionally my IA. 

On Friday afternoon, after I’ve finished my last Zoom lesson, I name off a list of students who have everything complete and wish them a merry weekend. These lucky nerds cheerfully say, “Bye” to their classmates and myself before their 3” x 2” square disappears from my virtual meeting. After 5 minutes, the only students remaining are kids who have the minimum of at least 1 missing assignment; there’s no maximum for missing assignments, contrary to how some of my learners think.

That’s the setting where this story picks up: students with a less-than-desired workrate, my IA, and myself all Zooming life away during what should be the beginning of a weekend. 

Maybe these students just miss me, or maybe they want one-on-one time with a teacher. Either way, I have found myself on the tail-end of too many Fridays waiting for some students to do something as simple as completing a worksheet with 3 sentence frames or dragging a picture from one side of a Google Sheet to the other. 

Some Fridays aren’t too bad: I get to connect with some kids who are too shy to speak up/turn on their cameras during normal school hours. 

Some Fridays are terrible: I find myself repeating the same phrases over and over and over and over and over and over an- 

Sorry, I got stuck on a loop.

One of the students — we’ll call him “Samuel” — messages me privately.

S: “hey i’m not missing anything can i go”

I quickly respond. 

MG: “Oh I don’t have your Dictado from this week yet! Just take a picture of that and upload it 👍🙌👌”

S: “i don’t have one”

That gets my attention. 

Remember, with Dictado, it’s something kids are supposed to do every day in their Dictado journals. So even if Samuel only does it once a week (which would not meet expectations), he would have at least one copy to take a picture of, upload to Canvas, and go on his merry way.

I had a feeling Samuel didn’t have his Dictado this week. He had been at all the Zoom meetings but never messaged me if he had trouble or if he missed any words or phrases. 

He also didn’t have his camera on during Dictado either, which is also a dead giveaway. 

Samuel’s camera is off now, too — probably because he doesn’t want me (or anyone else) to see that he’s still in the meeting.

Another message from Samuel comes in: 

S: “i threw it away”

It’s my Friday, people. And now I have a student essentially saying, “Can you redo the Dictado with me because I didn’t care to do it at all THE PREVIOUS 4 DAYS WHILE YOU WERE DOING IT”

I type back

MG: “Uh oh…  But you know we always submit a picture of Dictado on Fridays, right? We’ve done it since, like, October.”

S: “yeah I just threw it away because i lost my notebook”

MG: “Oh man. That’s not good. That would make things harder. What about the one you did today?”

S: “that’s the one i threw away. i just did it on paper”

We teachers aren’t dumb. It’s pretty obvious Samuel didn’t do jack-diddly all week, and now is realizing it’s keeping him from leaving the meeting. 

MG: “Do you remember me saying ‘ok, you have 4 minutes to take a picture or your work and upload it onto Canvas before we start Small Groups’…?”

S: “i was in the bathroom.”

I wanted to counter with, “How do you know you were in the bathroom when I said that? I hope you didn’t take the Chromebook in there…” 

But I didn’t.

MG: “So what should we do..?”

S: “idk”

MG: “I don’t know” doesn’t work in 5th Grade 🙂 What would you do if you were in my position?”

S: “idk”

(remember that thing about repeating myself..?)

MG: “Well you might have to wait here until we come up with something.”

I know Samuel just wants me to re-do the Dictado with him or let him go. I could ask my IA to do it, but that wouldn’t do anything for the future. (If anything, Distance Learning has completely taken any negative consequences out of irresponsible behavior.)

MG: “Sorry, Samuel, but this is your problem. I want you to come up with a way to solve it.”

Dead silence from that side of the world. 3 Minutes pass so I reach out. 

MG: “Any ideas…?”

S: “idk”

Now, here comes the star of our show, one of my favorite girls in my class we’ll call “Yesenia”. 

Yesenia is smart, always at class, always turning work in, and sassy as all get-out; if I tell students the wrong page, she’ll unmute and let the class know; if I give other people a shoutout who have been working hard and don’t include her, she will give me a stink-eye over Zoom, and potentially even a Private Message saying “wow.”

Yesenia is a teacher’s best friend, and a substitute’s worst nightmare.

So as I’m typing back and forth with Samuel, Yesenia’s voice breaks in and she asks me if she can hang out for awhile because she “doesn’t have to go watch her annoying little brother if she is still on a Zoom call”. Yesenia is allowed to stay for two reasons: first, because I actually like her company and find her snarkiness hilarious, and second, because Yesenia could be the answer to Samuel’s problem.

I unmute myself.

“Yesenia, I want you to pretend you’re a Teacher for a minute,” I say to her. There are only 4 of us left in the meeting (if you’re tracking from last story, “0 rong” kid left long before I could hold him back).

“Umm.. Ok.” she answers as she puts down her phone. 

I pose the question. “Yesenia, pretend that you’re the teacher and you have a student who hasn’t done Dictado all week. Then when you ask that student to submit their Dictado, they say they threw away their writing because they thought it didn’t matter. What would you do? Or what would you say?”

Yesenia pauses and thinks.

She doesn’t know I’ve been messaging Samuel back and forth.

She thinks I’m just playing a hypothetical game with her so she doesn’t have to watch her brother.

Yesenia unmutes herself and begins speaking out loud:

“Well, first off, that would be pretty stupid because we literally have Dictado every week.” 

Her tone in dripping in sass. She continues her verbal lecture.

“Like, I’d say that person deserves a really bad grade. I would probably make them redo it, but that’d be impossible because we’re on Zoom. So yeah, that’s really dumb that they just, like, threw it away. Like, don’t they know we have it every Friday?”

I’m nodding and smiling in agreement. Yesenia prepares for her closing statement.

“That’s just plain lazy and dumb. You even tell us each day that it’s due Friday, and it’s posted on Canvas, and you always tell us to do it, so yeah, that’s really dumb that they just didn’t do the work. They deserve a bad grade.”

I thank Yesenia for her input and privately type to Samuel:

“The teacher has spoken! Since we couldn’t come up with anything, it looks like you have to get a bad grade on your Dictado assignment.”

…Which amounts to an “Incomplete”: the grade he was going to receive anyway.

S: “Ok. Can I go?”

MG: “Be sure to do Dictado each day! Have a great weekend! :)”

Samuel leaves the meeting. Now it’s just Yesenia and the two educators. Her brow furrows.

“Wait, where did Samuel go? Was he here the whole time or was he working on an assignment?”

My smile broadens even more as I reply, “Thanks for helping us out!”

“WAIT! Samuel was the pretend student???!!” 

My IA and I crack up as horror (tinged with a sadistic smile) crosses Yesenia’s face as she realizes she just inadvertently chewed out one of her fellow classmates and condemned him to a “bad grade”.

“You said it perfectly, Yesenia! Maybe he needed to hear it from a classmate.”

She giggles at what just transpired and then says, “Well, I don’t feel too bad because it really is his fault for not doing his work, not mine.”

There you have it: The Teacher has spoken.

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