Pandemic University’s Teacher of the Year

You guys.

This year has been…a lot.

We’ve learned who among us is considered “essential” and who is not. 

We’ve schooled from home out of necessity only to push our kids back out the door once the schools reopened because we realized we are *not* equipped to be their teachers. 

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

We’ve worked from home. 

We’ve masked up to restock our groceries. 

We’ve hoarded TP.

We’ve learned which stores offer pick up and have become experts at navigating their apps and website.

And we teachers have adapted – to virtual schooling of kids who may or may not have consistent access to internet or parental support; to hybrid learning models with sometimes inadequate supplies of the necessary technology; to longer passing periods so we can hastily sanitize desks and chairs between classes and keep our students and ourselves healthy.

And we’ve done this without an increase in our salary to match the increase in our workload.

We’ve shown up for your babies and our own. 

We’ve re-established consistent routines for them. 

We’ve fed them snacks from our stash. 

We’ve given them bottles of water since fountains are shut off and unsafe to drink from. 

We’ve listened to what students tell us as well as what they selectively leave out so we can assess their true needs. 

Photo by Max Fischer from Pexels

We’ve pushed past our own fear and trepidation to keep showing up for kids whose homes aren’t always welcoming or inviting, for kids who need school to be their safe, warm place. We’ve elbow-bumped in place of high fives and hugs. 

We’ve hatched project plans to engage students. 

We’ve fostered curiosity and encouraged questions to help quell nervousness and apprehension in the face of vaccines, insurrection, and impeachment and all the accompanying uncertainty. We’ve deepened the bonds we nurture with students so they can know more than ever that we are their safe place.

Some of us have died as a result of contracting COVID – possibly at school – after being told we can’t work from home

Some of us have retired early because having contracted this illness once we don’t want to speed our death along by sticking around to contract it again. 

Some of us have quarantined due to immediate family members being ill. 

Some of us have begun teaching this year – straight out of college, and are currently weathering that struggle-filled first year of teaching amid a pandemic that many of us didn’t know was coming.

We have kept quarantined students aware of their work to ensure they don’t fall behind. 

We have enforced six feet of space between students.

We have kept showing up as best we can. 

Photo by Laura James from Pexels

Yet soon – perhaps because of a desire to regain normalcy, perhaps to recognize the “exceptional” teachers – we will be asked to nominate the colleagues whom we think deserve of the title “Teacher of the Year.”

Hear me when I say this to you: Here at Pandemic University – where all the world’s children are enrolled and all the grownups are teachers – Teacher of the Year is all of us. 

Teacher of the Year is the medical professional spending weeks and months away from their own family to care for our own.

Teacher of the Year is the parent stumbling to make coffee and accidentally showing her child’s Zoom class her new bathrobe because she walked through his dining room table virtual classroom.

Teacher of the Year is the administrator who is retiring after decades of dedicated service to her school and community. 

Photo by Norma Mortenson from Pexels

Teacher of the Year is the grocery chain store worker, who has shown up day after day to earn minimal dollars so we can feed for our families.

Teacher of the Year is the older teenage child who left school last March and never returned because she needs to help her parents by earning an income and by minding her younger siblings while they go to school.

Teacher of the Year is the educator who took every precaution to deliver remote instruction safely and yet still wound up perishing as a result of this dreadful disease.

Teacher of the Year is every parent, mentor, teacher, librarian, custodian, aide, and paraprofessional we’ve failed to notice or appreciate before.

Teacher of the Year is you and me and everyone we know.

Accept your flowers. Add the trophy to your case. Frame your certificate and display it in your home office.

Cheers to you, Teacher of the Year. Your resilience inspires me.

In the future, may we find that the years we spent at Pandemic University taught us to replace popularity contests with support for each other that is so fierce that we never think to compete with each other. Instead, may we busy ourselves with making sure we never forget the fundamental lesson Pandemic University taught us: that we are enough just as we are.  

Source: Me

Congratulations to you, Teacher of the Year!

The world is your classroom, and your students are waiting.

Onward.

The Call is coming from Inside Our House

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Wednesday, January 6, is a day that will live in infamy. Scores of American citizens, having consumed misinformation, lies, and vitriol-laden rhetoric from a number of sources, armed themselves, pushed past police barricades, and stormed the capitol building at the very day and time our Congress was scheduled to certify President-Elect Biden’s November 2020 win.

I want to be clear here, and state definitively that I am utterly uninterested in blaming any group or political party for what this group of individuals hath wrought. 

Every individual who participated in this insurrection owes restitution and reparation to every American citizen who was forced to watch in horror as they laid siege to our seat of government. 

Every individual who participated in this insurrection owes our nation’s children an explanation for their atrocious behavior, particularly if they believe themselves undeserving of a time-out courtesy of our nation’s justice and prison system. 

People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Source

Every individual who participated in this insurrection owes our country’s rising leadership a deep debt of earnest service, having planned and executed an attack that has resulted in worldwide shame and loss of credibility.

Too, I am utterly uninterested in comparisons of Wednesday’s events to any other type of protest except those which attempted to lay siege to a seat of government in order to invalidate a lawful election and intimidate lawmakers into halting progress toward installing the next national leader.

A quick scan of similar events that have arisen throughout our nation’s history will reveal that the only comparable event was the exact inciting spark of the American Civil War. Secessionists didn’t acknowledge Lincoln as their president. They formed their own government, chose their own president, and waged war on their own (now, former) country in order to protect their cherished ideals and values, all of which hinged on the “ holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

This is not fake. This is not staged. 

This is a horror movie plot playing out in real life, in our home. 

We cannot run up the stairs and hope that hiding in a closet and closing our eyes will cause the terrorists pursuing us to lose interest in snuffing out the life of our representative democracy. Because the call is coming from inside America’s house.

We cannot hide behind the cross of Christ and the promise of future spiritual unity and reconciliation, declaring thereby that we have transcended all the troubles of the world because Jesus saves. Because the call is coming from inside the church house.

We cannot deny that white supremacy played a role in the way rioters were treated or in the motivations they brought with them to their treasonous display, not even though we saw a scattering of people of color among them. They brought nooses and chanted a call to hang the sitting VP, all the while taking selfies with police officers who bore witness to their seditious occupation – not unlike Jim Crow-era postcards of smiling white families enjoying picnics at their local lynchings. Because the call is coming from inside American history’s house.

We cannot continue holding on for dear life to the tired notion that the rebel flag stands for heritage, not hate, clutching our pearls at valid claims to the contrary because many white people didn’t own slaves, because black people fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, because we really just love sweet tea and Jesus and don’t even see color except when it suits us. The individuals who stormed, pissed, shat, stole, and were then escorted out of our nation’s capitol building carried flags that showed their true beliefs, and even a quick look at primary sources from the Confederate states reveals exactly what their beliefs were then, and what beliefs present-day flagbearers cosign by extension: “citizens…shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.” The Confederate states’ version of the American dream including keeping my skinfolk in a perpetual state of subhumanity and forced servitude. Their flag carries slavery’s ghost, and white supremacy’s still-present incarnation. The call is coming from inside the Confederate-sympathizing rebels’ house.

No matter what groups’ beliefs we hold dear, no matter how we personally identify and align ourselves, this call for terror, insurrection, even a second civil war, is coming from inside our home. It’s up to us to face the terrorists, disarm them, hold them accountable for the death and destruction they’ve caused, and build the America “that never has been yet…Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme.” 

This is our house, y’all. The unhinged aggressor won’t go away because we earnestly wish they would. We are going to have to build the house we want to live in. 

And this is not it.

An Open Letter to First-Year Teachers

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Dear First-Year Teachers,

It isn’t always like this.

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

My first year of teaching, an experienced teacher said to me over lunch one day that if we could just get teachers to stick with it for five years, they were much more likely to stick with teaching for the whole of their career. She was speaking generally of trends in teachers leaving while the job was hard, before they really got the groove of what they were doing. But I think she could sense my unrest. My unease. My then-untreated anxiety.

Her words have stayed with me, through multiple teaching jobs across different districts, in both public and private schools, and even during my time spent as a stay-at-home mom to my two sons. Although I am sure she did not intend to impact me this way with her words, I came away from that conversation with a weight: if I couldn’t stick it out for five consecutive years, was I really even a teacher? What if I didn’t stay in one place that long? If I left my job to start a family with my husband, did I have any right to come back later?

Here is what I want to say to you: whatever questions, doubts, and anxieties you have this year – of all years – it isn’t always like this.

On the other side of this pandemic are peace and calm.

On the other side of first year jitters is a second-year stride.

On the other side of learning content and curriculum jargon for the first time is a deeper understanding of what’s expected of you with each year that passes.

On the other side of that one student that just seems to try and find ways to butt heads with you is a tried and true strategy for connecting with similar kids you’ll meet in twenty years.

It isn’t always like this.

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Please take heart in knowing that the muscles you are developing now as you navigate hybrid in-person and distance learning, magick up new ways to introduce yourself to children you may not see in person for weeks or even months into the new school year, will not only make you strong for the kids in your care, but they will also make you strong for yourself. You will be resilient. You will be wise. You will thrive.

None of us has done this before, not even the fifty-year veteran teacher who has had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, has taught during a pandemic on this scale. Do the best you can each moment, and know that it’s enough. Protect your physical health and wellness as best you can. Find your marigold. Ignore the tone-deaf advice to always put on a brave face for the kids or to develop a thick skin against criticism [that way lies madness; so stay soft]. Perhaps most importantly, safeguard the boundaries you put in place in order to remain balanced and whole outside the classroom.

Your expertise and abilities are enough. Your creativity and unique personality are needed. Your care and concern are valued.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

It isn’t always like this, first year teacher, and it probably never will be again.

Keep showing up in the most fearless, honest version of yourself you can muster. And we will all get to the other side of this, together.

– Q, a year-ten teacher who believes in you

To The Class of 2020

When I first tried adult coloring books – you know, the ones with intricate patterns and numerous details and fancy mandalas – I was so excited to use my pretty metallic pens while listening to podcasts after the kids went to bed. But I was also overwhelmed. I would sit with a picture like, choose the colors I wanted to use, and then put the others aside (I didn’t want to get mixed up, you know.) But then as I began to color, I would notice so much more detail than I originally could see. The patterns I had created in my head would be ruined before I’d had a chance to bring them to life. I’d have to choose more colors or leave more spaces blank, possibly next to a space that had also been affected by the necessary pattern changing. 

Gradually, I leaned into the uncertainty. I would pick up a coloring book from my growing collection, select my favorite picture, and then turn to one I only liked a little bit – and *that* is where I would start. I’d choose colors I thought might be disparate, settle on a possible pattern in my mind, and dig in. Once I had completed a few of these rough drafts with pictures that were not my favorite, I would choose one or two beautiful colors and start in on my fave from that book.  And I would work on it intermittently, sometimes coloring less favored and less detailed pictures in-between sessions of coloring in my fave. In time, that feeling of irritation at having to re-imagine how I’d color in my masterpieces dissipated, and too, I began to find that some of my favorite pictures looked best with only one or two colors distributed deliberately, rather than every beautiful color in my collection.

Here is the truth, Class of 2020: Most of us did not see this pandemic coming. If we are fortunate, we each were happily settled into our favorite versions of our lives. We were going about our daily routines in a happy, busy, hum of activity. We had selected a canvas upon which to color by making choices regarding spouse and career and location, and we were just sitting and doodling. But this pandemic was not a part of the pattern that we could see until we were already settled well into this life. So here we all are, stuck in this moment in time – some of us protesting against it as if we can believe ourselves into invincibility in the name of liberty, some of us cowering in our own homes behind towers of hoarded TP and homemade masks, some of us alternating between praying and cussing and arguing and forgiving – all of us desperate to make this all make sense.  

But it just won’t.

We can’t force this time in our lives to fit neatly into the pattern we planned. 

Some of you have worked your whole academic careers to earn that spot in the top ten percent of your class to secure your scholarships. Some of you are the first in your family to complete high school, and you were excitedly looking forward to the whoops and cheers and air horns from your crowd of family as they watched you do what they never have. Some of you are plugged into your communities already as mentors for younger kids, and you know what it means for those kids to see you accomplish this milestone.

And now they can’t.

I want to apologize to you that the last glorious months of your high school career were stolen from you. But I also have to tell you that our collective global history could have given you no better life lesson than to screw up your plans. Every bit of life after high school graduation is about making plans and then having them ruined. 

Life is about the first real job you get being the job of your dreams, only to find out it doesn’t pay enough to cover both rent *and* student loan payments. 

Life is about marrying your high school sweetheart – the girl next door – only to discover yourselves growing apart rather than growing together.

Life is about sharing photos of your dream house with your best friend, only to watch them buy it before you’ve gotten a down payment together.

Life is about the million, billion wrong decisions you make that you can’t blame on anyone else, appointments you schedule but fail to make, the heartache of being ghosted by your best college friend.

Life is about the mess we can’t plan for but have to roll with. We as your teachers and parents and mentors could have taught you no better lesson than this: An adult life that is well and successfully lived, is chock full of emotional low points that turn into fuel to move forward.

The low-paying job of your dreams prompts you to create the non-profit that provides emotional and financial support for all in your profession.

The high school sweetheart-turned-spouse-turned-ex, simply was meant for another life, as are you. Your relationship and love for each other can remain as whole and supportive as they ever were, even as they take a different shape.

The dream house you couldn’t afford would only have ruined your credit score, and your cozy starter home can become as welcoming and dream-like as your imagination and budget allow.

I welcomed the class of 2020 into my Freshman English classroom four years ago. They tried my patience. They pushed and questioned me at every turn. They refused to complete assignments I left for a sub. They did all but pick up my beautiful box of colored pens and threw them at me and my lesson plans. They kept me on my toes. They forced me to grow. They jostled and struggled until together, we found the colors and patterns that fit our vision of what my classroom needed to be.

In the final analysis, life teaches us that we cannot choose our most perfect, beautiful picture and execute its pattern perfectly – not even if we practice first. All of our striving and planning and strategizing do not guarantee us the happy, idyllic life we so earnestly desire. Rather, we strive and plan and strategize so that we can find the joy and purpose in whatever life throws our way.

And you already know this, Class of 2020, but it bears repeating: this time in your life is not an ending but a beginning – a true commencement into the realness of life. Thanks to this global shutdown during a formative time in your life, you are uniquely equipped to handle the challenges that will undoubtedly continue come your way. Go confidently and boldly into this world, and color it with all the beauty and resilience of who you are.