Virtual Teacher Spotlight: Patrick Sanger

Being an Ichabod Crane Alumni, naturally the next teacher I chose to interview for my virtual teacher spotlight series was someone from my alma mater. He was my High School History teacher (I was actually in one of the first classes he ever taught at ICC), and is now someone whom I call a friend. In fact, we’ve even been in a wedding together. He was the officiant for my good friend Ashley’s wedding as I was one of her bridesmaids.

So, meet Patrick Sanger! An 11th and 12th grade Ichabod Crane High School History teacher. His wife, Lyndy Sanger, teaches Kindergarten in Schenectady, NY. They have two adorable boys and are currently juggling their work/home life remotely under this quarantine like the rest of us.

What does a “normal” teaching day look like for you these days?
For me, now, I wake up, get my own boys up and dressed and fed, then check my classes. I either post my assignments or make sure they posted to Google Classroom like they were supposed to when I scheduled them. Lyndy answers her students by voice message or video, because it’s kindergarten and most are just basic level readers- so everything has to be said to them! I drink my coffee while I see what was turned in since the last time I checked. I set my schedule to know what I have to grade during the course of the day. I either make a video with a lecture or with directions for a lesson, or write it all out to post it. We do circle time with our kids (letters, numbers, date, weather, etc.) then I usually meet one of my classes for a Google Meet. We discuss the days work, I answer questions, we do our lecture, kids present their work, etc. this can go anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the group of students.

After that, I grade for an hour or so while trying to keep my own kids occupied. There’s so much more grading because everything I would grade visually just seeing in class or watching and gaining evidence that way, I now had to assign and read.  Then, lunch. After lunch, nap. Kids are usually down by 1:15-1:30, and Lyndy and I use the next 2 hours to grade. Once they wake up around 3:30, the school day is “over.” But I’ll be grading once they’re down for bed again around 8-8:30.

Throughout the day & night I am trouble shooting tech issues for kids & parents. I am making contact with families and seeing how I can better assist them. Some are unreachable and have not participated in distance learning, so it’s weekly attempts to make contact. I have to plan and create activities and assignments. During the traditional school day hours I have meetings with colleagues and administration and various committees I am part of, this equals out to about 1-2 hours daily for meetings. Then those Meetings usually result in additional tasks for me to complete. I also need to check and comment on assignments. I hold a weekly google meet with students. I am going to be increasing that to 2 a week. I also video read alouds and share them with my students over the weekend. 

What are the positives of online teaching (if any)? What are the negatives?
The positives are we can create or own schedules. For kids, this gives them time to sleep in, which is good if they can self-regulate. Negatives are many. Getting all kids together at one time is even harder. If a kid doesn’t show up to a meet, I can’t track them down. If a kid doesn’t do their work, I’ve got to email, call, track someone down instead of just seeing them and getting on them that way. And if mom and dad aren’t willing (or able) to get them to do that work, it’s even more difficult.  I agree. I have many parents still working so the flexibility to do work during non traditional school hours is helpful to them, in the negative it means I am getting calls, emails, and assignments at 8 pm when I am trying to put my own children to bed. For me this has been hard, creating boundaries and norms about when I am ‘on duty’. 

How do you balance teaching your students and teaching your kids?
That’s the most difficult part, really. When Lyndy and I both have meetings or classes scheduled, we now have to find something for the kids to do- a movie, play, etc. and even then, Luke (my youngest) always wants to get in on all my meetings! It’s very hard with two teachers. We try to get them outside and mobile as often as possible, but balancing it all is difficult.

We read books constantly and Lincoln (5) is learning his sight words and how to read, so that’s really exciting and fun. It’s a little easier for the boys to be involved in, but they are both younger than kindergarten so it’s still a challenge, but in the positive, they will be so ready for kindergarten themselves, lol. 

What do you think the environment is going to look like once students and teachers can return to the classroom? Have your schools discussed this at all?
Classes will be smaller when possible, more spaced out in rooms. Much more of an effort and stress toward cleanliness. I won’t be surprised if parents want kids wearing PPE the entire time. Schools are under discussions for this, but ultimately it’s the state that will dictate everything, so we have to wait for them to take that lead. 

What do you miss the most about being in school teaching? What do you think your students miss the most?
I miss working with the kids. As you know, I love joking with kids and getting to know them, creating relationships. It’s near impossible to do in this medium. Luckily, I’d been with these students for most of the year so I knew many of them, so that kind of carried over. But with my senior classes that just started a new semester (half year classes) in February, I only knew for 4 weeks. So that connection wasn’t really there.

I also miss coaching. I’m the head coach for girls track, and I had a really terrific group of seniors this year that lost their whole season. I miss coaching them and cheering them on during meets. I know the students miss the social interaction terribly, especially those with parents that adhered to the “quarantine.”

For Lyndy, they hug a lot in kindergarten and she really misses that. Distance learning is hard for Kindergarteners, they hadn’t used chrome books before this, so just the technology itself was something new. They are not readers yet, some are just beginning, so that is a challenge. She does a lot of videos, gives recorded directions, and gives the option for them to comment back in a voice recording as much as possible.

Do you or Lyndy have any interesting stories or situations you’ve experienced during your time teaching from home?
For Lyndy, trying to hold a google meet with five year olds is an experience! Each time gets a little better and she is learning how to guide them better each time and they are learning how to navigate better. She has students come to a meet with no clothes on and is given house tours. She has families having conversations in the background that she’s pretty confident they don’t know can be heard by her or anyone else in the meeting. We have to just go with the flow. 

What advice do you have for other teachers and parents to help them get through the remainder of the school year?
Head up. Stay positive. Focus on incremental growth, but focus on growth nonetheless. If you can get your kids to do what they need to do, that teaches more than a lesson of whatever subject it is. Ask the teachers for help if you’re struggling, there’s no shame in that because we’re all struggling. Contact is better than radio silence. We are human, I get it if you can’t do everything or that life happens, but a quick message to say that goes a long way opposed to no contact and no work.

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