It’s the end of the year or close to it for students and teachers all over the world. Yet, because of the pandemic and its ensuing disruptions, it doesn’t feel anything like the end of the year. The electric excitement isn’t building in the hallways. There are no parties, no games, not even the adrenaline of exam season.
I find myself missing everything — juggling workbooks as the key to the staffroom slips out of my fingers, stepping over languid teenagers on the stairs, raising the shutters with a yank, and watching twenty-three pairs of sleepy afternoon-eyes blink into the afternoon sun.
You can’t get that on Zoom. Or Skype. Or Teams. Or anywhere. I went into my last lesson optimistic. Sad to be leaving my students, certainly—I’d been in the classroom with them twice a week for the past two years—but excited for them, excited for me, ready to guide them into a future beyond our experience.
I am, or I guess now was, a conversation assistant. That’s code for getting to do all the fun parts of teaching—the games, the laughs, the experimentation—without all the boring, stressful parts— the assessments, the exams, the mandatory standards.
The end of last year was amazing. There were music and cards and banners and thank yous and dances and sweets we weren’t supposed to be eating in class. The end of this year? Not even an ending. Just some stilted waves behind a slow internet connection, two clicks, and then the restrained “snap” of a laptop closing. And, just like that, I wasn’t a teacher anymore.
It’s such a difficult feeling to experience, and it’s so hard to put into words. A mix of vague disappointment, sadness, inadequacy, and worry? Guilty relief? To me, it feels like I’ve accidentally left a part of myself on another planet, but I’ve been gone for too long and am too far to swing by and pick her up now. I’m not even sure she would recognize me now. I feel so removed from teaching as I knew and loved it.
But that’s the thing. We have been removed from teaching as we know and love it. Many of us, including myself, quite literally. Locked out of our classrooms and into home offices. No friendly coffees in the staff room, just the chimes of a thousand group messages. Like all the other aspects of our lives ravaged by COVID, there is real value in acknowledging the change, calling it a loss, and grieving the lives we once had and took for granted.
And just like a bad exam or a failed group project, lamenting only gets you so far. Only once you’ve let your sadness run through you, swelling inside and spilling over in frustrated tears and tired sighs, do you have the space and emotional capacity for acceptance, optimism, and gratitude. You know these familiar feelings. They’re old friends from your classroom days that you’re teaching to your students now more than ever as you help them cope with COVID.
So treat yourself with the same kindness, acceptance, and empathy that you show your students. Value your feelings and be patient with yourself. Lean into this strange non-end-of-the-year ending. Take the space and time you need to move through the grieving process. Let that process help you let go of any entitlement, resentment, or anger that you feel. Once those feelings are gone is there space for acceptance, optimism, and gratitude.
And that nagging worry you have that your students are struggling to cope? Lead by example. Show your students how to acknowledge their loss, mourn it, and transform it into a life lesson. Teachers have been teaching others how to work through challenges since time immemorial. Just because you’re missing the trappings of your classroom doesn’t mean you can’t do what you’ve always done: make a positive change in the world.