Feet Up Friday: Reflections On My First Two Years of Teaching

It feels weird to be writing this post because, in a way, it doesn’t feel like the school year has really ended. My days look the same: wake up, walk downstairs, pour my coffee. I don’t have to take attendance and I don’t have to jump on Google Meet, but I’m still home, in the same place, wondering where the school year went.

Closure is something us teachers has lost this year, which I’m finding especially hard because I won’t be teaching in Newport next year. There’s no closure for the last two years of my career. I packed up my classroom in a rush, in three hours, back in the beginning of May. I had celebratory drinks with my team during the last week of school but it still felt like we’d be back in the fall, side by side, classroom by classroom.

Distance learning was hard, but the last two years themselves haven’t been easy. My teammate Allie and I were laughing, back when quarantine was only just beginning, about the realties of our first two years of teaching. We were hired the day before school. We lost a week in January of 2019 due to a massive gas outage in town. We were told in February that twelve teachers would be cut and only scraped by with our positions while the rest of the school was reshuffled. We started our second year with no schedules and no class rosters due to a cyber hack. Then Covid-19 happened and we threw our hats into the “Distance Learning ring.” The past two years have been eventful, to say the least.

Here’s what I’m bringing with me from Newport- a few tips and tricks for the road. I cannot thank the people who have helped me grow over the last two years enough. I’ve always loved the strong community of TMS, all in it together.

Your team makes all the difference in the world.

I would not have survived without my 5C1 team the last two years. Teaching is a difficult profession, but having a group of people who understand exactly what you’re up against makes all the difference. We laughed together, we cried together, we screamed when we hit a wall and we celebrated the little victories. I’ll miss congregating in each other’s classrooms in the morning before the kids have come in or during the day when we just needed a break. I’m glad to say that while I’m leaving TMS, I’m keeping friends who I know will help guide my educational career as it continues.

Hold on to the bright spots.

Most of the days are hard, but there are bright spots in each of them. I want to share my favorite story from Distance Learning, specifically, because it is the bright spot I will be holding on to.

I want to put a picture in your mind of the student involved in this story. Back in December, he wrote me a card with “Dear Worstest Teacher Ever” sprawled on the front in crayon. I had taken away his coloring during science class. Now, our first week of official Distance Learning, I held a Google Meet with my homeroom. Early that week, I had asked this student why he was always checking in so late for attendance. He explained that he had to go to the store to use Wifi. Okay, I figured, maybe mom and dad own a store. Maybe he can’t get somewhere to use Wifi until an adult is home to take him. Flash forward to Friday, sitting on my Google Meet, when I notice this student is sitting on a metal bench in Walmart. He had biked there, by himself, to sit for four hours and do his school work.

By that evening, I was emailing back and forth with the guidance counselor. By Monday, I received a message- “HI MS. WIRTH I’M HOME AND I HAVE WIFI!” This student, who was working remarkably hard because he genuinely missed school, could now complete his online learning from the comfort (and safety) of his home. We made that happen. We made that difference for him.

Seek out the bright spots and hold onto them. They get you through.

School is so much more than academics.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, school is so much more than academics. Working with students in an urban district full of diversity and socio-economic disparity, you really see how much these students need school and the reasons they need it (hint: it’s not about their grades.)

Back towards the beginning of Distance Learning, when I was frustrated that I was only hearing from 5 out of my 80 kids a day, I came to the realization that I got used to being needed, day in and day out. When we were in school, 80 kids needed me, everyday. I had a purpose and I had a responsibility to show up for those 80 kids, everyday. That’s what you sign up for as a teacher. Sure, you hope your students learn fractions and the number of planets and what makes a chemical reaction along the way, but in the end, you hope they’re happy. You hope they leave your classroom better than they came in.

I guess writing this post is my way of seeking a bit of closure. I’ll be moving from 5th grade to 3rd grade in the fall and while I’m excited, I know it’ll be a completely different experience compared to the last two years. Two years- and what a ride they’ve been.

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