It’s been a long year and a half, on that I think we can all agree.
As an educator, this last school year was one of the toughest of my life. Online teaching left me drained and burnt out, and I had to watch as my students struggled and fell behind with little I could do. The joy of teaching seemed sucked out of my life, and that spark that I see in my students so often as they experience the out of doors for the first time, hold a rough skinned newt, or get to put their hands in mud was gone. Work wasn’t fun anymore. It was draining, frustrating, and headache inducing. On one occasion, I watched one of my sixth graders throw their laptop out their window and I couldn’t do anything but watch. I didn’t blame them, throwing my laptop seemed fairly reasonable come June.
This summer, I have been fortunate enough to be able to work in person with high schoolers at a leadership institute run by my school district. And of course, it wasn’t the same. Hiking trails and teaching in masks hides the smiles of my students. We couldn’t hug, or high five, or play any contact games.
At the start of each week, students were scared to talk to, and sometimes even look at, each other. Often, it felt like I was still on zoom, but instead of blank boxes, I was receiving blank stares. But the wonder remained. The curiosity remained. The vigor remained.
We worked through hard topics: microaggressions, cultural differences, personal identity, and trust to name a few. I got to watch my students blossom over the course of just four days. I witnessed them learn to talk to people again. Make friendships, laugh, and grow. The sun filtering through the trees above, the air filled with joyful shouts, I felt something I haven’t felt in a long while. And as we walked through the old growth in Oxbow Park, seeing the wonder in my students’ eyes, I realized what it was. I was filled with hope again.
Hope. It’s a beautiful thing, which I, and many others have been lacking this past year. Never ending screen time sucks the life out of all of us. No human interaction makes it worse. We aren’t back to normal, and I don’t know if we ever will be.
But kids will always be kids. They will always be able to learn and grow. They are our future, and they give me hope. With these kids as our future leaders, I have hope for our future again.