“Today is the last day of Comprehensive Distance Learning — hopefully for the rest of your life,” is how I began our Zoom meeting last Thursday. “You’re finishing one of the hardest things you’ll probably ever have to do as a student.”
On the 1-year anniversary of my school being shut-down, I was encouraging a group of students (whom I have never seen in person) to finish the day strong. “Because next Tuesday, I finally get to see you, and you finally get to see how fat I am!”
The light at the end of the tunnel — the light that has been talked about, alluded to, and even doubted — is almost here.
With no closure from my 5th grade class from 2020, I am 2 days away from being face-to-6feetaway-face with one of the most resilient, hard-working groups of kids I’ve taught.
It’s odd: I’m about to start a September in the middle of March.
In the teaching world, September is a typically high-energy time where we open our doors and begin a new year with a fresh group of kids. Anchor charts are made. Name Tags are printed.
The first few weeks are spent establishing routines, and students and teachers alike are feeling out how the next 9 months will go. Amidst that new-ness, I’m also tasked with getting to know my students, and they’re getting to know me.
Now — with nearly 6 months of “relationship” together — I get to open my doors to a group of students I actually kinda know! It will be a new experience teaching my “attention signals” to kids who know my humor and my style. Classroom expectations will be bundled with rapport, and fire drills might be met with some sly smiles.
Hybrid learning is the shiny new toy I get to try to figure out. Essentially, from here on out, I will be teaching 2 separate groups that have been put in Tue/Thu – Wed/Fri cohorts. No more laggy Zoom conversations, no more “hat day Fridays”.
To provide some closure for laying CDL to rest, here are 10 Things I Won’t Miss, 10 Things I Will Miss, and what I Hope is on the horizon.
10 Things I Won’t Miss
- Repeatedly saying things like, “Oh, looks like you cut out, can you repeat that again?” or “Oops, you’re unmuted again.” And you’re yelling at your sister again.
- Texting parents that their child isn’t in class, then parents responding with “She had school today?” No. This is the only Wednesday of the entire year where our Canvas schedule says she has school, but we really don’t.
- Asking kids how they’re doing and getting no response from a sea of black screens. “Oooooookay…. Well I’m doing fine.”
- Me encouraging kids to not leave school early today because I’m staying after to help, and having that met with them immediately logging off.
- Hearing kids say, “Oh sorry, my computer was lagging. Where are we?” No, your computer was not lagging. I just watched you google “are there bones in your tongue?”
- Balancing when to push kids to work hard and when to lay off because COVID and CDL is just a beast to effectively navigate.
- Kids submitting blank pages in order to “complete” their work. Obviously the directions I gave wasn’t “Please submit a blank page of this assignment.”
- Avoiding reading awesome chapter books because that would just be the worst in a CDL setting.
- “Please turn your camera on. Please turn your camera on. Please turn your camera on. Please turn your camera on. Please turn your camera on.” until infinity.
- Answering the question, “Are your kids learning anything over distance learning?” because the answer is always “Honestly, not at all.”
10 Things I Will Miss
- Working from anywhere I want to.
- Eating whenever I want to.
- Planning weeks at a time and having assignments ready to go months in advance.
- Hearing hilarious interruptions like “My 3rd grade teacher didn’t know what she was doing,” or “I was going to go visit my cousin this week, but I can’t see her now since she got COVID. But that’s alright, because she’s rude to me so whatever.”
- Engaging in staff meetings while driving into work, eating breakfast, or playing video games. Too honest?
- Speed grading everything that’s submitted online.
- Not getting sick. Removing the germ-bringers has done wonders to my annual ailments.
- THE POWER OF THE MUTE BUTTON. Seriously, that could count for all 10.
- Listening to how certain families operate in the background noise. Eye-opening.
- Watching kids build personal resilience right before me.
What I Hope For
Nearly 10 months ago, I wrote a lament about how hard the end of the year was for me. I usually spend all year in 5th grade hoping for May, knowing that the best activities are saved for the end.
Last year, those traditional activities were brutally ripped away from me and my students. The kids were upset because of the high anticipation and low follow-through; I was upset because I knew what they were missing out on.
This year, we still won’t be able to do many of the end-of-the-year experiences, but I can try to play a role in having their last few weeks of elementary school be as fun as possible. It will be nice to end a year with kids in my classroom, even if they have to sit 6 feet apart.
My 3 Hopes, in ascending order:
I hope that I can provide that for the kids: the greatest ending to the worst academic year. (Now, that’s not something that is tangibly or objectively recorded, but I never said it was a SMART goal.)
I hope my profession is seen as valuable. To be honest, I was somewhat worried that kids across the country would do fine in a virtual setting, making my job nearly obsolete. I know we’re valuable as a daycare, but I hope teaching is now seen as more than that.
I hope that we’re able to execute a final in-person push safely, and create momentum for bringing kids back a few months from now. In my opinion, getting students back is the light at the end of the tunnel, but I think the final destination needs to be more than that as soon as permissible.
The best analogy I can come up with is as follows.
When you go to Yosemite (which, if you haven’t, stop reading this and go), you can enter the valley 5 different ways. All entrances pave the way to natural beauty.
However, entering the Yosemite Valley through the South Entrance is the analogy that will serve my purpose.
A few miles before getting to world-famous views, you travel up a winding Wawona Road with forest all around. There’s anticipation as you climb to the pass, regardless if a massive RV is slowly rounding corners in front of you. (Why won’t they just pull over and let you pass…?)
And then, you get to a tunnel. This tunnel on Wawona Road is a fairly straight stretch for 4,233 feet. At the end of it, there’s a small opening of light. The allegorical “light at the end of the tunnel” lays in front of you, 1-part taunting, 2 parts exhilarating.
You exit the tunnel. The “light at the end” is no longer.
But then you’re met with something else entirely different. You’re now basking in one of the most iconic, breathtaking scenes Yosemite can offer: Tunnel View. Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and El Capitan (I still don’t know how Alex Honnold climbed that dang thing) are vibrant and exquisite.
Within seconds, you’ve completely forgotten all about that “Light” that kept your hopes up and on target. Now, you’re looking at the entire reason you’ve come to the Park. You aren’t here just for this view; and if you did, you’re expectations are way too low as you don’t know what you’re missing out on.
Nestled deep within the Valley, beyond the Light in the Tunnel, is an adventure like none other.
So yes, we’re finally exiting the tunnel; we’re getting kids back in person. It’s an extremely exciting thing for me and my team.
However, I don’t want to settle for just that. I don’t want to settle for “kids in the building”, I want to push for the most school-like, engaging setting we can safely create.
It’s a hope that might be unrealistic, but it’s the biggest one I have to offer. I can’t wait for that RV to finally give me room to pass so I can journey through the short tunnel and soon forget about the light.