A Time To Teach

Day 238

For most teachers, this school year didn’t start last August. It started last April with the first national quarantine we had ever seen (approximately 238 days have passed since then). No matter what our view of the situation was, every teacher was asked to invent new wheels over and over, and then asked to throw away those ideas and learn multiple new things their state and district dreamed up without telling them. It has been such an exhausting year. For the most part, teachers who stay in it for the long haul are a strong breed. We learn that to keep our sanity we must be willing to learn new ways, throw out work we have spent months or years developing, and make whole system changes with only a day’s notice. On top of that, we must maintain a countenance that leads the students to believe everything is just fine. You know…grace under fire. We listen to a new directive from our district leaders, that we know is going to cause complete chaos, shake our heads in despair and then walk into our classroom with a smile and extra sweet voice. Somehow, I think the students see beyond the smile. They’re pretty clever. Oh how I love those little teenage turkeys! And don’t worry, I actually passionately love teaching, even in all of the insanity.

Hopefully you have derived from my writing that I am oddly extra joyful and usually don’t struggle with the despair as much as some. God gets ALL the credit for my joy! But everyone has an off day and today was mine. During a normal year, I am known for being firm, expecting hard work, and not being a pushover. However, I am also known for being fair, compassionate, and kind. They know I expect their best, but they hear every day how much I value them. I don’t believe in giving someone credit for something they didn’t earn. I teach high school science; biology, physical science, forensic science, advanced biology, AP environmental science, and Robotics. It is an important yet tough subject to learn, but I absolutely love science and hope my students will come to love it too.

However, this year has been anything but normal. Fake excuses have abounded amidst a few truly legitimate struggles. The truth is, most of the students in our district and probably everywhere have simply decided not to do school. Their parents feel helpless because most cannot be there to make their student stay on task, and consequences are complicated in a city full of single parents who feel forced to compete for their child’s love or presence. I have the much dreaded task of determining what is believable and what is merely a convenient excuse…”Mrs. Cook, my hamster got Covid and gave it to the dog who ate my computer and spread Covid through the internet to half the student body. And by the way, this went on for exactly one semester and just now resolved the week before final grades go out…sorry about that.” Ugh!!! I actually just reached for my snuggly Hallmark blanket as I typed this.

So why was today so bad? I had to apologize to someone. No one was making me do it, but I have learned that I am only the best version of myself when I immediately own up to any wrongdoings. I was extremely uncompassionate, snarky, and downright rude to a parent about their child. I received an email from administration about a parent who said her son was experiencing multiple technical difficulties…oh and by the way, he has Covid. By now, this has become the most popular excuse. They know we cannot question the legitimacy of their claim. Now, I know some students actually are getting sick, but I also know the statistics and am aware of the very small percent of students who are likely to experience anything beyond mild symptoms. I’m no fool. Some are lying. Although I give them extra time, I still expect them to come back and do work eventually. The email about this particular student was copied to several teachers and counselors and I didn’t bother to look at the entire list of recipients (rookie mistake). I immediately replied (another rookie mistake) with an email, and pretty much called the excuses horse pucky and awful convenient in the last week that grades can be entered.

Well, I was about to receive the biggest humble pie of my entire year. Better grab some popcorn because this one is a doozy! Unbeknownst to me, the parent was in that list of recipients. Wait, it gets better. This student had just transferred to my class in the last month (I have 180 students and had forgotten he was so new) and…icing on the cake…I had encouraged a counselor to send him to my class to try to get him back on track (sometimes they just need a change). Forget the shovel, I was going to need a backhoe to get me out of this mess I made. I had spoken in haste and was not delivering love and grace, therefore I wasn’t representing God. Sadly, my district probably would have stood behind my bad behavior, as they almost always side with the teacher first. Thankfully, my parents taught me that apologies are not contingent upon discovery of guilt and should be offered immediately. I wasted no time in emailing the mom a sincere apology, along with some ideas of how to rescue her son’s grade. Then, I called her and bawled like a baby as I blubbered out another apology. She was so kind. She had already forgiven me and said she understood that we are all stressed out and not ourselves. Thank you, God, for showing me mercy today. Even teachers need mercy. The truth is, we have meltdowns, make poor decisions, misjudge people and situations, and fall into depression just like anyone else.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

So, I pray Lord that you bless that sweet mother and her son tonight, that you completely restore his health and protect their household from any more sickness. May they see You, Lord, in the healing, and may they experience Your peace that passes all understanding. I pray that they will be so filled with peace and joy that it spills onto everyone around them, and that they cannot deny that You carried them through it all.

In Jesus name, Amen.