I sat in front of the computer, thinking about what I could come up with to keep my students engaged for this last week of school. The computer screen began to blur reminding me of the metaphorical “blur” of this past school year. It feels strange to even describe this as “the year after” the pandemic. Remote learning may be behind us, but it does not seem like we are even close to getting out of the pandemic. My thoughts wandered to the upcoming school year. I wondered if it might bring any sense of even temporary stability. Then I reflected on this past year and began to question everything: my pedagogy, instructional practices, and most importantly, the relationships developed throughout the year. Here are some reflections of a teacher on “the year after.”
We wouldn’t ask why a rose that grew from the concrete for having damaged petals, in turn, we would all celebrate its tenacity, we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don’t ask me why thank god, and ask me how. – Tupac Shakur
The pandemic was our concrete. The damaged petals were the many results of COVID: the sickness itself, disrupted learning, negative mental health impacts and more. The sun was our dream for this to finally be over, a dream that was as out of reach and unattainable as the idea of reaching the sun. Teachers were the roses, striving to break through, survive and flourish despite it all.
Why did we have to go through all of this? The better question is how did we make it? For me, it was finally accepting the fact that I had to often put the curriculum aside and focus on the students in front of me. I wish I had taught them more of the content they needed to learn this year, but I hope what I was able to teach them was engaging, relatable, culturally relevant, and timely. I looked at current events and figured out ways to apply them to the pedagogical lessons and concepts I needed them to learn. Did I make it through all of the curriculum? No. But they learned this year: empathy, resilience, and perseverance. The fact that they learned things this year is what really mattered in the end.
I want to grow. I want to be better. You Grow. We all grow. We’re made to grow. You either evolve or you disappear. – Tupac Shakur
As educators, we are on a never-ending journey to grow and evolve. This often involves more than learning new ways to be more skilled at differentiated instruction. This year was one of the most challenging of my career. As a result, I found myself scrutinizing my instructional practices more than usual. I was lucky to have a professor in my teaching credential program who warned me that you can have the best lesson plan in the world, but you have to always be able to “shift” depending on the class, the period of the day, and what the students chose to bring with them on that particular day. I had to employ these ideas more than ever as I considered my instruction this year.
There were days when the instruction took a hard “left turn,” and I had to be ok with allowing that to happen. I would start with a great plan, but half of the class would be out on quarantine. I would come ready to “drive home” an important concept. Before I could, the entire class would have to leave to take rapid tests due to yet another exposure.
Other days I came to class ready to use the entire class period to reinforce skills the students needed on the next test. But the looks on my students’ faces due to daily unpredictability let me know that it was better to postpone the assessment. I had to accept the fact that nothing would be “predictable” this year. I was forced to evolve. I became more in tune with my students than I had ever been in years past. The relationships we built helped me accept what I could not control.
I’m not perfect, but I’ll always be real. – Tupac Shakur
Relationships. I needed to be “real” and accept that both the students and I were perfectly imperfect. As I reflect on what could have been, what should have been, and what I wished I had accomplished as far as “actual teaching” of my curriculum, I now realize that wishing I could have done “more” is a waste of energy.
My relationships with students may have been deeper and more meaningful because of what we went through together over the past year. We experienced all the ups and down, the twists and turns, the ins and outs, as a class, as a school, and as a family. We leaned on each other to question the “whys” and to figure out the “hows” as a collective group of sojourners on this unpredictable journey. We laughed, we cried, and sometimes even sat silently incredulous at the ridiculousness of everything we went through. Our commonality was in our struggle, but we persevered and now can look forward to what we can only hope is the “end” with a more certain future. We made it through “the year after”…together.
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