Friday marked Day 15 for this new school year. I am working on finding small victories, as suggested to me by a talented educator colleague of mine. Just for the record, he too, is struggling. Now that August 17 – Sept. 4, 2020, are history, I am reflecting on those fifteen days and trying to move forward to plan for the next fourteen days. That will bring me just three days away from October. I strongly advise that all teachers take this year in “chunks”, just as we should be teaching (small bits that build to the big idea or concept). At the end of September, I look forward to writing about all of the incredible things I have learned, and how my students have blossomed, and how we can’t wait for another full day in front of our computer screens. Until then, I will keep pushing myself.
Every day gets a tiny bit better. Or does it? I can’t help but feel that I am lowering the bar so I can find and claim victories. I keep telling myself, and others, it’s a pandemic. It’s okay to have different expectations for yourself. It’s okay to make multiple mistakes a day, virtually, in front of students and colleagues. It’s okay to have to replan all of your plans every night until after 11PM. It’s okay to spend more time trying to get students logged onto or connected to meetings and classes and platforms online, than the amount of time I am teaching content. Here’s the thing. It’s really not okay. It is, however, the way it is for now. Is that lowering the bar? My hunch is that most of you reading this who know me well, will say that is ridiculous. I don’t even know how to lower the bar. In reality though, that is how it feels to me. It feels like I am lowering the bar. Granted, I typically set the bar high, for my students and myself. And I am still setting the bar high, but it seems so far out of reach this year. So, I keep digging deep to find my creative soul, because I know that is what keeps me going. That is where I come up with ideas that will motivate students to learn. Maybe one or two moments a day should be good enough. Maybe the bar needs to go up and down, so I can squeeze in some joy and victories, one way or another. I will keep searching for ways to plan for, make, and find joy.
Several years ago I wrote an op-ed for our local newspaper entitled, “Every Child in Our Schools Deserves Joy.” I am a firm believer that students and teachers will learn more when they are feeling joy or successful. Teachers and parents are struggling this year, as we try to find ways to keep students on track (whatever that means). The stress levels are higher than I have ever experienced. Yet, in three long weeks, upon reflection, I have figured out where to find joy. It is in the 25 faces or names (not everyone turns on their camera) on my computer screen every weekday morning. They may be tired, but I have yet had anyone whine or complain about being “at school.” They patiently wait for me to explain where to find assignments, or for me to send them to online breakout rooms, or for me to help another classmate get back into class. They laugh at my jokes. They get excited about learning, whether it is science, math, or new English and Spanish vocabulary words during our read aloud of the book How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay. They are figuring out ways to find and share joy, so I need to keep the bar high for them.
Don’t get me wrong. This past month, by far, has been one of the most challenging months of my 36-year career in education, but I have not given up on trying to make the best of it. I may not feel that way every night or every morning, but I am pushing myself to get back there daily. I am teaching online in ways I could not even imagine happening a couple of months ago. That learning curve remains steep for me. It is daunting, but I believe that if I take it slow, stop to rest and breathe and hydrate, ask for help, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will continue to make that climb toward the top. I will surely continue to fall and need to get back up again. I will have moments, days and weeks when I feel like I will not be able to make it, but I will keep going. COVID19 and too many social injustices in our country have taken joy away from almost everyone recently, in one way or another, including me. I know in my heart that we have to move forward and create a better world. My students, and you (and I) deserve joy. We deserve to keep the bar high, and I am working on giving myself permission to lower the bar temporarily if necessary, knowing that it can and will be raised back up again sooner than later.