I began my eleventh year of teaching at GALS and my twenty-first year of teaching overall as though I’d hardly ever taught before. In the first few weeks, I’ve joked with my colleagues and friends that I feel like a newborn baby of a teacher who is learning anew the systems and strategies that build a strong classroom.
Given that, I can only imagine how our students feel. On paper, I’m receiving a new group of beautiful sixth graders, eleven- and twelve-year-old humans who are transitioning from elementary school to middle school and navigating everything that comes with that.
The reality is, I’m receiving fourth graders into middle school. Fourth grade was the last time these students were together in school, doing school the way most of us had always experienced before March 2020. Their school muscles are very wobbly, and their uncertainty is high. Their joy and excitement at being together again is also at a fever pitch. All these things swirl together, creating jam-packed days. I was in bed by 8:30 every night the first week of school.
While we’re all hungry to make up for lost time, these weeks have shown me that we also need time to build our school muscles again. How can we be in community with one another? How can we share ideas and manage expectations and organize our stuff? How do we recognize that nothing has been normal about our world since March 2020?
I think we must slow down, take stock, and practice being brave together. We should hold space for the hard roads youth have navigated and are still navigating. We should practice building our muscles around uncertainty, because there’s still plenty of that. We should celebrate often, and we should pause to name things we’ve experienced. Coming back to school is a really big deal, and we deserve joy and celebration for all the energy it takes to be together again. We should learn like crazy and not take learning for granted, especially the kind of learning that comes from listening to one another in a classroom, in a school where magic happens all the time.
I’m so happy to be back, and I’m trying not to forget the hard learned and beautiful lessons of the last nineteen months. In the coming weeks, I’m going to ask my students to build a resource bank of lessons and consider how to incorporate them into this “new normal,” so that we don’t just revert to the stuff we all said we were happy to be rid of when the pandemic arrived.
Slowing down and listening to one another is at the top of my resource bank. What’s at the top of yours, and how do you hold it sacred as the pace picks up and we reflexively fall back into past routines that might not have supported us to be our best selves?
This New York Times article talks about the bravery of girls, not despite their emotional constitution, but because of it. Young people are our mirrors, and sometimes it’s hard to look, because they’re showing us what’s challenging and broken. But they’re also guiding us to what’s possible – and heaven knows we could use a new way of imagining what’s possible. (Note: If you can’t access the article, please contact GALS parent Cynthia Swanson at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.)
The key? Maybe it’s simply starting with the awareness that feeling is an act of bravery, and sharing our feelings with people who are willing to listen can be revolutionary. I feel like a brand new teaching baby, but that isn’t a bad thing, because I’m seeing things freshly, and I’m imagining what’s possible. I hope to co-create a space with kids where they can do that, too – slow and steady, and celebrating all along the way.