“Some lessons can’t be taught; they simply have to be learned.”
The summer is here and to say that I have had one of the most challenging, exceptional, yet memorable years in my career as an elementary teacher would not even begin to describe it. My situation was certainly not unique as all teachers, educational staff, students, and families were asked to pivot and adapt more times than anyone could ever imagine or anticipate this year due to the ever-changing reality of Covid 19.
The specifics of my year were very diverse. I had three class changes, three different grades, and was on and offline six times. When virtual teaching, I along with others was navigating the challenging task of teaching with such hurdles as learning many new virtual teaching platforms and techniques immediately, dealing with on and off Wi-Fi issues, having to deliver all the lessons in a virtual manner, and losing some students due to computer issues, while having only a computer to rely on as my “classroom.” Furry and feathered friends and little siblings would join our class regularly. I even joked about a cat named Pumpkin getting a great report card as she was so faithful and engaged in class everyday.
When online there were other challenges too. Some days especially towards the end kids would leave their cameras off so I had no idea if they were learning, or even there! I felt like the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when I would call on kids. Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Dead silence. I would ask questions and end up answering them myself. Thank heavens that many other days there was energetic conversation and active participation. The lessons were engaging, and I thought I am actually rocking this online thing. Not bad for a newbie! One day at a time was the name of the game this year and that was just fine.
It is funny reflecting on what I would do to keep the kids motivated. I literally became a children’s entertainer overnight or at least tried to become one that is for sure. I would do everything to keep them engaged and logging on. Games, contests, songs, Spirit Days, prizes, guest speakers, puppets, and virtual field trips. You name it, and I was willing to give it a try if it motivated the kids and their learning. My goal was to keep them coming back each day and get them to buy into online learning. Jack Harfmann, the Koo Koo Kangaroo and Art Hub for Kids guys were my new, amazing teaching partners, and I was so proud that despite a few bumps along the way, I built a successful online program from scratch. There were lots of fun and cute memories too. I remember reading a great book and asking if anyone had a connection. One little guy could not contain his excitement and was so eager to share his "connection." He said, “I have a great connection!” I was so happy to hear that and invited him to share this incredibly great connection. He then proudly replied “My connection is Cogeco!” I chuckled and asked if he had instead a personal connection to the story but unfortunately, he did not. Another cute moment was when a new ESL student who spoke very little English asked for “Banana, Banana, Meatball,” a fun GoNoodle action song. It was so exciting to hear her speak English and when I complimented her she said to me “Mrs. R? I love you!” So sweet! Although this year was very difficult, there were many perks. No commute, working from home many days, and getting to spend more time with my adult children who will be leaving home soon was very special.
When live teaching there were many interesting scenarios as well. Trying to always keep a group of excited and energetic kids six feet apart, while wearing a mask and shield was lots of fun. Lol! My glasses would continuously fog up and being nearsighted, I had to keep doing the “on and off” glasses routine to see distance and close. I was “some sight” as my mom would say! Keeping a sense of humour this year was certainly my saving grace.
No touching, old school desk in rows, no carpet time or small groups, masks on, social distancing, no sharing of anything, sanitizing everything, keeping kids segregated in cohorts and the hardest one for me, no singing! For anyone who knows me well music is such a huge part of who I am and asking me to not sing in my primary classroom is pretty much like asking me not to breathe. I must confess, I tried to not sing, really, I did, but as time went on, I couldn’t take it. I caved and as we all had masks on, I figured it certainly wasn’t the worst thing that happened!
I learned some amazing lessons this year and I will be forever grateful for all I learned. Here in a nutshell are some important truths I discovered.
Kids Are Totally Awesome!
O.K, I certainly knew this already, but this year they really shone! They were the rock stars, the true heroes in this story. The kids were just excited to be together whether in the classroom or as little boxes on Microsoft Teams. They were truly incredible! They adapted, cooperated, learned new skills and routines, kept trying their best under very unpredictable and stressful times and had positive attitudes as well. I am so proud of them and their entire families on how they embraced the many changes we had to continuously face. Many times, the kids encouraged me with their kind comments, pictures, cards, and letters either in person or they would message me online. This is what it is all about and I would not trade this time I had with them for anything. My heart was often heavy for them for all they were missing out on and how weird their world had become, yet they never seemed to let it phase them too much. We still connected in very meaningful ways. We established community and I feel I was able to add value to their lives and become someone they could count on in an otherwise unpredictable world.
We Can Do Hard Things
If we all have learned anything this year, it is certainly this… We CAN do hard things! No one in the education sector, students or families saw this coming but we did it! Not only did we do it, but we did it WELL! We all learned so much together and became so skilled in the virtual classroom I would sometimes shake my head in amazement. I used to be a person that was very intimidated by technology. I always admired my tech savvy colleagues. I wanted to be them when I grew up, but I always told myself that that was beyond my scope of expertise. Well, this year, I had no choice. I was literally thrown into virtual teaching, and it was sink or swim! I chose to swim the best I could and always be open to any new techniques to stay afloat and not be too proud to jump in the lifeboat when needed!
This Too Shall Pass
One thing that really helped me keep my sanity this year was reminding myself that the way my job looked this year, was only temporary. We would not forever be stuck trying to teach kids and delivery the curriculum in this manner and under these stressful circumstances. I recall on a very hard day; I was leaving school and my cousin Bob pulled up in his car to chat. He is an amazing support to me and has been a huge blessing to me on so many occasions. Bob shared his heart and how he knew that this year must be so difficult for everyone but to please be reminded that “This too shall pass.” His words were very timely and gave me some much-needed perspective that day and I am very thankful.
When Life Hands You a Lemon…
Life handed us a huge lemon this year. It was difficult and unusual, and the rules kept changing. Some could choose to be bitter, and fight change all the way. It would be tempting and understandable to do so but I chose to embrace it and accept it and try to learn all I could. By having this philosophy, I have really grown in so many ways as an educator and person this year. I learned quickly to accept this is what this year looks like and I was determined to try to make the best of it. Having this mentality helped me cope and be successful this year. It was not easy but very necessary. Re-examining my priorities and focusing on what really matters most was key. Making sure my students were comfortable, safe, and felt that everyone was a valuable and special member of our class “family” was my number one goal. I am confident my students still had a great year although it was very different than what they were used to.
This year was certainly crazy! It will go down in history for sure but despite all the ups and downs that I faced, I know that as I look back and reflect, I will smile and be truly grateful for all that I experienced. I not only survived this year but by God’s grace and the support of amazing friends and family I thrived! I truly grew in ways I never thought possible this year. They say the best teachers never stop learning and I want to be known as someone who is one of those kind of teachers always.
Little Lesson Learned: Life will hand you things you don’t want. The challenge is to learn to be flexible and adjust, and embrace the lessons to be learned. In the end if you do, you will be so glad you did.
Until next time,
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