A Special Education Teacher Reflects on a Challenging Year
It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down school districts nationwide. The U.S. shifted into a state of loss and then grief. Loss of what we thought was stable including income, job security and daily routines. Loss of over a year’s worth of social plans we had for ourselves including graduation parties, family reunions and weddings. Plans have been put on hold repeatedly and hearts have felt the heaviness of disappointment non-stop.
Despite the life-altering changes our society has faced, there have been what I call 3 gifts of grief from this pandemic. These gifts include gratitude, connection and humility.
The Gift of Gratitude
What we knew initially as educators back in March of 2020 was simply that school would be put on hold. The first press announcements included the word, “weeks” and soon thereafter came announcements including words like, “months” and “unknown.” As the weeks turned into months, and now into a year, nothing has been the same.
As individuals, in every diverse role we fill, we have been pushed to new areas of skill and patience: as parents, as partners, as friends and in our work roles. Would we have jumped on this crazy train of overwhelming change by choice, previous to this time of pandemic? I will make a bold assumption that we wouldn’t have. However, here we have been; holding on tightly and bracing against the winds of change that have come as an onslaught daily. We have grown in areas of self-compassion and compassion towards others, which in turn births gratitude for ourselves and others.
As educators, we have had to practice, develop and arguably been forced to face the mastery of new technology. The term, “zooming” held a very different definition prior to distance teaching. Our ability to access and implement digital instruction has increased with new problems to solve such as chronic absences due to poor WiFi connections. Aren’t those newly developed understandings, perspectives and skills worth being grateful for?
Please, recognize your sense of accomplishment, new identities of fortitude and willingness to keep pushing forward in the wake of it all. With this recognition, gratitude will naturally follow.
The Gift of Connection
In the classroom, we have found ourselves stepping back and seeing social emotional learning as a higher priority. Teaching how to identify one's emotions and how to verbalize those feelings has been paramount. Hearing our students, and ourselves, identifying these emotions out loud has been a powerful way to validate the feelings of others and admit our own. In doing so, our level of emotional connection with others has increased and they have felt welcomed to feel.
Our society has never held such a place to honor feelings as it does now. The distance learning model has welcomed educators straight into the personal lives of families as we have played back on computers in their living rooms, back patios, and kitchen tables. Our voices have echoed down the hallways of homes in which we would never have visited in person otherwise. We have seen the faces of parents on a more regular basis and met siblings of our students during unexpected cameo appearances with their little smiling faces right up close to the computer camera. We have connected in more intimate ways with parents as they have seen what we do for their children and we have grown to appreciate them.
This gift of connection has impacted our own families as well! We have grown to appreciate shared minutes with our aging parents or grandparents on video calls with our children. Did we value those opportunities as greatly before the pandemic? We have grown to know our children on a deeper level as our time together at home has been in greater abundance. We have seen them play, heard their laughter, enjoyed snuggles and eye contact instead of spending so many hours outside of the home and away from each other.
This has been a gift unparalleled in previous year-long stretches of time. We have connected with one another with arms linked and eyes focused on making it through.
The Gift of Humility
Haven't we missed the little things like hugs and handshakes? Celebrations with others, live music, going to the movies, seeing a Broadway show, or visiting Grandma and Grandpa have been things we have seen through the new lens of longing. This longing births the beauty of humility. Humility is our ability to experience a more modest view of what is important and who is important.
Without question, this year has been a year of practicing love towards others as we have grieved with loved ones and friends through their health battles when testing positive with COVID. For us, that exchange of love has become a more finely tuned skill set as we have navigated from fear to hope amidst relentless powerlessness. Powerlessness forces our pride away as we ask for help. Practicing humility uncovers the beautiful interiors of our vulnerability which have otherwise been kept hidden.
People who historically “always have it together” have even not been able to “have it all together” without needing support at some point this last year. Toilet paper was scarce so neighbors shared with neighbors. Humility has been displayed in the look of worry, the tears that have been shed, and the defeat we have felt from loss in varied ways. The grief has been wrenching, but also full of beauty. So aren’t we, as educators, as parents, and as the human population united and stronger than before? We have grown and we have become a greater society.
Though we may have been in quite a constant state of grief and stress through this time, the parting gifts include gratitude, connection and humility. While we are not over the pandemic yet, in hindsight, we can assume that whatever the unknown of this pandemic still holds for us it will come with more opportunity to grow through the gifts which accompany the grief.