Teachers are constantly pushing. Pushing students to write better. Pushing them to read more challenging materials. Pushing them to make better arguments. Pushing them to practice their music. Then, when students master the task at hand, teachers find something else to improve. It’s implicit in the job.
This constant drive to grow and be better fosters anxiety, stress, and irritation. As much as I try to fight it, I’m as guilty of this constant drive to push myself and students. But, with Thanksgiving fast approaching, I took some time the other day to reflect on this year. Despite absolutely crazy challenges and limitations, there is a lot to be thankful for.
#1: Students Who Show Up
I have been teaching 100% virtually the whole school year. And, everyday students show up. Lots of them. Most of them in fact. It’s pretty easy to not show up, not login. But, every day at nearly the exact minute class is to start, dozens of icons and faces appear on my screen as if by magic.
Seeing their faces on the screen and their words in the chatbox is a small snippet of human contact that has otherwise disappeared this year. It’s easy to get consumed by the students who don’t show up, but so many do.
The chance to interact, provoke, and engage with my kids makes my day.
#2: Students Who Write to Me
To start every class, I ask students to send me a message. I have a color-coded mood chart, and I ask each student to send me their color and a couple of words about how their day is going. It’s morphed into sentences and in some cases full-blown paragraphs. Everything from family stress to college acceptance celebrations to the adoption of pets has been shared this way.
I didn’t imagine this. I actually thought it’d be pulling teeth to get them to send me messages, and I never thought I would be so eager to read all of their messages. But, I read every one, every day before we start class.
Judging from the quarter 1 feedback survey, the students feel affirmed, important, and thankful for this opportunity too.
Many may not have this opportunity, but my district has no classes on Wednesday. Students can work on homework or schedule small group tutoring sessions with their teachers.
I spend the day calling parents and emailing students. Educators talk about being close to the families and communities we work with, but most of the time we’re so busy that connecting with families falls by the wayside. Not this year. It takes hours to make these calls, but I have the time to call and follow up each week.
I’m thankful for this time, but I’m also hopeful that the school calendar–a vestige of an era long since past–will change as a result of this moment.
Typically, I wake up at 5 am to have my whole family out the door by 6:40 am. It’s a mad frenzy waking up the kids, loading the car, eating, and rushing out the door.
This year, at 7 am, I’m sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper waiting to eat breakfast with my 2 daughters and wife. The commute to the basement takes about 10 seconds, and school starts 30 minutes later than normal. There is time to breathe, gather one’s thoughts, and take an interest in the other people in my house.
For all the frustration the pandemic has sown, I’ll never have this sort of uninterrupted time with my family. They drive me bonkers sometimes, but it’s one of the true pleasures this year has brought: to be present and available for my family.
To all the teachers out there, enjoy a few days of rest. It’s a hard gig in the best circumstances. These are not the best circumstances, but take time to find the part of this job that brings you joy and makes you thankful.