Thank you, kindergarten teachers.
It's been a school year no one could have imagined. One Friday, I picked my kindergartner up in carpool with a packet of at home activities, usernames, passwords, and extra library books "just in case we are out next week" and here we are closing out the school year virtually, with no idea what next school year may look like.
Now, it's teacher appreciation week, and we can't celebrate in any of the normal ways. I can't send my child to school with a favorite sweet treat in hand or a homemade card to be proudly delivered. I can't put together a little gift basket or help decorate the hallways with all the reasons our teachers are so special. Who knows when, or if, we will see some of our teachers in person again. There will be no last day of kindergarten picture in front of the school to put in the scrapbook, no last day of school festivities. No, everything is different now.
As I think about teacher appreciation week and the strange turn that this year has taken, I feel two primary emotions: gratitude and grief.
Gratitude for the amazing kindergarten year that my child has had, the incredible teachers and opportunities, all of the things that he has learned. Grief that this is the way it will end, that he doesn't get to close out his kindergarten year with his teachers and friends in person. It's still all a little bit surreal, as we log on each morning to Google classroom and Google meets, with no more lunches to pack, folders to check or carpool lines to sit in.
Last year around this time, I was feeling both anticipation and anxiety about what the first year of elementary school would look like. I'd spent so much time researching schools and going on school tours and hoping we would get a seat at our first choice magnet school--and we did. I felt confident that this was the place for my children, but what if I was wrong? This was a big decision, and all of my son's pre-K classmates were scattering to other schools: he wouldn't know anyone, I wouldn't know anyone, it would be all new.
I cried on the first day of school, and if I'm being honest, many days both before; anticipating that first day, and after; my little boy is growing up. But with each time we visited the school, each interaction we had with a staff member, the more confident I felt in our decision: this was the right school for us.
Every morning as I drove to school in our pre-Covid life, I would come up to the crossing guard, and regardless of what I was thinking about, I would find a smile on my face. Our crossing guard doesn't just help direct traffic and guide kids across the street, he also dances. His smile and dance moves always put a smile on my face--as my three year old liked to point out, "he's happy dancing", and this I think, sets the tone for what our school is like. In the carpool line, teachers would greet my kindergartner by name, and on Tuesdays, when the kindergartners got to participate in run club before school with the coach, my child would sprint out of the car and into the school, so excited to get there, he didn't want to waste a second.
In the afternoons, when he jumped into the car after school, he was always bubbling over with something fun or exciting he'd done at school, excited to show off his latest library book or tell me about a special activity they had done in his classroom. His interests expanded rapidly this year, a spark of curiosity ignited. He loves his teachers and I love the creative and out of the box ways they think. From working on counting by playing hopscotch to hosting family book clubs at a local library--their creativity is fun, fresh, and impressive.
When we realized we'd be switching over to distance learning for the rest of the school year, I was nervous. How would it work, logistically? How would all the fun, play-based learning that I love about his school translate into a virtual format? How would he react to this change in school?
While I wish school didn't have to be in a virtual format, I'm so thankful for the ways his teachers have kept kindergarten going, even from a distance. Assignments include opportunities to incorporate play and to get outside. The energy and enthusiasm of the teachers is visible, even through a screen. On his weekly classroom Google meet, his face lights up as he sees his teachers and friends. The coach he adores pops in to lead activities and keep them moving, and waves of excitement bounce off of him as he jumps up to participate. Our principal showed up to say up hello this week, and his face lit up with a smile as he saw him appear on the screen. When teachers hold their virtual office hours, he can't wait to say hi. They patiently listen and express excitement as he shows off his toys, books, and latest artwork, asking him questions, giving him virtual high fives, and keeping him engaged and connected to the school community.
This virtual school thing is tough some days, there is no way around it. We didn't expect it and we didn't plan for it. We're all adjusting to a new way of doing things and adjusting to life in a pandemic. Teachers already worked hard, and now they are working even harder, converting lesson plans to a virtual format, working through technology issues, and adjusting to only seeing their students through a screen. It hasn't been an easy thing to do, I'm sure, but they have shown up in big ways, with smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their voices.
So thank you, teachers. Thank you for creating a school environment where my child feels safe, happy, and loved. Thank you for encouraging his creativity and curiosity, for keeping him engaged both in real life and virtually. Thank you for giving him a kindergarten experience that will encourage a love of learning as he grows. Thank you for teaching, no matter what the world outside your classroom looks like. Thank you for adapting and making it work when your classroom is suddenly moved to your living room. Thank you for choosing to be a teacher and for all the time and energy and heart that you put into it. Thank you for all the ways you are making our future better by investing in our children.