**This article was written in July 2021. We are fully aware that Covid is not over, and our community still needs to take precautions. At the time of publishing, the author’s state & local governments and her school district support in-person classes, with the understanding that things could change.**
As we prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, I keep hearing how everyone is so excited that “school will be back to normal” this year. And as a teacher who last year spent many late nights at school adjusting plans to meet new safety criteria and taught full time in a mask (while pregnant, mind you!), I get it.
I can’t wait to hopefully see my students’ smiles as we sit on the classroom rug and share a good book. But as challenging as last school year was, there will always be a surprising spot in my heart for some of the special things I witnessed and experienced.
Because of that, I hope this school year isn’t exactly “back to normal”, but that the sweetest parts from school during a pandemic can actually stick around permanently.
Parent/Guardian Involvement with Learning
I think the realization that in-person school could come to a screeching halt at any given moment really changed a lot of perspectives for parents and their involvement in their kids’ learning. Many parents reached out to me not simply wanting grade updates, but for specific learning ideas or clarification on activities to understand how and why their child was learning certain subjects and/or content. In my years of teaching I’ve heard a lot of frustration that schools no longer teach the same way like back when we were kids, but last year that didn’t seem to matter because everyone wanted to make sure we were all on the same page in case of a school transition. This resulted in many meaningful conversations to best help our students and despite all of the crazy obstacles we faced, I saw incredible growth in my students’ learning.
The whole “we’re all in this together” concept changed so much of the connection I had with students and their families last year. More than once I turned on my computer to find an email from a parent just checking in on me. I can’t tell you how valued and respected this made me feel, especially on the days I had to fight back tears because everything felt so heavy. I know I sent far more notes and emails home to parents with small but sweet updates on something funny their child said that day or how excited they were to start a new project in math. I think because we had to stay further apart, we actually remembered to connect and communicate better. I felt such a bond with these families that I know I will never forget.
I also saw an amazing connection among my students last year. Due to social distancing, my school didn’t mix classes at recess and I at first I wondered how my students would handle this. However, I would stand in awe during recess times as they often would come up with games all on their own that included every single student. I never saw anyone left out, but instead saw the kids lift one another up and share encouragement. Recess felt like a magical time every day and it gave me such hope that this group of kiddos learned some important lessons early on about kindness and acceptance that will stick with them for a lifetime.
Gratitude and Grace
The beginning of last school year started out with so many unknowns. Many were thankful to have schools open for student learning, but that didn’t come with a lot of nerves and what-ifs. As we learned to navigate “the new normal”, I felt overwhelming gratefulness for my students resilience and happy hearts. We abundantly offered grace to one another daily because, while unspoken, we knew we were all doing the best we could in this uncertain world. I could tell when their eyes lit up as they walked into their familiar classroom that they were happy to be there and see their friends. I heard from parents how much their child loved school. Despite so many changes, the students never complained about not having their desks together or why our class parties were low-key; instead of focusing on what we didn’t have, we all seemed to be thankful for what was available for us.
So as we head into a new school year with what feels like a fresh start, I hope we can look forward to all the joys ahead but never forget to look back at the most meaningful lessons we learned last year.