In typical back-to- school fashion, I had the usual first day of school anxiety nightmare, this time with a COVID twist. I was getting a COVID booster shot only to be told I had never actually received my vaccine, had no antibodies, and would have to get all the shots over again. (And I thought dreams where the principal showed up to evaluate me on the first day were stressful).
It was a chaotic first few days of school. Our board passed a mask mandate hours before school started. I had full classes of students again; over 32 in most, which means no social distancing. New admin meant the normal beginning of the year procedures were messy. All of this after a year of online learning; some of our students were coming back in the building for the first time in a year and half.
I planned and replanned that first day of school which came and went in a blur. We only had 30 minute classes, which was basically enough time to say hello, take attendance, and then send the students out the door again before I crashed at my desk exhausted. It was the second day that really brought my joy back to me.
After a year online, the fear was that the kids would forget how to be social, how to communicate with other people again. So I had students make a get-to-know-you collage about their heritage, culture, interests, and hobbies. At the end of class, I asked students to stand up and meet three of their classmates and talk about one thing they drew on their collage. Then I sat back and watched in awe as all of my classes engaged with their peers. They asked follow up questions and tried to make connections with their classmates. I saw smiling and laughing. It wasn’t a race to get done and head back to their seat; I saw that genuine connection again.
My year of teaching online was a year filled with missed connections: blank screens and begging students to unmute themselves. As I sat there watching those day two interactions, I had to bring myself to interrupt the student conversations before the bell rang. I finally told my 7th hour how proud I was they remembered how to be human again and they smiled and nodded. They too enjoyed that moment of connection.
I really struggled to enjoy my job when I was teaching online, and even now I am still struggling to do my job every day with all the stress of COVID, enforcing mask wearing, and large class sizes. The difference this year is that at the end of the day, I am loving the time I get to spend with my students again. I missed those connections too.
It is in those little moments during class that my joy has been inching back: a funny joke from a kid, an act of kindness for a classmate, and those fun lessons I missed teaching. It will be another crazy year with COVID, but I have a little faith that my love of teaching will still be here in June.
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels