No more pencils/ No more books/ No more teacher’s dirty looks/ Out for summer/ Out till fall/ We might not come/ Back at all.
This school year was tough on everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. I don’t think anyone would blame teachers (or parents!) for wanting to run “for the hills” after this year and not coming back at all. I get it. I taught my high school students on a hybrid schedule. Was it a year I’d like to repeat? No. But as I reflect on the year, I realize that some GOOD did come from it. And if you’re thinking, Ummm…WHAT good? I’m here to tell you. Here are a few things that improved this year because of COVID19.
Kleenex: Would you believe my students went through only four boxes of tissue this school year? Me either, but it’s true. Due to mask-wearing, I had more than enough tissue for all ten months. This rarely happens. Normally some student, looking mildly embarrassed, approaches me midwinter with his/her nose covered and asks, “Mrs. LeFors, where are the tissues?”. At this point, I tell the poor soul that, no, I didn’t move them, we’re out. This student then has to traipse down the hallway (keeping his/her nose covered) to the bathroom to use toilet paper, and I normally ask them to bring back a whole roll. But guess what? Less sneezing and less runny noses because of masks meant that there was enough tissue for the whole winter and spring. That, for a teacher, is a miracle.
Class Sizes: I taught on a hybrid schedule so I only had half of my students in each class each day. I didn’t see them as often (definitely a negative), but when I did see my students it was so much easier to connect with them. I didn’t have to rush to make sure I conferenced with 30+ students about their essay rough draft. When I asked students in the “Me Monday” warm-up, “What’s on your mind? What’s in your heart? How are you feeling?” we had time to go around the room and (voluntarily) share. We had conversations that could get more personal because we had the time with fewer students. Educators and experts have been saying it for years, and I can vouch firsthand after this year that smaller class sizes are better.
The Bathroom: Growing up I thought teachers had special bathrooms. I didn’t remember seeing teachers going in or out of the girls’ bathroom stalls so I assumed their nice bathrooms were tucked away in a teacher workroom. Hah. This is so not the case at my school—or at least not in my part of the building. If I need to go to the bathroom because I chugged a lot of water during the ninety-minute class I just taught, I have to hop in line with the rest of the ladies or wait for a lull in the passing period. Not this year. Half the students each day meant shorter wait times for the commode.
Appreciation: My students (juniors in high school) are old enough to stay home alone, but all of them chose to come to school for their junior year instead of being completely online. I heard a lot of comments at the beginning of the year about how good it felt to be back. How they didn’t appreciate coming to school until they had to complete quarter four at home. It’s like we all survived a traumatic event (quarantine), and this event gave us a new appreciation for school and for the structure that school provides. My students swapped quarantine “war stories” throughout the year. This common shared experience (even though I recognize that everyone’s home life was different) helped them bond. Is school now their favorite place to be? Still no, but I heard a lot less complaining about being there because they had experienced the alternative.
I’ll be back next year. And when I reminisce about this school year, I plan to remember not only the bad but also the GOOD. Because, yes, this school year was tough on everyone, but there was good — in the form of fewer tissues used, shorter bathroom lines, smaller class sizes, and a newfound appreciation for actually being at school.