Sharpening the axe during a global pandemic: Cameron Dexter Torti 4-30-20

Thursday, April 30, 2020
Lincoln quote
Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

(Week of April 20th)  At one of my first PD experiences as a middle school teacher, I recall someone mentioning the analogy that, before you can get to work as a teacher, you need to "sharpen the axe" with your classroom. I'm pretty sure they got it from the quote in the picture, but that is neither here nor there. The analogy was likely not meant to cover as much as I have since implied it to mean, but I think it covers all of the things educators need to do to foster and facilitate a successful learning community. From promoting a safe classroom and honing your classroom management to planning out units and preparing curricular materials well in advance of their implementation, there are many tasks that could be interpreted as "sharpening the axe" for a teacher.

During this pandemic, I started the quarter feeling somewhat frantic and unprepared to take on more than what was in front of me. Emails from students and the adjustments we were making to the class components made me overwhelmed, and I found tasks associated with running an effective learning community were starting to suffer. As a result, some of the work I did in the beginning of the quarter is coming back to haunt me, as some students looking over their grades and feedback are noticing discrepancies.

I didn't realize I wasn't "sharpening the axe" at the beginning of the quarter, and have been working to be more mindful of it as I continue on. I am grateful for the patience and kindness exhibited by my students. They have been respectful and understanding of the mistakes, and I am grateful our learning community allows for open communication and forgiveness when mistakes happen. That being said, I have made it a habit to schedule out more time to grade and give feedback on assignments, allowing for me to slow down a bit and ensure accuracy in my own records along the way.

Another task that has worked to build more community are email reminders and consistent contact with students who reach out. Both Tomy Nguyen, my fellow TA, and I reach out weekly to touch base about patterns we are seeing within the class as well as upcoming deadlines. While some may argue students should be able to manage their time and assignments as a general skill, I think the current pandemic allows for a little leeway in that sense. Ideally we would have the best of both worlds, but if I had to choose one thing for students to walk away from this course with, I'll take interacting with the course and its materials over organizational skills.

As I continue on through the quarter as a TA, I will continue to be reminded to take my time in all aspects of the course. While I may prefer the interactions with the class and preparing for lessons, being more thoughtful and intentional with other parts of being a TA are just as important to fostering the type of learning community we are aiming for.

Cameron Dexter Torti is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Education at GGSE. He previously taught in classrooms ranging from elementary self-contained to high school social studies for six years in California, Texas, and Louisiana. He is currently "safer-at-home" in San Diego, where he and his wife are subletting part of the living room from their cats for "work from home" spaces.