A Teacher’s Perspective

by Jeanette Lee

The last bell of the year rings and summer is here. Teachers sigh and dream of just a little rest before the planning begins again. Like anyone else, teachers enjoy their time off, and we have been known to have a cocktail or two and dance our stress away. But when July rolls around, and our instincts kick in, we realize we have only X amount of weeks to plan for the upcoming school year.

This year has been a year of unexpected twists and turns. Educators have been asked to go above and beyond for the good of the children. And we do. That is how teachers are built. We are a special breed; though, this pandemic has tested our mettle in a crucible of change for which few of us ever anticipated. A test for which we had not studied. Preparing for this school year has been a very, should I say, novel experience.

Now, I will only speak for myself; however, I am almost certain other educators have similar feelings. When reality set in that my classroom, my magical place of learning was now going to be on a digital platform, I went into full panic mode. How am I going to learn this new platform? How will my curriculum transfer? Will I lose my connection to my students? What if I fail? What if my students fail? All these daunting questions orbited my mind like satellites of apprehension broadcasting a 24-hour stream of anxiety.

Throughout the summer, while watching the news and trying to stay up to date, searching for clues of some sense of normality, I went into a panic. There were instances where I honestly wanted to quit teaching until I realized that to do those things I love, to be the person I am, I had to stay in the game of education.

There is a quote that I write on my board, and it stays there all year, “In any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. I wish you growth.” It was time I learned the lesson I’d been teaching all these years. Preparing for the first week of school has been very involved and a tad intimidating. Only seeing my colleagues via Google Meet, the empty hallways at school, it was a little creepy and lonely—different. Usually, one can walk into the teacher’s lounge or walk by a secretary’s office welcomed by a flurry of greetings from colleagues. I missed the conversations; I missed people. I missed our world.

All of the newness. New digital programming. New professional learning. New platforms. New protocols. I needed a grappling hook and rope to climb up the learning curve. Still, I got it together. With the help of my friends and colleagues, hot coffee, warm kisses from my dogs, a pep talk from my husband, and YouTube tutorials, I got it together—just in the nick of time.

Seeing my students’ faces for the first time online was undoubtedly a new experience. Here’s that step forward. Here’s where I grow. This week, during the first week of school, I decided to adjust a collaborative assignment (one I do with my students every year) and sprinkle a little of my old magic into my new digital classroom. I asked my seniors to find a quote that resonates with them, one that keeps them motivated when times get tough. I modeled the assignment using my famous quote that stays on the board throughout the entire year.

Here we are. I was strong enough to step forward into growth and I will help my students to do it too. I do not have the answers or know what will happen next month, but I can say I made it here. I prepared myself to give my best to my students. Yes, they will see me make digital blunders in real-time (bless their hearts; they are so patient with me). It is okay to make mistakes; I tell them because that’s how we learn to get it right.

So, as I continue to plan for the academic year in our world of uncertainty, I can guarantee that educators are giving their hearts and souls to a profession that they love, even amid change and COVID-19. There is only one constant thing in life: change. With change comes growth. My goal for this school year is that my students and I learn to adapt to the changes and grow together, like sunflowers in the hot Las Vegas sun.

Jeanette Lee is a high school English teacher and recipient of Teacher of the Year 2019.