I am an English teacher who is driven by the need, the passion to do my best to reach every single one of my students. If one isn’t doing well, I take it personally. It’s my fault. I didn’t do my job. I failed.
I should have tried harder.
I should have done more.
I should have figured out that one thing that makes the kid tick that would have enabled me to do better by that one child.
The school year began three weeks ago. Three exhausting weeks in which every Friday I am breaking. I teach two sections of students “face-to-face.” To maintain social distancing, my classes have been broken in half, roughly seven to ten students per class, per day.
And then I have one section of virtual students. Fifty. Fifty students whom I might never actually meet in person and, if I did, I might not even recognize because when I host Zoom sessions, the students keep their cameras turned off.
I don’t mind. The wifi and bandwidth in our rural county is so weak that turning on the camera during a Zoom call can knock them out of the call.
Regardless, I start my day usually around 7:45. I walk into my classroom and immediately wade through emails.
“I need help.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Virtual classes are hard.”
A string of needs and questions and demands for my time that I just can’t meet. I can’t do everything. Because 20 minutes from when I have entered my classroom, the first set of students arrive to be taught.
I want to meet each student at his or her individual level. This is a wonderful idea. But my virtual class is a collection of children ranging from learning disabled to gifted-and-talented. Their individual needs have such a spectrum of differences that I struggle with charting who needs what and how and why and when. Some students are taking care of their younger siblings, and their education is a bit compromised because they are chasing their little brothers and sisters around the house.
Last week, I had to talk over a student whose microphone wasn’t muted and, in the background, a woman was having a loud, abusive conversation.
I just can’t do it all.
Last week, I broke. Badly. I curled up on the love seat in my office and cried. I cried because no matter how hard I worked, I was’t doing enough. I cried because a mother had emailed me and my principal, asking that I spend time over the weekend and tutor her children. But this mother didn’t know that I spent Saturday, all day Saturday, grading and sending individual feedback videos to each student so that maybe, just maybe, they could learn.
Eight hours on Saturday, and I wrapped up my grading. Early in comparison to the preceding Saturday when I had spent 12 hours grading and sending feedback videos.
And somewhere over the course of that day, I found forgiveness.
Everyday, I was confronted with the fact that I just couldn’t do everything. I couldn’t build curriculum and teach that curriculum and assess the curriculum while answering emails from students and parents. And faculty. And staff.
I couldn’t keep up with reading. Or finding good instructional material. While teaching myself virtual education online programs.
I stopped exercising. Because the stress I was trying to relieve was making the muscles in my chest tighten like fixed concrete.
I stopped writing. Because I couldn’t enable my brain to shift from subject-verb analysis to creative thinking, to characterization, to tone and word choice and mood and poetry and imagery.
I can’t do everything.
But I can do my best. I can do my best by my students and their parents. I can continue to shore up my colleagues and help them and guide them. I can do my best to write or edit two pages a day. I can do my best to read a couple of pages of beautiful literature a day. I can do my best to walk a couple of miles.
I can do my best to sit on my front porch and watch the sun set. Or the late afternoon storm rise up over the western horizon and stretch itself over the small town where I live.
I can do my best to allow myself to be human. I do this for my students. I can do this for me.
Maybe, in the end, that is the best lesson I can teach.