This summer of 2020, the transition between school and summer has been the strangest of them all, as I’ve been sitting at home for the greater part of the past 5 months, feeling more restless than rested. As I reflect, I am confident that in the midst of a very unexpected first year, my reason for becoming a teacher will be the reason I stay a teacher: to build relationships with my students. My time with my first ever class of students was cut short by COVID-19, but I hope the time we did share together left as big an impact on them as it has on me. I am eager to return, growing from what I have learned and tying up what was left unfinished.
Prior to COVID-19, my transition into teaching was as smooth as it could be. Although I was the only seventh-grade math teacher at my school, I was left with an abundance of teaching materials from the previous teacher, as well as my time in the Baylor SOE. Throughout the year, my best activities (most relevant and engaging for the students), were the ones I learned from Dr. Rachelle Rogers and Dr. Trena Wilkerson in my mathematics content courses. I am so thankful for the way they modeled excellent teaching to me. However, these activities did not happen as frequently as I hoped, and there was a tension I faced daily. In the hustle and bustle of trying to get all the standards taught and facing resistance from students to do something out of the ordinary, I found myself falling back into old patterns of direct instruction, topped off with worksheets and homework. I knew this was contrary to what Baylor taught me — not that what I was doing was always bad, but just that it could be so much better. This is something I will continue to grow in, as I observe and brainstorm with other teachers, take feedback from students, and maintain a growth mindset for my instructional practices.
Speaking of growing, my classroom management and systems were constantly changing. I wanted to have everything ready from the start, putting processes and routines into place that I hoped would last. Some of them worked, and some of them failed miserably. I felt like I was reinventing my classroom every quarter. But students are more flexible and resilient than I would have expected. They extended grace to me when it wasn’t working and helped me find ways to make our procedures more efficient and beneficial for all. I have so many things I want to do better next year, and look forward to having this opportunity.
In all honesty, nothing could have prepared me for COVID-19 and the way it would so quickly transform education. My district extended our spring break for one week, and they gave us a single week to transform our curriculum and get the remainder of the year put online. Our administration was truly amazing, communicating daily and having a tech support line for all our questions. But it was truly so hard and discouraging at moments. My primary reason for teaching was to see students, to engage in conversation with them, to build relationships with them. All these things were taken away. We were not allowed to talk to students in real-time, so all we had were comments through various messaging applications. However, through these times, students were more gracious than I could have imagined, and often left me encouraging notes.
This season also opened my eyes to the questions: “What really matters? What is really important?” Clearly, STAAR testing was not an answer. Neither was homework, nor students’ timeliness of turning things in, when they were at home all day, sharing a computer with their four siblings as their parents juggled work and tried to make sure their students finished their schoolwork at home. I am thankful for what this pandemic has revealed. It certainly makes me nervous for what this next year will look like, but I know I can move forward with confidence that in the end, relationships will be built, and students will learn. It might not happen how I plan or expect or hope, but there is grace in it all. To all the teachers out there… we’re going to make it through!