The End of a Long Year – the Promise of Summer

A MiddleWeb Blog

Last Sunday was our 8th grade graduation. We were able to have it live, on the football field at the high school my students will be attending in the fall.

It was a glorious 85 degrees and sunny with a breeze. Students were instructed to be there about 45 minutes before the starting time so we could get them lined up.

My list of students in hand, I went down the line, checking them in and making sure they were in alphabetical order, and then….

Emmanuel! So nice to MEET you!

I met 11 of my students face-to-face for the first time at graduation. Eleven! Most I recognized, if only by process of elimination.

A few days earlier I’d met an additional 15 of them at the last day picnic. It was a surreal experience. Students I had come to know – sort of – but only first seeing them as a 3D person at the end of the year.

I was absolutely delighted. A few were chatty and equally delighted to meet me. But most were shy and awkward. Even Maria, who had always been unusually open and talkative on Zoom.

I suppose it is natural. I mean, what does one say to a teacher with whom you’ve been in class with all year but are only just meeting?

The graduation ceremony, one which we normally have a two-hour practice for, went smoothly. At some point, my group got mixed up alphabetically as they took their seats on the football field. As I read their names, they somehow, magically, re-alphabetized themselves.

One of my students, Isabella, gave a wonderful speech – the first truly meaningful speech we probably ever had at a graduation – about this year’s enrollment in “the university of adversity.”

I smiled knowingly at her references to classes they had taken this year: “The Art of Unmuting: How to actually muster the courage to click the unmute button and when to tell the teacher that they’ve been on mute for the past two minutes.”

A time for self-defined self care

Now, after a few weeks of down time, I am well rested and recovering from this year of adversity. To say this year was a challenge is, well, there is no need to say that. We all know. At my school, we were remote until February and then returned to a once every third week schedule by grade level. We didn’t return full time until the beginning of May. Some students stayed remote the entire time.

I am fortunate that I can truly relax this summer and use the time to recharge. I don’t know about you, but all school year long I had well-meaning administrators telling me to “self-care” on weekends and during school breaks. It was frustrating to hear because taking my old forty-minute live lessons and transforming them to a new schedule and new platform. . .well, those lessons don’t write themselves.

But now I can really work on “self care.” What will that look like? A few reminders to myself:

1. Allow yourself to reflect and think about what you achieved this year. Don’t dwell on what you were unable to do. Remember that your job description changed OVERNIGHT (and then 3 or 4 times after that as the district began to reopen). You had at least four “first” days of school this year, and anybody who’s ever taught knows how exhausting just one first day can be.

2. Read, because you love that. But read history books that you want to read and not education books you think you should read.

3. Don’t worry about the fall. Yes, there is going to be a completely new block schedule this year, changes to advisory, you will be teaching a new class, and there is a new teacher on your team, but seriously…that is nothing compared to the last year and a half. You can do this.

Looking ahead

On the first day of school each year, I share a series of quotations about history with students in order to talk about what my class will be about. I refer to the quotations throughout the year, and on the last day I usually come back to a few of them.

This year the one that stood out was a Russian proverb —

“Dwell on the past, lose an eye. Forget the past, lose both.”

We have all lived through extraordinary history this year. For those of us who teach US history, it sometimes felt like…well, it is summer now. Don’t dwell on it. And come fall, we can work on how best to remember it.

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