Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Letter to My Student Teacher

Dear student teacher,
As your mentor teacher, I would be remiss if I didn’t end our year together with some words of wisdom as you make your way into the “real world.”  This was not the ending that any of us had planned, and yet, here we are.
Let me start in saying that the work that you did this year made an impact on our students.  Although our time was cut short, you made a difference in the lives of our students. Whether it was a funny book, a memorable lesson, or heartfelt discussion, you will be remembered. 
Some things have been on my mind about the ending of this year and I wanted to share some thoughts that I have about our year together.
You got to know our students on a personal level.  You took the time to listen to them, hear their stories, and find out their likes and dislikes.  You connected with each one of them to find out what makes them tick and how to engage them in learning.  You adapted your lessons to meet their individual educational needs.  This made it all the more heartbreaking to have such an abrupt end to our time together.  You didn’t get to carry out all those fun lessons that you had planned.  You didn’t get to see them as end-of-the-year learners.  You didn’t get to experience the entire depth of the learning process from beginning to end.  You came in as a quiet observer in our classroom and transitioned to a leader and teacher before our eyes. 
Where you should have been showered, in those last days of May, with handwritten notes from students, thoughtful coloring pages and gifts to start your own classroom, instead you were sent quietly and alone to collect your belongings in an empty school. An empty classroom.   There was no fanfare. No tearful goodbyes.  No final hugs.  No last days of school as their student teacher.
While I am sorrowful for the way that this school year and experience ended for you, I also have to remember my role as your mentor.  I have to reflect and point out what you have learned from this experience.  What WE have learned.
You were able to witness and be a part of a transition in education that we have never seen in history.
You had a front row seat to see how a collective of educators, staff, administrators and community can come together in a time of crisis to meet the needs of our children and families, whether it was books and supplies, food, technology resources, or a shoulder to cry on.
You got to experience an immense amount of pride for our profession as educators as we shifted to online learning with little or no training, planning, or resources, all in a matter of days.
You were able to get involved in learning how to stay connected with your students and families when we couldn’t be physically close. 
You got to practice how to conduct online learning meetings with children that are not accustomed to using technology in this way. 
You were able to see our community of teachers take action to make sure that our students’ educational, social, and emotional needs were being met. 
You learned how to participate in online groups, virtual meetings, and social emotional pick-me-ups that brought us together as a school and community. 
I could sit here and rattle off all the things that you missed out on due to school closures, but I think we should focus on the bigger picture and the lessons learned.  While you may not have been able to finish out the school year like all the student teachers before you, you have been gifted with a once in a lifetime experience. You have learned a lesson about the humanity in teaching.  That is, how we care for our students, unite as a community, and give from our hearts; because that’s what teachers do.
I wish you the best of luck as you begin your career in education.  I am confident that you will take all the things that you have learned this year and make an impact on a whole new group of students in your community.  Just remember, we will never forget you and all the things that you taught us.

Your mentor,
Mrs. T

Saturday, April 4, 2020

What is this trying to teach me?

 When you replace "why is this happening to me?" with
 "what is this trying to teach me?" everything shifts.

I saw this quote the other day and it really made sense to me, given the circumstances that we are all experiencing now.  It reminded me of my yoga teacher and her favorite saying about everything, everyone being a teacher.  Even an annoying fly is there to teach you something.

I have been thinking heavily about what this whole thing, this whole Covid-19 Pandemic, is teaching us.  We are, right now, experiencing a very similar experience on a global scale.  While there are so many things that separate us, divide us, and try to place a wedge between us, in actuality, right now, we are connected by this common human experience like we have never done in history before.  And when you think about that, it's pretty amazing!  For this one moment in time and history we are all facing a very similar fear, unknown, uncertain, and irrational demon: Global Pandemic.  

This is no longer just about my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country.  This is a global phenomenon that is being felt all across the planet Earth.  

Since all experiences are learning experiences, I have been thinking a bit deeper about what I have learned during this quarantine. 

1.  Physical Social Connection  I think one thing that many can agree on is that we have taken for granted our daily physical social connections with other humans for far too long.  If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that humans are not designed to be isolated from society for long periods of time.  I have heard so many times from friends and family over the last few weeks, how much they miss being at work with beloved co-workers, being able to hug and touch a loved one, and visit and talk to friends face-to-face. My own personal feeling on this is that I miss my students immensely.  Being an elementary teacher, I am used to getting unsolicited hugs all day long from my students.  There is something that feels so unnatural about physically avoiding my own mom, neighbor, or friend.  

2.  Sometimes it's a good thing to disconnect to reconnect  I know this sounds counterintuitive to what I just said about humans not being able to distance from society for long periods, but my meaning here is that we have been given the green light to step away from social obligations, sporting events, work commitments and spend LOTS of quality time with immediate family.  While this may be a struggle still for some, I think that the overarching feeling is that parents are spending more QUALITY time with their children.  Spouses have been gifted the time to sit and talk, caught up, and enjoy each other's company without the daily stress of our hurried lives.  I know this may not be an ideal situation for many but I think that the quarantine and pandemic restrictions have made us reevaluate what is important.  It has made us shift our focus to what is REALLY important in this life.

3.  Sense of Community  I am an elementary teacher and one of the first things I was amazed by was the speed in which school districts, administrators, teachers and staff developed a plan for our nation's children.  In my area, we were told on Friday evening around 4:00pm that school would be closed starting the following week.  Within a few hours, our school districts were issuing communication to parents about food distribution, who to contact for food needs, and new methods for communicating with teachers and staff.  Within a few days, our districts were distributing food to children, providing daily updates, and developing remote learning plans so that students could continue learning during the closures.  While a small group of people were busy hoarding toilet paper in stores, other community members were hard at work making sure that our children were taken care of during this crisis.  In my area, local farmers stepped up to provide needed produce to the community.  My local, family owned Farmer's Market was going out of there way to keep the shelves stocked for their customers.  While the big box grocery stores were flooded with people and shelves picked clean, I learned the importance of knowing how to source your food locally.  The owner of the Farmer's Market was making daily trips to local farms to pick up beef, chicken, bread, milk, fresh veggies, and eggs.  Knowing local food sources has become a top priority moving forward.  I have seen the value in knowing my local farmers and what they do for our communities. 

4.  Helping Others  While the beginning of the pandemic seemed like a mad rush to figure out a plan, answer all the unknown questions, and stockpile supplies, I saw others in the community stepping up to offer help.  Local libraries were open to provide books and materials for people preparing to be shut-in for unknown amounts of time.  Healthcare workers stepped up to prepare the hospitals and medical facilities for the influx of patients.  Local food pantries stocked their shelves and offered food to those in need.  Yoga teachers and fitness coaches starting streaming free, live sessions for home exercise. Local musicians started live streaming their music to keep spirits up. People started creating scavenger hunts with hearts so that little kids would have something to look forward to and keep them busy.  Local restaurants and bars voluntarily closed their doors just days before St. Patrick's Day in an effort to keep their workers and patrons safe from a rapidly-spreading virus.  Local book stores donated books and set up Little Free Libraries within the community to help get books in the hands of children.  A local bakery near me that had only been open for about 6 months raised money to buy needed cleaning supplies for a local nursing home.  Another business near me is a distillery that was set to open late-March this year.  Instead of distilling whiskey, he retrofit his equipment to start making much-needed hand sanitizer. A local coffee shop that was forced to close made it their mission to take free coffee to first responders, healthcare workers, grocery stores, and school cafeteria workers everyday. 

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that even in the midst of being disconnected, we are connected more now than ever!