BY: LIZ JORGENSEN
“And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.”
Dear West Virginia teachers,
This may very well be the most unique Back-to-School Eve of our careers. I have spent the past few months watching the news as politicians capitalize on a global health crisis for political gains and use teachers and students as their pawns in the game. Then, once the Powers That Be finally settled on some plans for the school year, I have spent the past few weeks trying to rethink every single procedure and teaching method I employ to make my classroom less of a COVID petri dish. And I know that most of you have been doing the same thing.
The past few weeks have felt like trying to climb up a greased waterslide and continually slipping back down. Or building a plane while flying it. Or living through one of those teacher nightmares when you show up to school with no lesson plans, no copies made, and no pants on. (No, I have not shown up for teacher planning days pants-less. But it’s a pretty apt analogy when it feels like your pedagogical world is turned upside down.)
When you’re caught in a whirlwind of uncertainty, it can be hard to get grounded. I know that I will need to remind myself of some fundamental truths daily, if not minute-ly, tomorrow and in the days that follow. So, here’s me talking to you, and also talking to me in the process.
1. We’re going to try a lot of new things this year. They won’t all work.
I’m a teacher who thrives on systems. This is partly because I do like to be organized. However, it’s mostly because that’s the only way I keep myself from losing my mind in the ever-present tumult of a school year. One of the reasons I’m feeling so off balance is because all of my systems I have spent the last seven years establishing for my classroom now have to be run in different ways.
I have been waffling between different technological platforms to use to establish new systems that will help me and my students stay organized. “Should I put those links in a Bitmoji classroom or in Clever or in a Schoology page? Or all of the above? Is that more confusing? Or less confusing? Or, is everything just going to be confusing no matter what I do??”
I have landed on a couple helpful platforms that I am going to try out with students in the first few weeks of school. But, the amount of new tech, new platforms, and new ways of doing things has me nervous.
What if I thought this one platform was going to be a great technological work-around for my students, and it ends up being a total mess? What if I thought I understood how to set up this new thing through this new app and I actually have some settings wrong and it doesn’t work properly for the student accounts? What if I have to scrap half of this stuff in a couple weeks and try something else?
Then I scrap it and try something else.
Of course, as a teacher, I try to troubleshoot lessons before teaching them, and I try to think through what is going to be the most streamlined ways of doing things, but there will be major bumps in the road this year. Maybe even insurmountable anti-tank fortifications, and we will have to put the car in reverse, turn around, and try another road.
And that’s ok. In that case, we’ll try another road.
2. You don’t have to know what the whole year will look like. Or even next month. Or even next week. You just need to have a plan for tomorrow.
I’ve always struggled with managing stress in my life. I remember one time in middle school when a teacher gave out a large, month-long assignment, and she told me, “Don’t let the whole thing stress you out. We’re going to chip away at it a little bit at a time. What if I gave you a huge wedding-size cake right now? If you tried to eat the whole thing in one sitting, you would get sick. Eat a slice of the cake today. We’ll eat another slice tomorrow.”
If I let myself think about the enormity of essentially reforming my entire year’s curriculum to digital parameters, I get paralyzed with stress, and I can’t settle my brain down enough to think through which tasks are most pressing. It’s ok to take things one day at a time, especially this school year.
3. The kids are AWESOME.
One day this week after a teacher planning day, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items before running home. My mind was still very much in overwhelmed-teacher-overdrive, and I’m pretty sure I wandered dazedly past some items I needed a few times before running back to get them.
Then, I saw a student in the store. And it changed my entire outlook instantly. We ended up stopping and talking for 20 minutes about plans for this year, about how school is going to be different, but also about how she is excited for the new challenges. And it was instant medicine for my soul.
We haven’t seen our students since March, really. And I miss them so. Very. Much. Teenagers are fabulously funny and creative and hopeful and blunt and daring and inspiring. My students make me smile every day. And that’s not going to change just because my smile is covered with a mask.
And, the kids miss school too, even if they won’t admit it. They miss their friends, they miss normality, and they miss the teachers at school who care about them deeply. In the words of the Kid Superintendent video that has been circulating, “Kids aren’t looking for perfection. We’re looking for you to be present.”
So, let’s go do this tomorrow, West Virginia. Let’s go try new things, adapt when some of them fail, take it one day at a time, and be present for our kids.
I’m pulling for you.