I have struggled to put words to the thoughts and feelings over the last year. Professionally it has been a collection of highs and lows, personally it has also been quite the journey. As the school year winds down I have been grateful to see a bit of light at the end of not just the Covid tunnel but also the rollercoaster that has been my thinking. Things have been difficult but I feel like I am walking out of this year with some clarity. So without further ado, a few things I have learned in a pandemic.
1. Kids are resilient, they don’t need motivational videos to tell them how to be. Adults shouldn’t either.
I have been so impressed with the work my students have completed this year. With the uncertainty that covid brought we explored different ways to respond in English class. We looked at the typical ways but also branched out into multi-modal work and explored multiple genres attached to a common theme. My students readily accepted every invitation that I extended to join me in a learning adventure. While of course some things turned out better than others the fun was in the process. Today one of my kids who was away for 6 weeks because of Covid combined with a government school shift to online said, “I was so excited about my project but it has been such a long time I am kind of over it.” I think we are all over it but they keep trying. Our students don’t need to be reminded of the struggles this year has brought. They are living it. They have shown a strength I don’t think many adults always display. Maneuvering the curveballs with a hope things will get better. I am so grateful for my kids this year. They have anchored my sanity and brought so much joy and wonder.
2. Numbers are just limits
One adventure my students joined me on this year was attempting a basically gradeless classroom. Students selected goals to work towards, I provided feedback and we met to discuss how things were going. For some kids this was more of a leap than they were comfortable with at first. For others they thrived. Knowing that grades were not looming over them students took greater risks. They explored genres and different projects that previously they would have avoided for the comfort of a “good grade”. As we wrap up the year students are writing me to discuss their grade in either a letter format or essay. The reflections are so much more meaningful than just a grade. Don’t get me wrong they are happy to have a “good grade” still but it hasn’t been the focus. Students reflected on growth, favourite work and also what they thought was their best work. They talked about the books. They also talked about their dreams for next year and goals they could work on more. So much more information than 85% on a report card. By removing the grades we removed the limits and allowed students to dream, and they did.
3. Raising the Bar and Kids will reach for it, lower it and well…
My students did cool things this year, down the hall they did cool things in that class too. Across the world teachers were providing amazing learning opportunities and kids were rising to the challenge. I have found over the years that kids will rise to a challenge if we have their back. This year was my first year working with High School. I might have tried to do too much, especially during a pandemic, however the kids tried. Not all the results were hit out of the park but students created beautiful work when given the opportunity. One student explored poetry another podcasting. One wrote and recorded original music and I gotta say a few of them were as the kids say “bops”. The best part though was that they have proved doubters wrong all year. My little group that I affectionately call the Patchwork (we are a combination of grades in one class) they trusted me enough to try and I trusted them to create and they did. I am ridiculously proud of the effort they put in.
4. I can no longer allow people to drink from my cup and only certain people can have what spills.
This is more of a personal lesson than classroom related. This year was incredibly hard for me both professionally and personally. I have gone through several bouts of depression, my anxiety has been out of control and imposter syndrome while on the ropes is not yet knocked out. I also decided it was a great idea to go for a handful of new jobs. Let me tell you something, it is not good for any of the above mentioned mental health struggles to not get jobs you feel you are right for. Moving past that has been difficult. I had rested so many of my dreams on those opportunities, so much of my value. A month or so back my friend Dr. Towanda Harris posted her podcast about self care. One comment was that beyond the empty cup analogy was that people needed to stop sharing from their cup. As Dr. Harris and their guest talked she explained that people can’t have what is in your cup, they can have what spills out onto the saucer. I looked at how much of myself I was giving away and how little I was getting back. I was giving away far more than the saucer. Heck I was giving the cup away. It was in that moment I realized I need to focus more on me. I need to worry less about others because I am not doing well. Those dreams I have are still there, taking a different path to get to them but they are there. I don’t even know what that path is. I am starting a Masters and figuring out where I fit. Filling my cup and being careful not to spill.
5. Determine your worth and hold on to it.
This is probably the hardest lesson I have had to learn this year. I started to feel very devalued over the last few years. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy, it is what it is. I allowed my value to be determined by others and in doing so lost value in myself. Tricky how that works. Realizing this was both hurtful and helpful but it has allowed me to refocus on what matters. I am diving into my own professional learning, building myself back up again. I know my worth and will do better to protect that going forward.
This has been a hard year. I appreciate all the “Brent are you ok?” messages. I am not but I have learned how to maneuver this challenge over the years. Mental health and especially mental health in men is not a topic many people talk about. I have always felt like my struggles have made me more empathetic. These year stretched me, it was uncomfortable but like my friend weightlifting we rebuild stronger. Men should not be afraid to share when they are struggling. I have been… or am but I know it will get better. Heck we have almost made it through a Pandemic, I have grown as a teacher and my students kicked but. My value can’t be determined by others. Dreams might only happen in the classroom or even my office but they will happen.
There is this myth of learning loss That this year was unsuccessful Too many distractions Too much stress Kids couldn't possibly be successful Through all of this noise They found their way Bravely navigating the unknown Exploring new Challenges Daring to Dream