They Make This All Worth It


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They Make This All Worth It

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It is weird to teach high school online. I usually get to know my kids by wandering around the room and making small talk. By inviting them to go running with me during 6th period (the athletic period). By running into them walking to Starbucks before an after-school review session. By leaving my room open at lunch as an alternative cafeteria. These things are not an option this year. When you teach, the jokes you make, are the kids laughing? The topics you’re really excited about sharing - are the kids excited? Are they REALLY listening when they nod at you, or are they texting their best friends out of the view of the camera, or playing a video game on a separate device? The silence is the weirdest part. Do the kids pick up on the little one liner remarks I drop in? Honestly, I get SO EXCITED when the Zoom chat lights up. It is truly my favorite part of any period because it’s like being back in class, having a real conversation, instead of me calling on students to answer and visiting them in break out rooms. They don’t like to unmute themselves to comment. Even in break out rooms they are still a bit anxious when I appear. They’re always willing to share when I call on them, so I know they’re learning the content. But I do sit up at night while I grade and wonder if the kids are actually enjoying class. I love teaching so much, and I love my kids so much, it hurts to think that this year’s kids just aren’t getting the same experience. And I am 100% in favor of staying on Distance Learning until our case rates decline, so I don’t have an agenda to re-open here. And this is why these letters I received in November are so meaningful to me. Our school ASB put out a “thank a teacher” post on Instagram, telling kids they should email a teacher and thank them. Honestly, our school has very little school spirit - ASB activities and assemblies are attended by very few students. Therefore, I didn’t think much of their social media challenge to “thank your teachers.” But then, I checked my inbox. And I became teary eyed. Honestly, I expected letters from the seniors. I was very, very close to last year’s kids. We had a great year before quarantine, and then when quarantine hit, it was like I had 180 best friends who would DM me at all hours because they were lonely, mad, sad, scared, and frustrated. And I didn’t mind because I love my kids. It’s not like I had anything else to do at 2 am the world had turned upside down. But this year’s kids have never met me in person. We don’t have the same relationship as I had with last year’s kids. So, I was so, so surprised by the number of current students, some of whose emails I have submitted (with all identifying information and names redacted) who wrote to thank me. I was hesitant to submit this at first, because I’ve never been one for public bragging, which is sort of what sharing thank you letters seems like to me. I know there are teachers who post every message a kid sends them, but I am not that person. A thank you from a kid is personal, and is something you keep but do not need to share. However, these emails are a really important part of my pandemic experience. They demonstrate to me that I have not totally failed this year. These kids who have never met me face to face, sharing such kind words, and excitement for learning history is probably the biggest personal win of this entire pandemic year. These kids will never know how much these words meant to me, and how much they motivate me to give 100%, even when we are all just within our tiny Zoom boxes. I hope with all that is within me that I can get vaccinated in time to be able to teach them in person before this year ends. They have shown over and over again this year how amazing they are, and I want to be able to be able to tell them that and thank them for that in person before the end of their junior year.

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This item was submitted on February 5, 2021 by Kathryn Jue using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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