Updated: Jan 5, 2021
Introducing this lovely lady really warms my heart. She is truly the definition of resilience and encouragement when it comes to the education system during this world wide pandemic. It’s comforting knowing that there are teachers like her that exist in this world, educators like her, that truly care. She inspires me, as a parent, to be better for my child because she is so passionate about her students. Please read and share her narrative on how the pandemic has affected not just teachers, but students and parents as a whole.
When I was in the 5th grade, I was chosen by my teacher to help a 1st grade teacher for the day when she came down with laryngitis and was unable to speak above a whisper. I don’t know why there wasn’t a real substitute or why I was allowed to miss an entire day to play school with 1st graders, but I am thankful to not know the answer to those questions because that was the day that I knew I was going to be a teacher.
Since that day, I have been entrenched in the world of education in various roles. I am a high school English teacher and volunteer as a choreography director for my alma mater’s theater program, but I have also been a cheer coach, club advisor, and instructional coach.
One of my favorite things about being an educator is that no day is the same. It is never boring. Each day brings new challenges and curveballs as well as new triumphs and lightbulb moments. Teaching keeps you on your toes and requires a certain comfort level with improvisation. We constantly make minute-by-minute decisions, adjusting on the fly to meet our students’ needs. It’s just what we do. Little did I know the limits to which our ability to adapt would be pushed.
Thursday, March 12, 2020 (3pm) - We received an email from our principal letting us know that the agenda for the staff development day tomorrow would be changing. We would need to come up with 2 weeks of lesson plans for distance learning, just in case.
Friday, March 13, 2020 (8am) - We were told that if we had to go virtual for 2 weeks, students would still come to school on Monday so we could prepare them.
Friday, March 13, 2020 (10am) - As we were working on our just in case lesson plans, an announcement was made over the PA for all faculty to meet in the cafeteria in 15 minutes.
Friday, March 13, 2020 (10:30am) - Teachers congregated in the cafeteria buzzing in anticipation, confusion, maybe even a little excitement. After a few moments of technical issues (because let’s be honest, what is a staff meeting without technical issues), the Superintendent was broadcasted on a projector screen via Zoom where she informed us that we would definitely be going virtual and neither students nor staff would be coming to campus on Monday. The closure was effective immediately.
Friday, March 13, 2020 (2pm) - I naively posted an Instagram story of myself shutting off the light as I left my classroom. I captioned it, “See you on March 30th!”.
Nobody - teachers, students, administrators, parents - anticipated that March 12th would be the last time students would sit in those classrooms for at least the next 9 months. Along with that “last time” is a laundry list of other unforeseen “last times” experienced by our students. The last time they shared a bag of Flamin Hot Cheetos with their friends. The last time they gave a high-five to a favorite teacher in passing. The last time they got to scream at the top of their lungs at a pep rally packed to the brim with bodies. The last soccer game. The last track practice. For seniors, the Winter Formal dance a month earlier was the last high school event they would ever get to attend.
As a teacher, I am used to having to pivot, but it feels like what we’ve been asked to do is to move mountains. This is brand new, never before traveled roads that we are all navigating. Actually, navigating might be too generous of a word. On most days, I am stumbling down this road. I am doing so much and not enough all at the same time. I am doing my best to maintain my quality of instruction at a high level while also juggling the onslaught of new responsibilities that managing virtual classrooms requires. I’m trying to serve my students’ social and emotional needs in addition to their academic needs, but we currently don’t have the luxury of getting to know our students the same way. Routinely spending time together in the same classroom every day creates a level of connection that cannot be replicated. I do my best to create a sense of community, but the truth is that I have not had the opportunity to learn their faces, their many expressions, and how to read them. So unless a student tells me, it’s much more difficult to know what obstacles stand in their way at home, personally, or academically. Typically, I would go back in the archives of my brain for ideas on how to make accommodations based on prior experiences. Right now, there is no prior experience to lean on. Everything feels like an experiment and I do not have my safety goggles on.
There are days when I feel completely lost. I expend all my energy into being engaging and emoting passion, but it’s difficult to create enthusiasm through a 13 inch screen full of empty, black boxes. There are days I break down and cry between classes, not because anything went wrong, but because I just don’t know if I am enough of the teacher they need right now. My heart breaks for the students who used to find refuge at school because home is the worst place they could be. I worry about their mental health. I wonder if they are lonely, because I find myself feeling that way during distance learning. It’s a strange phenomena to interact with at least 100 different human beings every day and still feel isolated.
But there are also days that I do find meaningful connections with my students. There are moments when they type “Ohhhhh, I get it now” into the chat to relay that something I’ve taught has clicked. There are days when they laugh at my jokes and pick up on my sarcasm. There are days when students will pop into (virtual) Office Hours just to talk or because they just needed a space to go where they could concentrate. There are days when a student will randomly turn their camera on to show me their baby sibling or show off their new puppy and I’m able to catch a glimpse of their face and feel like I really know them. There are days when I know that I am making a difference, simply by showing up, doing my best, and being honest when I don’t have all the answers.
As teachers, parents, and students, that is all we can do right now - our best. We are doing what we can with what we know at this moment. We are all surviving a pandemic. It is absolutely not in any ideal circumstances, but I urge everyone to stop looking at our kids like they are losing out on learning right now. Learning hasn’t stopped. Students are still learning. As important as lessons on literature, math, and history may be, there are more valuable lessons that don’t exist in textbooks. How many times in our adult life have we thought, I wish they taught THIS in high school? Well, we are living through that opportunity right now.
Students are learning what it means to do their part for the betterment of their community as a whole. They are learning to do more with less. They are learning to adapt and be flexible. They are learning the importance of reaching out for help. They are learning the value of effective communication. They are learning the power of human connection. This is life. Our students are learning how to handle the multifaceted nature of life. In the process, I think we as adults are learning as well. We’re learning that truly, health is wealth. We’re learning to slow down and savor the moments we have with our loved ones. And in watching our young people experience this strange time in our history, I hope that we are learning that they are far more resilient than we give them credit for.
I miss them so much.
I miss the way they would ask to use my microwave to heat up their cup noodles.
I miss when students would peek their head in my classroom and wave hi on their way to their next class.
I miss their music recommendations - even the bad ones.
I miss the way they would bring surprises for their boyfriend or girlfriend and excitedly ask if they could hide it in my room until lunch.
I miss the “Ms. Kim, I need advice” talks we would have as a student endured their first heartbreak. You know, that first high school break up that feels like the world is shattering.
I miss being able to recognize when a student is having a bad day by their body language, and knowing them well enough to ask if they needed to take a quick break.
I miss seeing my students thrive in their little corners of the campus. The ones who come alive when they are on stage acting in a play or singing in the choir. The ones who don’t say much with words, but speak volumes through their paintings. The ones who lead 50 other kids as the drum major in the marching band.
I miss the classroom discussions that would become so impassioned, I wouldn’t have to facilitate.
I miss peering over their shoulders while they work and seeing that they got it.
I miss attending sporting events and spotting my students on the court/field/track and cheering loudly for them, as only a proud parent or teacher would.
I miss singing “Happy Birthday” as a class whenever it was somebody’s birthday.
I miss talking trash with my students who are Clippers fans. All 2 of them.
The jokes. Oh, how I miss the jokes, even the ones at my expense.
There is a line in a popular Broadway song that asks the enormous question, “How do you measure a year?”
There is a lot that I have missed and mourned since March 12, 2020. But as 2020 comes to an end and we attempt to identify the “things” by which we might measure this bizarre year, I will choose to measure this year not by what we have not done, but by what we have done and the lessons we continue to live through.
I don’t have a grand message to close with or some point of inspiration to offer. All I have is what I know in my heart - that we are all doing our best. So we continue our journey forward, learning as we go, making adjustments as needed. I have big hopes for the day that I can meet all my students safely in person. I imagine that on that day, their faces will be the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
- Christine Kim