Closed Schools, Open Hearts

I’ve said it before and I’ll stay it again. If you are looking for a job that continually shatters your heart and then puts it back together again, teaching might just be for you. That seems especially true today in the wake of the announcement that in-person instruction has been cancelled for the remainder of the school year.

I walked into my classroom for the last time on Monday, March 16th. The announcement had been made on Friday, March 13th that schools would be closed for in-person instruction the following week. Monday had been declared an in-service day at my school for teachers to prepare for the rapid transition to remote learning. I walked in on that in-service day and turned on my SmartBoard before realizing that no students would be walking in the door that day. I looked at the weekly calendar I had so optimistically posted before the Friday announcement was made and erased it before it could taunt me anymore. I opened my desk to see my stack of #MathCrushMonday mathematicians looking at me, knowing that my usual group of students that would pick out who to display that week wouldn’t be walking through my door. I looked at the clock at 7:45 and realized I didn’t need to get to my door to greet students because no students would be walking through my door that day. Or that week. Or for the rest of the month. Or for the brief moment I allowed myself to think it, maybe the rest of the year.

My heart breaks for the big things for my students: Prom, sports, banquets, inductions, graduation as they were originally scheduled. But it also breaks for the little things. No more conversations in the lunch room. No more jokes in the hallways. No more seemingly trivial conversations. No more inside jokes with your whole class. No more routine interactions with a consistent and caring group of adults. Smiles and greetings, a familiar face on a challenging day. Meeting up with friends after the final bell of the day.

This week, I was interviewed for the school newspaper, in part because of a teacher Instagram account I started as a way to stay connected with students. For the last question of the interview, the journalism student asked me if I had any messages for my students. Of course I do, and brevity has never been my strength. But upon my reflection, I said:

I miss you all so much and can’t wait until we are all back together at school again. These have not been easy times, but I’m continually impressed with how resilient, caring, creative, and hard-working you all have been. I know the future can seem so uncertain right now, but I find a lot of comfort in knowing you all are our future.

I also want to tell my students that even though the building is closed, the hearts of their teachers are still wide open. None of us went into teaching because we were overly passionate about the quadratic formula (contrary to what my students might tell you), Romeo and Juliet, punnet squares, or the Industrial Revolution. I didn’t get out of bed every morning because the thought of teaching students how to factor made me giddy (okay, maybe a little bit). We never taught because we were trying to increase standardized test scores, receive a certain teacher evaluation score, or even to have two and a half months off in the summer. We do what we do because we stinking love kids. We believe that education is the key that opens so many doors for students. We believe that students have the capability to create the world that they want to live in and we want to enable them to do just that because we want to live in the world they will create.

My school has a student vision statement prominently displayed outside of my classroom that says, “WCHS students are critical thinkers, problem solvers, effective communicators, ethical, life-long learners.” The only addition I would like to add is that “WCHS students are loved,” but hopefully they know that and feel it every day without it being on a banner. I try to take to heart the vision statement in all things I do with my students. I have had the realization that remote learning is a really incredible time to let this vision drive what I do. I might not be able to get through my usual curriculum the way I would in a physical classroom, but that doesn’t devalue the rest of the year. My students will look back at 2020 for years to come. It will be something they share stories about with their own children some day. Although they probably won’t remember my stellar video lesson on reference angles, factoring, or arithmetic sequences (although they will be archived on YouTube for all of eternity), I hope they remember the value they found in education. I hope they can reflect on this time during future tough times and remember how they persevered through challenging circumstances before so they know they can do it again. I hope they have a renewed appreciation for the simple, routine days in their lives. Most importantly, I hope the remember feeling seen, cared for, and most of all, loved.

I end the year telling all of my students that once you’re my student, you are always my student, giving handwritten cards to my seniors, and a posting of the wise words of Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World, the classic 90’s sitcom that my students are officially too young to understand:

Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good…I love you all. Class dismissed.

It’s not the last day of school, but it is the last day of thinking we might have a typical last day of school, so I think it’s important to share today as well. It might look a bit different than usual, but teachers are going to continue to do what we do best. We will continue to be passionate about students and the value of education in their lives. We aren’t working towards the end we had in mind, but we are still working. Learning doesn’t look like what it used to, but it is still happening and it is still meaningful. We aren’t with you in person while the school is closed, but we are still loving you with our hearts wide open. So kiddos, sorry I’m not sorry that class isn’t dismissed quite yet. You are stuck with me and my bad jokes through the end of the school year. So on Monday morning, it still won’t be factoring that gets me out of bed, but rather the chance to interact with you, greeting you with a “Happy Monday!” Maybe I’ll even wear my math dress.

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