“Pandemic Teaching,” “Emergency Teaching,” “Survival Mode” — These are some of the ways we teachers have described teaching one full school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nine months ago, when my district let us know that we would be offering a virtual option for students but no hybrid learning for those selecting the in-person option, my heart sank. I would be in a full classroom of students all day long, every day of the week, with six classes to teach (I am a high school educator). It felt heavy, heartbreaking.
Many teachers at my school shed tears. We were overwhelmed, scared, and hurt. We felt as though our safety was not a priority and that our opinions did not matter. So no “virtual only” teachers would be needed at the high school level, we were told that we would be teaching virtual students at the same time we were teaching our in-person students. New software and online learning platforms were thrown at us. We not only had to learn how to use the programs ourselves, but it was our responsibility to teach the programs to our students as well. Teaching from home was not an option for us. This school year was going to be the toughest one yet.
The first day of school was overwhelming. The normal “first week of school” housekeeping had to be discussed, but also COVID restrictions needed to be carefully explained to and understood by students. Masks rules, social distancing rules, water fountain and restroom rules… so many new policies. Our bell schedule was changed multiple times to accommodate enough time for students to wash their hands and for teachers to sanitize rooms and prepare for their next class.
Surprisingly enough, or really not surprisingly at all, the students rose to the occasion.
Flash forward to May 2021, and I can honestly say I am overwhelmingly happy I got to have my students in person with me this school year. For their mental health, their education, and their relationships with others, as well as my own. All our activities, clubs, and athletics were able to have their seasons and competitions; something I never saw happening back in August. Seniors got to have their prom although not in the traditional form. They got to dress up and take the pictures they longed to have. Graduation will take place and students will get the opportunity to walk across the stage to get their diploma. The questions we all had at the beginning of the year seemed to slowly work themselves out, and as a school staff we grew closer.
If I could give my beginning-of-school self some advice now that we have made it through this school year, I would say this, “Every day you get to have students walk into your classroom is a blessing.”
And to my fellow educators, I want to applaud you — We can adapt, we can overcome adversity in our profession, and we can do hard things. This school year taught us this and has changed me as an educator for the better.