Author Archives: Katy

November Updates (books, movies, chocolate and more)

I sit here in the November rain (for about 1,000 days now), with the wood stove fire popping and glowing. I am so thankful for my health, family, friends and school community. What a blur the fall has been — the pandemic, teaching with daily changes, stressors, and situations, the election (which feels like years ago now). I saw something that blew my mind. A simple number, and the calendar. In 3 months, it will be March again. Can you believe that? Oh, how the world has changed. So much has happened. So much loss and turmoil, but also, hopefully, growth and change.

For right now, for the holiday season, I wish these things for you:

Musings from Instagram @katyfarber.

What is your list of things keeping you going on the day to day? Mine includes:

Sheer perfection.
  • Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (Seriously. These are no joke. Have 1-3 and feel very decadent. Rewarded for making it through the day. But now they are ALL GONE).
  • Good TV. We recently did a Harry Potter movie marathon and it was so joyful, like seeing old friends, rediscovering lines and scenes I had since forgotten (and yes, I still cried you know where and you know why). We’ve also watched We Are Freestyle Love Supreme (incredible, but parents, swearing, if you care!) and Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (we have a serious dancer in the house).
  • Good books. Recent high quality reads include I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (YA), The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker (MG), and All American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney.
A sketchnote inspired by I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • The Calm App. I cannot say enough good things about doing this for 10 minutes a day. Honestly, sometimes I think it is the only thing that can really help me manage my fears and get in the right headspace for parenting and teaching. This is worth every dime to me and is now a daily practice.
  • Nature. Exercise. Even for 20 minutes. Even a walk while calling a parent or friend. Just get moving. I always feel better about everything after I do this, even if only for a few minutes.

What is keeping you going? What shows are you watching, books have you read? Who are YOUR favorite Harry Potter characters? I would love to hear about it.

Published by Green Writers Press.

And if you are holiday book shopping, I would be honored to have you check out my books! You can look at the links on this page to learn more about each one. You’ll find Salamander Sky (illustrated by Meg Sodano) for your nature loving, curious younger kids, and The Order of the Trees, an environmental, magical novel for upper elementary students. And for the teachers in your lives, I’ve got several options there, too, including our newest, Personalized Learning for the Middle Grades. If you are interested, please ask for them at your local, independent bookstore!

Wishing you and yours well. Stay safe and healthy.

Teaching in a pandemic: emotional labor + decision fatigue + constant uncertainty

Every single teacher I know: family, friends, on social media, across Vermont education..they are exhausted. Like brand new teacher, working 24/7, going to bed at 8pm exhausted.

They are living day to day. Doing the next right thing. Over and over again. They are simultaneously trying to do right by their students and their families, and colleagues, then also trying to parent, check in on family and friends, make sure there are groceries, and driving to practices, appointments, etc.

This has always been true, but the current situation has magnified existing problems in the teaching profession, leaving many educators deeply bone tired and at risk for the health consequences of that.

I’ve written quite a bit about teacher sustainability and attrition (Why Great Teachers Quit, and more recently, for Edutopia) and how schools can focus on increasing teacher agency, humanity, and wellness. Recently, I wrote about three more concepts that are often hidden, barely expressed, but consume more of teachers’ lives than ever.

They are emotional labor. Decision fatigue. And daily uncertainty. These ideas were not talked about much before the pandemic, and now, I think they are the main reasons teachers find themselves, like I did, unable to hold conversations with my spouse about schedule coordination at 8:30 pm, unable to to read directions on a Get Out the Vote action I wanted to do, and unable to even watch a TV show on a school night this past week.

The emotional labor of teaching in a pandemic has increased exponentially. For those of us teaching in person (and virtually too, come to think of it), we are on heightened alert emotionally, looking out for students’ mental and physical health. With parents and caregivers under significant stress, students are feeling this and are carrying it with them. Teachers have the constant labor of working to keep kids safe at school, with very high stakes. This looks like mask reminders, bathroom monitoring, material/supply management, and careful learning activity planning to safely social distance, or long screening processes.

We hear the whisper.. “If you mess this up, your students and their families could get sick”.

This conflicts with how much I want to help students, as I bend over to say, yes, you can take a break, yes, it is okay to feel scared/nervous/anxious/worried. And then there is the labor of constantly evaluating situations.. is this activity okay? Is this too close? Do we wear masks outside for this game? This lesson? Do I pick up that pencil or book? Do we share books in the classroom library? And then of course, how am I keeping my own family safe spins in the background. Consider teachers who are pregnant, or families that are fighting other illnesses, or preexisting conditions.

All of this combines to create decision fatigue, because teachers were already making thousands of decisions a day — and now– thousands more, with much higher stakes.

It is no wonder that you stare at the salad dressings for 15 minutes, in your sweaty mask, unable to decide. Or can’t fathom deciding what to make for dinner. Our decision making skills have been all used up.

And then there is the creeping uncertainty that chases teachers around like a small, aggressive, barking dog. It is the bark of: be ready to go virtual at any minute. Do you have what you need? Do you have all the materials? Because this building might get shut down at any second. Or your situation might change at any minute. So, be ready. The ground you stand on is not solid. And standing there is exhausting. Behind that is all the news, the stories, of sick teachers, of Covid closing schools, of new cases, a constant bark that unsettles, takes away sleep, and sets you off balance.

So, in all this coverage of teaching in a pandemic, consider the heavy toll emotional labor, decision fatigue, and massive uncertainty is taking on your teachers. It is an often untold story.

If you are a school leader, consider, how can you streamline communications, support your teachers’ wellness, and simplify their lives right now? How can you also do that for yourself?

Because it is only September. And we have only just begun.

Summer 2020 updates (remote learning + anti-racist resources)

You did it, #vted. For you, I share my deepest gratitude and jazz hands

It is a blazingly hot summer day. I’ve already spent some time in the river down the road, and quite possibly might go back again later today. It is one of those days where us Vermonters just melt. I’m so thankful for all of the places I can access water, shade and woods here.

In many ways it feels like years since I wrote the last post here, about remote learning resources in March, and the very quick pivot teachers, students and parents had to make. And now, we have been at this for months, and so much has happened.

My normal response to a crisis is to work, work, work. Try to be helpful, try to use the tools I have to assist in any way. And that is what I tried to do much of this spring and early summer. Over at the Tarrant Institute blog, we were all very busy trying to bring forth resources, posts, and tools that could help teachers and students through this challenging time. In case you missed any of these posts, here are a few:

Street art by Elly Budliger

The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ammaud Arbery, and the subsequent protests, brought into sharp focus the need to address anti-racism at all levels in schools. Of course this is not a new call. This time, though, more people than ever were reaching out, wanting to do better, to refuse to stay silent, to get involved. I have been reading, listening to, and following educators, scholars and activists of color. I am reminded by Ijeoma Oluo that this is our work.

β€œThe next frontier is white people trying to dismantle the systems of racial oppression that benefit them. In a way, they’re the only ones who can do that. White people need to want racism gone.”

β€”-Ijeoma Oluo, White Lies: Ijeoma Oluo on Privilege, Power, and Race

Here are some of our recent posts about anti-racism, and here are several other super helpful resources, no matter where you are with this work.

Now, of course, we struggle with the unknown. How will we go back to school.. what it will look like. How will students, teachers and our families stay safe. It is a scary and overwhelming time. I myself am trying to take it one day at a time. One moment at a time. Each day, I start with meditating, even when I am antsy, unsettled, and with a full to-do list. That is probably when I need it most.

image by Kurt Budliger

And each day I am trying to notice things, like the red on the hummingbird’s neck that comes to our feeder. Or the yellow and black Tiger Swallowtail butterfly flitting around the yard. The light breeze on my skin, or the magic flashes of light from the fireflies at night.

What is keeping you grounded, and keeping you present? Wishing you and yours a safe, happy and relaxing summer, despite the barrage of news and challenges.

More soon. Poems and sketchnotes on recently read books. Stay safe and healthy.