Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Shapshots from the end of a school year that just… faded away
I began writing this piece in early June, when I had already met with about a third of my students for their final one-on-one meetings, in which we reflect on the year that was and talk about what they might do next. I’ve been doing this for 9 years now; it’s old hat. And yet, I kept feeling like I wasn’t doing my students justice this semester when our meetings were virtual and our connections were digital. I missed the eye contact, the handshakes and hugs, the celebrations when we’re done — “Hey everybody, M_____ earned some credit!”
How was our community doing? I felt like I didn’t even know. It was great when some of us came together for Advisory or Town Hall meetings to check in with one another. Between those times, my anxiety would kick in and I worried that everyone was detached, lost, and feeling hopeless. Some definitely were, but I knew that the community we’ve built was (and still is) stronger than my fear. I saw several examples of how our community engagement played out through my student meetings.
One student participated in some of the protests against police violence the night before, and was understandably tired. Another was fostering a six-week-old goat in their bedroom. The third was so disorganized that we made plans to meet again later in the week to finish up.
The first student talked about how they feel “detached” from everyone since switching to remote learning. Without the forced interactions of the school day, they weren’t going out of their way to engage with people who think and act differently than them. This was in some ways comforting for the student, but it’s not a path for growth (and they recognize this.)
Conversely, the second student told me that they had been more engaged with advisory meetings since the switch. Without the need to think about performative engagement (because their camera is usually off), they felt freer to fidget or eat or do whatever else they need to do to help themselves focus. Their need to be seen as doing the right thing during regular school was getting in the way of them actually doing it.
The third student has always needed a lot of support. And they continued to receive that support during the pandemic, through regular check-ins with their student mentors. But it wasn’t nearly enough. Their mentors weren’t always online at the same time as them, and without being physically together to observe needs, they weren’t able to offer the same levels of support. I was in the same position, I think. I figured they would need some help, but I couldn’t tell how much until we met and had to reschedule.
During the next few days’ worth of meetings, I continued to ponder the lessons I could take from our community’s experiences during these times of separation. What would be worth bringing forward into the next school year? One student found it hard to engage in online meetings when most students (themselves included) had their cameras off. Another appreciated having extra time to go outside whenever they wanted to.
On the last day, I asked my students to answer the question, “What’s one lesson you’ll take from this year?” Their responses (mostly 😅) showed the thoughtfulness I’ve come to expect from them:
Stay positive about whatever’s gonna happen. If it won’t matter in a few days, it’s not going to matter now. Be appreciative of what’s going on right now. Appreciate each thing that happens.
Use your time better.
i’ve learned to improvise. adapt. Overcome.
Learning how to cope with personal things.
Being flexible and adaptable.
Don’t put stuff off because you’re going to have a harder time doing it later, and then it’s going to suck and you’re not going to have time to do anything else.
New students typically go near the end of a question.
Always say yes to something new, and something good might come out of it. Just take the challenge, and you will grow from the challenge.
As of July 1st, plans for the fall are still uncertain. Whether circumstances force us back into fully remote learning again or not, I’m sure my teaching will benefit from these mementoes.
It’s been over three weeks now since school “let out,” but it feels like a lifetime. Even though I’ve been in touch with some kids in the meantime. Even though I’m still pushing two seniors to finish up just one more thing.
I feel like I haven’t let go of the year yet, but it’s faded away without me.
“How are you doing?” is what we’ll all ask each other the next time we come together as a group. Setting aside COVID for a moment, the starkly exposed racist roots of our country make it unreasonable to say, “I’m good.” We must be honest together, but we must also kindle the fires of hope.
The hope in a student’s smile at seeing us. The hope in an air high five, transmitted through the screens. The hope that we will all be together again someday soon, and better able to grieve, love, and create something better.