Friday, March 13, 2020 my first period class was coming to an end and four of my students, senior baseball players, turned to me and said, “bye Ms. G, we have enjoyed having you for English this year.” I laughed and said, “We will be back and you will see me again.” This was the last day of school before spring break, but it also became the last day of being in the school buildings for the 2019-2020 school year. In the middle of spring break, our district announced that we would have the following week off from school. Now, let me explain that by “we being off from school”, that meant students. During that week, teachers and administrators scrambled to figure out how we were going to continue the school year, without being in the school buildings. Teachers and administrators were challenged to change the institute of education, hundreds of years, in one week. We had to do this without guidance and support from federal and state education agencies. Each district was told “make it happen.”
We have had to continue to “make it happen” the 2020-2021 school year. My district decided to open the buildings after Labor Day and have students come one to two grades at a time. They also decided to give students and parents the option of virtual learning or face to face learning. And this is where it gets crazy. At the high school level, the virtual and face to face students are being taught at the same time. So, I have 1-6 students in my classroom and then 25-30 online….AT THE SAME TIME. It really took me awhile to figure out how to engage my online students and my face to face students. I didn’t want any of them to fall behind or feel left out. It’s just been so different and so hard.
By hard, I mean emotions are everywhere. My students have been dealing with depression. So many seniors feel that it’s pointless and why bother. They miss the social aspect of school. They want prom, homecoming, and sitting at lunch talking with each other. So many are scared to come face to face because they want to stay healthy, and they don’t want to pass the virus to their parents or grandparents. I’ve had students lose family members from COVID. They are scared, sad, and lonely. As a teacher I realized last spring that this is the time to show support and care. While I would love them to read Hamlet and write an insightful analysis, I have to be realistic with our situation. I want them to feel welcomed and safe. I want them to enjoy the time they see me even if it’s just my face on Zoom because their classmates aren’t comfortable turning their cameras on. I want to see happy seniors ready to take on the world and if I have to cut a book or writing assignment to see their smiling faces, I will and have.
Teachers are also suffering. This year has taken away so many things I love about teaching. I miss my students talking to each other. I long for the days when I have to tell them to stop talking and pay attention. I miss connecting with students and knowing what their future plans are and what they are afraid of after graduating. I do have some conversations with my students online and face to face, but it’s not the same. It’s not a classroom full of students with lectures and noise, and seeing their interactions and listening to their discussions about readings, football games, school dances, and college. I miss face to face conversations with my colleagues. We don’t even get to eat together. I miss the personal interaction that filled my cup everyday and now I feel alone.
I know this isn’t forever and I know things will get back to a new form of normalcy. I know many are worried how this unprecedented year will affect this generation. Honestly, I think these kids are becoming resilient. They are adapting to changes. Changes they have no control over, and they are handling it with ease and grace. Wow! Just imagine what they will accomplish in the years to come.