To begin, my students and I started this school year completely virtual with rising cases in our county and, more specifically, the zip codes for our school. We all struggled with dual challenges between school/work versus our personal lives.
As we approach the end of the weirdest school year EVER, I find myself reflecting on how far my students and I have come.
I have taught 7th grade for the past 26 years so I know the trepidation that incoming middle schoolers experience. Perhaps starting school at home was a bit more comforting since they didn’t have to worry about (1) where their classrooms were, (2) how things were going to go in the locker rooms where they changed for PE, and (3) who they were going to eat lunch with.
But with that comforting thought also likely came concerns about (1) bandwidth/Internet connectivity, (2) how online learning was going to work, and (3) whether they would still fit in or not.
I think it’s safe to say that all of these comforts and concerns occurred for both my students and me at several points throughout this school year. In fact, I think we are still navigating some of those challenges even today: May 6, 2021.
What I’m most proud of this year is the persistence of my students. This year had not been easy for them. Many of them struggled with bandwidth, access to devices, completing assignments online without the immediate help of their teachers, but more importantly concerns about their family as some parents were laid off, others contracted COVID and recovered (while others did not), and monetary issues that affected housing and food.
How do I know this?
My students wrote about them in their Living History Journals.
What I love about middle schoolers is their lack of filter. Their Living History Journals are chock full of stories about learning how to skateboard, making their first cake, learning how to perfect their artistic skills. But these journals also contain heart-breaking stories of losing family members, unbearable loneliness, and in some cases outright despair.
These journal entries were the life-line between my students and me. I was able to gauge how they were doing as well as provide encouragement and feedback.
Make no mistake, reviewing these weekly journal entries has been quite taxing. I felt like I never caught a break in the grading/reviewing/planning/executing cycle.
However, I know that I am not alone in dealing with the declining health of a parent. The legal and medical decisions that have to be made have continued to overwhelm me. But when I start to wallow in self-pity, I remind myself that I am not alone in this. Many of my students have had to deal with issues of loss and death…and they don’t have the same support system or maturity of experience like me. So these Living History Journals have helped me to stand up a bit straighter because if my students can persevere, then I most certainly can.
This has been a tough 14 months. Nothing could have prepared us for this. But what I’ve learned is that through grace, love, and patience, we can all come out stronger as a result of this trying time.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I feel as if my students and I are finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We are going to make it after all. =)