- Why I Microwaved My Strawberries: An Analogy for this Entire School Year - October 19, 2021
- Setting Boundaries for Type A Personality Teachers - September 13, 2021
- A Letter to My Seniors: The Class That Conquered the Pandemic - June 30, 2021
- Mental Health Awareness for the Teacher's Soul - May 11, 2021
- About Me, By Me Assignment: What Happened When My Students Spoke - April 20, 2021
- Always a Scapegoat, Never the G.O.A.T - March 4, 2021
- Online Learning: Headaches and Heartbreaks and Whispers of "You're Lagging" - December 7, 2020
- Teamwork Makes the “COVID-Dream” Work - November 5, 2020
It has been a challenging year to be a teacher. This is not a newsflash to anyone who is a teacher, has a teacher in their lives, or has been paying attention to life for the last year. As easy as it is to focus on the struggles and the negativity this year brought, I needed to end my year on a high note. I chose to write a letter to my seniors. My seniors have been with me for three years of high school (our freshman class is in a separate building). This group of students and I will always share a special bond because of Covid-19 and the demands it placed on us as individuals.
We grew as a group, a family, as a means of academic survival.
To My Seniors:
Congratulations! You have made it to the end of your high school career! For most, this would be a time of excitement and celebration, but for you, my class of 2021, it is a moment to truly be proud of yourselves for the accomplishments you’ve made during your last four years of high school. It is no secret that your cohort is a group who has defied the odds. You had two true years of a high school experience before a pandemic pressed pause on everything you expected for your junior and senior years.
Gone were the proms of your junior year and the homecoming games of your senior year. No longer were you able to be in the room with your teacher and you had to learn the ins and outs of Google Meet in a weekend. This year, some of you returned with your faces covered, and others stayed online with your camera off. The physical barrier between you and the end didn’t stop you, it only showed you how strong-willed you are and how you can persevere through the most unorthodox of experiences.
Let’s take a trip back in time, three years to be precise, when you all showed up in my classroom for the very first time. You were a gangly, lost, goofy group of young men and women who got lost on your way to the cafeteria. As you dubbed yourselves the “hot mess express” of students, you fought your way through your tenth-grade year. You learned that in the main building of our high school, no one was going to hold your hand and coddle you. You each learned that year how to advocate for yourselves. Each of you figured out from whom to ask for help and which teachers would accept late work.
You went out for the track, golf, bowling, and football teams. Each of you worked on finding your identities as high school students and young adults. We started to learn and grow together as a group, me as your teacher and all of you as my students. You all told me you’d crash my wedding (and one of you almost did!). One of you joined us in November from North Carolina and had to acclimate to our schedule and the vigor at which lessons were thrown at you. One of you dealt with a bully and made allies along the way. We lost one of our pack along the way because, although you did everything you were supposed to, the adults who were supposed to do what was best for you failed you and all I could do was cry with you when you left.
That magical summer between tenth and eleventh grade came and passed and you each returned to me a little wiser, a little more confident, and a whole lot taller. I’m still unsure what happens in that summer between tenth and eleventh grade, but I truly look forward to it every year. There’s a maturity that takes place within you which I know will make me enjoy our next year together. My lovely girl of the group whom we lost at the end of the tenth grade rejoined us where you belonged in November of your junior year. We celebrated homecoming together and a number of your birthdays. I taught you about literary elements and we struggled through geometrical proofs together.
One of you stood up in front of the class and announced that you would now be identifying by a different name, and the pronouns “they, them, their”. You told us it was something you have been struggling with, but you knew we would support you and understand. Our group embraced you without questioning or judgement and you were born anew your junior year. We watched together in March as a new disease worked its way across the world to our front steps, and then we closed the doors to the school together on March 16th. We took what we would need for two weeks, not realizing we wouldn’t be back together again in person until your senior year.
New vocabulary entered our everyday vernacular: Meets, lagging, and avatar. We had to learn how to finish the school year together with the assignments being given online by your content teachers. You each agreed to meet with me on the computer for an hour every other day to work on your school work and deconstruct your feelings about what was happening in your lives during this time in isolation. We had group Meets so you could “see” your classmates. We had discussions about your feelings on George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and what white privilege meant to each of us. Each of you inventoried the amount of toilet paper and hand sanitizer amassed in your houses and somehow, someway, we finished your junior year together while staring at a computer screen at each other.
The seclusion of the summer between junior and senior year had us sitting in anticipation. What would September look like? Would we be back together as a group? Would we all be online again and would you miss being able to physically be together your senior year? The good news came that a hybrid schedule would be created. You would be allowed back in the building in shifts. This would impact us as a collective group because we wouldn’t all physically be together in the room, but we were a step closer. You grew as a group during your senior year. We dealt with technology issues and you learned to stand up for yourselves when you needed a math test printed on actual paper rather than given online. As January began, you were able to come back together in person (with masks on and six feet apart).
We were back together, but the seclusion of the pandemic had taken its toll and reared its ugly head. The spark had left many of your eyes and the love of learning you had shown in the last two years seemed to have left your hearts. What was left was the exhaustion of online learning. For some of you, your roles in your families were redefined.
You were no longer “high school student”. Some of you were “caregivers” for small children and missed a number of days of school because you were responsible for younger siblings or nieces. Many of you shared that you had become deeply depressed and that you just had no interest or energy to get through the assignments. One of you missed classes because you needed to help with your family’s business. In the ten months before you could be reunited as a group of seniors, you were given new adult roles and made to deal with adult situations.
As a group, you persevered and we figured out how to get through your senior year. Many of you began working jobs which gave you a sense of accomplishment outside of school. You started figuring out exactly what you wanted to do after this year. As June approached, we were down to the wire. I stopped teaching lessons and started focusing on your core class work for graduation. Some of you were struggling to keep up with the enormous workload that was thrust upon you during the last marking period. It came down to that last week of school. Three of you had all of your work in, and three of you did not. Google Classroom and School Tool were checked daily, emails were sent to teachers, and in the end, you all successfully made it to graduation.
So, to my future Airman, Broadcast Journalist, Business owner, Child Care provider, Veterinary Technician, and Restaurateur, I am honored to have been your teacher for the past three years. I have learned more from all of you than you can imagine and I know you will each do amazing things with your lives. Remember to be gentle with yourself when you struggle, be kind to others as you don’t know what life they are currently living, and always be true to yourself. As you walk the stage at graduation, I will be so proud to hand you your diploma as a way of commemorating the end of your high school career and the beginning of your next adventure.
Congratulations, my seniors of 2021!