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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

An Open Letter to First-Year Teachers

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Dear First-Year Teachers,

It isn’t always like this.

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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.

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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