Dear Teachers

Dear Teachers,

Many of us are continuing to adapt to the new world of distance learning, but none of us are adapting the same way. Circumstances outside of our control continue to dictate our lives. Although we are certainly in this together, no two experiences are the same. So, no, we are not alone, but in many ways, we are.

About a year ago, I was playing a card game (I think it was Who's Most Likely To...) with some friends. The premise was that you read a card with a description of someone and give that card to the person at the table. One of the cards I received was who's most like to be "annoyingly happy all the time." I'll be the first to admit that I try to be as optimistic as I can, and to some people, this is great and refreshing, while to others, it's just what the card said: annoying.

Throughout the last five weeks, I may have come across as annoyingly happy. I have my moments, I have my down and off days, but I also have my great and fantastic days. I wanted to make a short list of some things I've been hearing and just provide some response to it. I'll try to be as hopeful and encouraging as I can without (hopefully) being too annoyingly happy.

1. No one is showing up to my Zoom/Blackboard Collaborate/Virtual Meetings.
I've seen a lot of people sharing pictures of their Zoom meetings and how all of their students are attending. Not only is that illegal (*waves to FERPA*), it's also not realistic. I have 110 freshmen, and at this point, I've held about 6 virtual meetings. I average 5 kids per session. Am I mad at it? Not at all. Do I wish more kids showed up? Of course. I miss them tremendously, but I shifted my thinking from a negative side to looking at what is going well. From my virtual meetings, I've met my kids' pets (who are super cute, by the way), I've learned that many of them have keyboards in their homes and can actually play, we've shared memes, and we've just talked. Honestly, we're barely touching on any content during the meetings. We just talk, and that's okay. Don't beat yourself up if you have low numbers attending. Offer the opportunity, and continue to do so, and do not allow negative thoughts relating to it consume your energy. There are so many invisible barriers that we can't see that are contributing to those low numbers.

2. I'm stressed about all of the uncertainty.
You're not alone. I'm a tragic overthinker, and I thrive on certainty and concreteness. You've probably found yourselves asking at least one of the following questions:

  1. What's going to happen?
  2. Will we be online in the fall?
  3. Will students get to graduate?
  4. How will things be graded?
  5. When will we know more?
  6. How are my students doing, especially the ones I haven't heard from?
  7. How will my instruction be impacted next year from this?
  8. Will I still have a job?
I know how frustrating the lack of information can be, but what I'll challenge you to do is focus on what we do know, what we can control, and what we can do right now to benefit our students. As I write this post, Maryland hasn't even canceled for the year yet, though I'm 99.9% sure it's going to happen. Make a short list of what you can control based on your own circumstances. Every day, I make a list/agenda of what I can do based on what I've been given. Try that. 

3. I feel sad/I'm not doing well.
Your feelings are valid. This is a completely unprecedented part of our careers. Many of us are used to face-to-face interactions, busy schedules, routines, and a bit more clarity and certainty, and now that we've had more time to just be alone and without a set routine, we find ourselves overthinking. About everything. School. Life. Previous experiences. Future experiences. The what-ifs. The what-coulds. It's overwhelming. During the first two weeks, I struggled to adjust. My sleep schedule went completely out the door, and I found that during the evenings, after the sun went down, were the worst parts of my days. These are some things that have worked for me:
  1. Set an alarm. I know some of you have children or duties that require you to get up at a certain time, but on the weekends, I can sleep until noon, and while I justify it when I'm rolling over for "five more minutes," I am frustrated with myself all day long. Setting an alarm or scheduling things to happen early in the morning make me feel productive.
  2. Find something to do that's not directly tied to your school work. For example, I applied for a grant for books, and I have been delivering books multiple times a week to different students and organizations in the community. This gives me a sense of purpose, it gets me outside, and it's another way to communicate with my kids.
  3. Schedule Zoom meetings with friends/coworkers. Every Sunday night, I "meet" with my best friends, and we catch up. In fact, this experience has actually brought us closer together. My coworkers and I have also been meeting for things like trivia, games, virtual coffee hours, and more. It puts something on your calendar, and it's a chance for interaction.
  4. Read about restorative practices. My school had training from Malik Muhammed on his restorative work and journey, and it forever changed the way I interact with others and myself. You can check out his website to learn more. I recommend finding and watching his videos.
  5. If you are feeling low, check what opportunities are available for you to see someone. Just the other day, my therapist reached out to me to inform me about how I can get a free visit during this time. We can have a phone conversation or an outdoors, social-distance style visit. Your district might have opportunities available for you to talk with someone for free. I wouldn't be surprised if you maybe missed an email about it because if your inbox looks anything like mine right now, it's completely chaotic. I plan to take my therapist up on the opportunity soon. It is okay to 1) need someone to talk to, 2) find someone to talk to, 3) actually talk to someone, and 4) normalize this entire process.
I know none of these ideas are groundbreaking, but I hope maybe it provides you at least with some reassurance. As I've said, no two experiences are the same, and in many ways we are alone, but let's remember what connections and shared experiences we do have. 

As Rupi Kaur wrote,

the irony of loneliness
is we all feel it
at the same time


Thinking of you,