“I can’t handle my school work,” read a message one of my students sent three weeks before the end of the school year. “My dad just went into the ICU and I don’t think I can do this,” she continued. My heart broke as I read this message. And as I think back over the school year, I know why it has taken me so long to finish writing about it. This year was exhausting, both emotionally and physically. When I first started to write this, I was mad. Anger is okay, but I want my blog to bring joy. Even when the subject is as difficult as what the school year and Covid put my students through.
For the majority of the year this student showed up to each of my zoom meetings, commented on the pictures that decorate my background, and worked hard all year long. Yet, as we come to the end of the semester Covid reared its ugly head inside this students’ family. “They’re all sick but I am asymptomatic” the student told me. I cannot imagine that pressure. Yet, sadly this has not been the only conversation I’ve had with students who’s families dealt with the struggles of Covid.
While I stayed sheltered safely at home many of my students live were at risk. They live in multigenerational households where staying home and learning remotely means caring for their siblings or their siblings children as one of my students has had to do all year long. Yet, I stayed comfortable at home, teaching in my pajamas. For most of the year I woke up about an hour before my zoom meetings started, played with my dogs, ate breakfast, and then made sure everything was ready for my classes. As I documented earlier in this school year, I chose to stay sheltered at home and teach remotely because of past health issues and April’s pregnancy. Now that we are both vaccinated we are experiencing more freedom. It’s like it’s 2019 or almost something like that since we are still choosing to stay home as much as possible.
But there is a disparity between my life and the lives of my students. My life has been comfortable, even if this school year was stressful, while my students have been put through the wringer. For the 2020-2021 school year my district expected all of my students to learn at the same level as they would have in a non-pandemic school year, despite the fact that my students’ families faced Covid at a higher rate than the rest of the district. As a teacher, I am all for my students becoming life long learners and using this year to grow. Unfortunately the district only measures growth by looking at test scores. Tests do not care how a student is doing emotionally, nor if a family has been dealing with Covid. So now not only do my students have to fight against Covid, but they have to make sure they are acing their tests. Where is the grace in this?
I want my students to know that they matter so that I can help them on the road toward healing. This past year, more than any, I felt like it has been important for them to know that. The feeling of not mattering and even more feeling invisible is something I struggle with at times. This struggle is something I’m working on with my therapist. He reminded me that the feelings of not mattering and invisibility are ones that will pop up my entire life. He likened it to a country road with a ditch on the side. While we travel down the road we are healing. We might fall into the ditch and feel like we should be ashamed that we are not on the road anymore, but in fact we are further away from the start of our journey and that first wound that made us feel that way than we were a year ago or six years ago. We just need to get back up and start walking. My therapist has been a helpful hand in picking me up when I’ve fallen into the ditch. It’s because of him I decided to teach in my pajamas. Simple comforts can help us remember that we are loved. Many of my students have fallen into the ditch this year and I want them to know they are loved.
This year as I taught from home I felt like I didn’t matter and that I was invisible to my school community. These feelings are what led me to finalizing seeing a therapist, which has been incredibly healing. He let me know that it is okay to feel anxious, sad, irrelevant, and invisible at times. Those feelings are feelings Jesus felt when he died for us which is why when I feel that way I can know he has compassion for me. Also, because he felt that way I know it is normal to feel that way too and so then I don’t feel so bad. I know my students have been feeling the same as me and I have compassion for them, and so during each class I made sure to tell them how much I love them, how much they matter, and made sure to spend time talking to them so that they feel seen. We played games, I made polls for my baby girl’s name (this brought some great laughter), let them play with my co-teacher puppies (well, only virtually) who sat next to me during nearly every lesson (or actually they wrestled and yipped, spilled water bowls, and generally added the chaos back to my classroom), and most of all I just listened to them. My favorite time doing this came two weeks before the end of the year as we were preparing for the state mandated MAP test. Through zoom I was able to meet with each of my students and tell each of them how much they mattered to me.
I don’t know how my students did on their tests yet, but I am guessing that they did well. I do know that each of them ended the year feeling known and loved (and hopefully a little proud at the great work they did).
Three weeks ago on the last day of school Jesus did something fun for me. He reminded me that I matter and that I am not invisible. My students awarded me one of the ten staff members of the year. I still feel honored and seen. Maybe I should teach in my pajamas every year. Maybe my puppies should show up to my classroom in real life next year. Maybe my students do know they are loved (puppies can do that). Maybe that love will help my student who is still waiting for her dad to recover from Covid.