The Year That Never Ended

I walked through an empty school today. I saw the coats and little jackets they left at school on that chilly March afternoon when we first learned that we would be closed. “It’ll only be for a few days”, we all thought. I saw the lunches staff members left in the refrigerator in the staff lounge. I thought about how the hallways were once filled with energy and excitement each morning. Fourteen buses and hundreds of cars all bringing their scholars to spend the day with us. That was just a few weeks ago. The microphone in the cafeteria we once used to tell them to quiet down is still plugged in. Now, the silence is deafening. It’s almost an apocalyptic scene of an urgent, unexpected departure from our familiar space. In the hallways there are displays of our class projects from February’s Black History activities that are beginning to collapse onto the hallway floor. Posters around the school advertise school dances that went from being postponed to cancelled. In the classrooms, the dry erase boards are covered with the learning targets and activities with a date etched in time: March 12th. This was the last day that we saw our students and had a somewhat normal day of learning. At the time, we had no idea that we would not be together as a school for the remainder of the year.

Now, the silence is deafening. It’s almost an apocalyptic scene of an urgent, unexpected departure from our familiar space.

We had so much left to celebrate this year. There were baby showers, teacher of the year announcements, retirements, and 5th graders to celebrate. We didn’t realize that those moments would be taken away from us so suddenly. Now, we are left trying to find closure to a year that was snatched away from us all. When we do return, I think we will all appreciate one another a little more than we did before. I think we’ll cherish what it means to be there for one another, not just to be there with one another. I think about the first year teacher I hired and how this year will forever remain in her mind as a year that never truly ended. I think about the 3 student teachers from Georgia State University who were in the midst of their student teaching experience when all of this occurred. I wonder how they will move forward on their journey to become educators. I think about my scholars whose home lives were less than stable. I wonder how they will manage being ‘sheltered in place’ for months in their homes without the support of our staff members who were there for them.

When we do return, I think we will all appreciate one another a little more than we did before. I think we’ll cherish what it means to be there for one another, not just to be there with one another.

The school felt like a museum today that was suddenly frozen in a moment, March 12th…awaiting our return. The vegetable garden is thriving, but the weeds are quickly gaining pace with the vegetables. The bells still ring at the times for arrival and dismissal. The phones are still ringing with calls from telemarketers. But no afternoon buses, no car rider dismissal, no mail delivery, no Fed Ex packages to sign for. It’s an empty building awaiting the energy and the vibrancy that those 600 little people brought into the building each day. As much as we try to bring them instruction via virtual platforms, nothing replaces the feeling of having all of us together under one roof, learning, laughing, and experiencing what it means to be together as a school.

Now, we all are trying to make sense of the new reality where we reach out to our scholars through virtual platforms each week. It’s been a drastic shift from our normal, but we are making it work as best as can be expected. With students in their homes for many weeks, parents and the community at large have a newfound appreciation for the role educators play in society. We nurture, we motivate, we comfort, and coach scholars to be better. We have those tough conversations with them and get them back on track. We were making progress and then it all came to a crashing halt. We started the year with professional goals and aspirations of what we’d accomplish together. We had no idea that we’d never get to finish all we started.

How do we move forward? We focus on being resilient. We accept the present reality for what it is. The future is uncertain and we must accept that. With the announcement that the schools will remain closed in Georgia for the remainder of the year, we have to look forward. How do we foster the most rich virtual learning communities we can in the coming weeks. While there’s no replacement for the connectedness of a classroom filled with students and a dynamic teacher, we have to find a way to be in the present moment and navigate that space with love, compassion, and self-determination. Kendra Cherry writes about Self-determination theory, stating that people need three key things to get through psychologically tough times: Competence, connection and autonomy.

  • Competence: People need to gain mastery of tasks and learn different skills. When people feel that they have the skills needed for success, they are more likely to take actions that will help them achieve their goals.
  • Connection or Relatedness: People need to experience a sense of belonging and attachment to other people.
  • Autonomy: People need to feel in control of their own behaviors and goals. This sense of being able to take direct action that will result in real change plays a major part in helping people feel self-determined.

We’ll come out on the other side of this time with a renewed sense of purpose. We will be more connected and we’ll have new skills for delivering instruction in virtual platforms. But most important of all, we will feel a deeper sense of connection to those we’ve been separated from for months. I believe 2020, the school year that never ended, will also be the year that our vision becomes much clearer and we will finally be able to see the beauty and commonality we all possess. A year that never ended will afford us a chance at a very new and different beginning.

Soundtrack to this blog post: All This Love by DeBarge

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