In March of 2020, I taught at a small, rigorous private classical school with low-tech capabilities. Our students were not set up on Clever or Edgenuity. There were no laptops or school-issued tablets. We didn’t even have a computer lab on campus.
As we met with our principal just before the shutdown, we learned we had access to this thing called Google Classroom, and that we could use it as a learning platform.
That was it.
No training, no tip sheet. Just figure it out, and by all means, do NOT stop teaching. That was a Friday. We were expected to teach Monday.
I was one of the lucky ones, pretty tech-savvy, and a natural troubleshooter. A few of us dove in that afternoon. We spent all weekend researching and making training videos for our colleagues, students, and parents.
We worked nonstop, fielding phone calls, sharing information, setting people up, and asking permission for things. Facing pushback and fighting for what we hoped would be a sustainable way for the teachers to survive and the students to learn. And also adjusting our own lesson plans, reshaping schedules, and fending off panic attacks.
All the while leaving my family far, far behind me.
I brushed off my kids and my husband, sometimes locking myself in a room to work. I was short-tempered with them. There was no family/work balance. Just work.
Five days into the madness, my mother called me. I almost dropped the phone when I saw her name come up because I had nearly forgotten I had parents. I had not called to check on them, to see if they needed anything. They hadn’t even crossed my exhausted mind.
We watched with great envy as other area schools allowed their teachers to take that first week off from teaching so they could get their families settled and collectively come up with a new teaching plan. A logical decision. This was a national crisis, for crying out loud. The kids would be ok with a week off. Parents were having to reconfigure their own family lives as well, so it was a welcome pause for most.
But not us. Our expectations only rose. First, from administrators who were afraid of losing tuition money. (Don’t get me wrong; I get it. Our jobs depended on that tuition money, and they wanted to protect that. But it was difficult to not feel abandoned.)
Then, pressure from parents who wanted to know how we were possibly going to teach their kids at the level of rigor they were paying for. Some kids were finishing work too quickly, others were taking too long and requesting one-on-one help more frequently than normal. Most were understandably struggling with the technology they were never trained on.
And from within, I felt my own struggle with perfectionism and people-pleasing at a constant boiling point (Luisa’s “Surface Pressure” from Encanto could have been the theme song of teachers across the country).
The demands continued to squeeze in on me until one day I realized I had worked over 20 full days straight. Most had been longer than normal.
I had struggled with blurry boundaries before the pandemic. But this was different. There were no boundaries to be found.
But as most dark times do come to an end, I began to see some slivers of light shining through sometime in April.
I live in the southeastern US, and that spring we were gifted with the most perfect weather I could remember in a long, long time. Those beautiful days refreshed my spirit and inspired me to (finally) start to carve out a workable balance.
I began to breathe again, and with that came some clarity–and a few surprises.
I discovered that my students can be so different in their home settings. It was actually quite fun to see different sides of their personalities emerge through remote learning. The shy kids weren’t so shy when we would have online class discussions. Several possessed a previously unseen sense of humor that came out–and stuck around when the school went back in-person the next fall. I gained a whole new appreciation for them as individuals.
I also finally grasped how to set boundaries for the sake of my family. I learned to say no when it was too much, to close my laptop, and play backyard baseball with my boys. We dusted off our bikes and took to the local trails. We hiked and cooked out and genuinely enjoyed one another’s company.
Most shockingly, I learned not to shy away from leadership opportunities. I had always been an introvert in my teaching career, somehow never feeling like I outgrew the newbie stage at any of the schools where I worked. Sure, I’d quietly offer an idea here or there, but I never felt like an expert in anything before. But by taking the reins with the new technology, I gained confidence in myself.
My newfound confidence led me to pursue some other interests and, to my surprise, eventually led me out of the classroom and into another role. The pandemic taught me balance, it taught me how to see the individual behind the faces, and it gave me a sense of confidence to imagine broader possibilities for my life and my career.
Would I do it again? I’d rather not. But will I choose gratitude for the lessons I learned in the meantime? Indeed, I will.
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