This summer, reflecting is more important than ever

This summer, reflecting is more important than everTeachers, parents, caregivers, and everyone else who played a part in the education of a child this spring: We made it. It’s finally July. For me, July is where I hit my summer groove. Summer does look different this year, but it feels good to have made it to this month.

I don’t know about you, but my phone was working overtime the last few months of the school year. Between constantly checking emails, texting colleagues and students, the endless Zoom meetings, and calling my family and student families to keep connections strong, by about 2:00 p.m. every day, my battery was down to 20%. Then, the news of George Floyd’s killing broke, and I was constantly scrolling, taking in the information and watching the country respond.

One day, after my phone wouldn’t let texts go through, I had to do something I rarely do: Turn it off for a total reset. Let the phone rest. Take a minute, turn it back on, and see if it was in a better place than it was before.

Just like my phone, my family, my understanding of my place in the world as a white woman and teacher, and my priorities have all taken a total reset as we live through some scary, unprecedented times. I know the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism are far from over, but I’m grateful for the time to reflect and think about how I want to move forward.

Looking back

Although I would have said otherwise at the time, I was lucky to find out so soon that school would be closed for the year. I know everyone’s timeline was different, but in my district, it was 12 days after the initial temporary close of school that we found out we would be out for the remainder of the year.

The coming months will challenge us, but they can also inspire us and, hopefully, inspire our students, who are, after all, the people who matter most.

I remember sobbing as I listened to our governor speak. Over the next few days, I continued to cry randomly as, like many of us, I thought about all the things that wouldn’t happen. For my students: Their fifth-grade completion ceremony, their last field day, making ocean murals together, and having our passion project fair where they would practice public speaking. For my kindergarten son: His first field day, his first last day of elementary school, his Sonic-themed sixth birthday party with the new friends he had made, and his field trip to local campgrounds.

Months later, I sobbed again while watching CNN’s town hall on race with Sesame Street. I watched it with my son at my side, tears streaming down my face. As I watched young Black children pose questions about racism, I felt for their parents and the unjust fears they have for their children.

I remember reading this quote one day at the start of the pandemic: “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.” When the world shut down in March, I was not worried about losing my home, my spouse was helpful, we had financial security, and I was only crisis homeschooling one child. I knew I was in a lucky boat. This same quote troubled me after George Floyd’s death because I realized how different the storm of racism is for African Americans. I am white. My son is white. My husband is white. I don’t worry about them coming back home every time they leave our house. Again, I recognize my boat.

The role of gratitude

I have been trying to practice gratitude by focusing on things that would not have happened if it weren’t for this forced reset. Like all the fun we did have on my son’s sixth birthday. And all the new skills I have learned as a remote teacher. And how the fifth-grade teachers and administrators rode around on a bus to over 90 students’ houses on a 90-degree day screaming and chanting to celebrate their last year of elementary school, a celebration that gave each child their own moment to shine and feel special.

I am grateful, too, for the peaceful protests working to bring racism to the forefront and bring about change. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore bias in my classroom and things I can do to better reach the Black children I’m entrusted to teach.

Looking ahead

Our official school year had not even ended before our governor made announcements about how school will open next fall. Although I try to be optimistic and hope things will continue to get better and evolve, I am, again, trying to practice gratitude. It’s possible my class will not be there together every day in the fall, or that my son will not be in the school building every day. It’s almost guaranteed that conversations about systemic racism will be uncomfortable and difficult to even start.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop plans for how we will teach our students to thrive in online learning environments and to actively stop racism and inequity.

Again, I’m trying to focus on gratitude. I’m trying to think about how I can focus on the quality of my time with students, instead of the quantity. How I can make each of those moments an opportunity for them to learn about their own resilience and to grow in their understanding of racism and bias.

And instead of stressing about what my son will do on his virtual learning days (and believe me, I’m in the moments of stress a great deal), I’m trying to think about how he will learn to be flexible and adapt to a variety of environments. Or that perhaps being in a smaller group for him will help develop some stronger friendships and allow his teacher to meet each student’s needs. Even that those smaller groups will make it easier for his teacher to tackle anti-racism in their own instruction.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop plans for how we will teach our students to thrive in online learning environments and to actively stop racism and inequity. As we move through summer, and continue to plan for next school year, I’ll remind myself to focus on what is happening instead of what isn’t. I’ll remind myself things often work better when we give time to stop, rest, and reset.

The coming months will challenge us, but they can also inspire us and, hopefully, inspire our students, who are, after all, the people who matter most.

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