This time last year, holiday spirit was in full swing with students participating in numerous festivities and filling the hallways with laughter and joy. You could hear students mingling in hallways before banging their lockers shut as soon as the next period bell rang. The school spirit was soaring as students were eagerly counting down the days remaining for winter break. Fast forward to now, I walk into vacant hallways with barely two students present live in my classroom. I have been a high school English teacher for the past 21 years and for the first time ever, I am finding it difficult to love my job. Teaching to an empty classroom has completely taken away the human element that we have become so accustomed to at an educational institution.
Here at Valley Stream South High School, we have a hybrid learning model where depending on the last name of the student, they have the option to be present live in school every other day. At any given day, we have the ability to manage our classrooms at 50% capacity. However, fear of COVID-19 has completely plagued the atmosphere where students and families are frightened to take the risk to attend in-person. Amidst all this anxiety, I have found myself more determined than ever to find legitimate ways to build a genuine connection with my kids who are now mostly remote. Every morning, I write a motivational quote on a white board so my students can begin their day with some inspiration. Just a few months back on September 3rd when schools reopened after a long period of quarantine, I welcomed my students with the following, “When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.” Keeping those exact words in mind, I carve out 5 minutes for my students to engage in mindful writing before each class session; the topics are either thought provoking or completely silly given the day. Having students jot down their thoughts on whether goldfish or cheez-its are better, helps them recalibrate their focus for the next 30 minutes during my class session.
I have always taken great pride in being a communicator, so I was not going to let a pandemic hinder my strength as a teacher. If anything, I found myself checking in with my students more frequently than in the past because I wanted to make sure that they are still creating quality work. I have one-on-one chats with them to do conference writing where I pull their work in front of them and they can revise as we go over it together. I find that it helps them become better writers this way. Sure, there are still days where as soon as the alarm goes off, I ask myself, “Can we do this again today?” I manage to get out of bed every morning because I have a responsibility to make sure my students see the best in themselves every day.