What the End of a Pandemic School Year Feels Like to This Teacher

If you know a teacher, you know that 4th quarter fatigue is a real thing. Don’t believe me? Just ask any educator you know. But be sure to do so prior to 8:30 at night. Otherwise, they are almost guaranteed to be asleep on the couch while their favorite Netflix show continues to play quietly in the background. Odds are, there is also an empty wine glass and a bag of chips nearby.

As this school year ends, teachers are exhausted. (Twenty20 @DimaBerlin)

Right now teachers are exhausted

Most years, this overwhelming sense of exhaustion sets in around May 1st. It’s a long three to four weeks to the finish line, but somehow, we always make it with a smile on our face. This year, however, the enervation began in September, and it never really went away. As a result, “pandemic 4th quarter teaching” is something of a legend. I can only compare it to the newborn stage.

No matter what you do, you are always tired. Emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. The type of tiredness that even a 32 oz cup of coffee cannot cure. Still, teachers are continuing to show up every day. We may be rocking messy buns and yoga pants more often than we’d like to admit, but we’re here.

Our job is not quite done. This 4th quarter is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s hard some days and really hard other days. But it’s also joyful and exciting, as is a typical 4th quarter.

It’s been a wild ride, a year different than any other

It’s this bittersweet combination of being excited for a “normal” and well-deserved summer, guilt about not having done enough for this year’s kids, and sadness at having to say goodbye to kids who experienced the craziest year of all time with you. It has been a wild ride, and it’s almost over. We’ve grown and learned so much this year, and saying goodbye to our students will be different this time.

Much like the 2019-2020 school year, we didn’t get enough time with our students. While we are so ready for the end of May, it just doesn’t feel like we accomplished everything we should have done. And the fact is, we didn’t.

Our year started three weeks late and included remote learning, hybrid learning, full face-to-face classes, masks, social distancing, stress, fear, confusion, excitement, joy, and everything in between. It was a lot to cram into the classroom, on top of the actual learning that was supposed to take place.

In a normal school year, teachers often play hundreds of different roles for our students, but this year it was hyper-focused and doubly difficult due to the huge number of changes and responsibilities. We had to manage the mental and emotional effects of a pandemic on our impressionable students, the constantly changing safety protocols and expectations set forth by our county, and learning about and effectively using new technologies to support the various modalities of learning.

Teachers have had so much to manage this year

We had to process the trauma of the last year for ourselves, and then support our students as they worked through the experience as well. We had students who went in and out of quarantine, had parents who were out of work due to the pandemic, had family members get very sick. Some of our students lost loved ones due to Covid. Every time, they needed our support, we gave it.

We omitted work for kids who just couldn’t muster the energy to function due to overwhelming depression or an inability to get to school or Zoom due to circumstances outside their control. We had to pick and choose the most important parts of the curriculum to focus on, but we also had to give standardized state assessments over all content, as if it was any other school year.

We had to be strong for our students even when we were falling apart

It was humbling to be a student’s safe place, and while we wouldn’t have ever given up helping our kids, it made for a personal roller coaster of emotions that we had to shield from our students. We had to be strong, even when we wanted to crumble.

For me, the most important part of this school year was not curricular learning. It was giving love and grace to my students. Did we read and write often? Yes. Did they learn content and grow academically? Yes. But the focus was on relationships over the rigor of the content.

We didn’t do homework. We didn’t do penalized late work. We allowed unlimited opportunities for corrections and redos. We cared less about the content and MUCH more about the individualized supports that students needed to find their own versions of success.

The key word being: individualized. Success for a student who had very little life changes over the past year was extremely different than that of a student who missed a lot of school and instruction due to the trauma of living through a pandemic. We gave “workdays” and “free time” like never before.

This year more than ever our students needed our patience and understanding

After a full year of no school and/or constantly changing learning environments, they needed time to adjust to being in school full time again. They needed our patience and understanding when they just couldn’t focus and work because of the distractions they faced.

And you know what? Even in a non pandemic year, these same concepts should still be in place. I hope that the last school year has shown schools that kids can set and achieve their goals when their mental, emotional, and physical needs are met, and high, but also realistic, expectations are in place. Teachers loving kids leads to kids who love to learn.

Our students needed our grace, being just okay was okay

Grace was truly the word of the year. Grace for our students, but also grace for ourselves. Mediocrity is not a word I am typically okay with using to describe myself. But this year? This year, I’ve accepted that being “just okay” is okay. I committed to not taking work on home in the evenings or over the weekend. I needed that time to reset and prepare for the next week.

I found that I could be much more present and engaged in my students’ lives when I was able to have time to decompress from the regular stressors of the day. And, guess what? Everything that needed to get done, still got done.

While I typically love to be innovative, research new teaching methods, and regularly integrate new activities that will engage my students, this year, I stuck with that basic when I could have potentially done something fantastic. I just didn’t have the energy, especially this final quarter, to put my heart and soul into new and exciting classroom strategies.

I never stopped working hard for my kids, but I had to just be okay with doing what I knew I could do well. And, I think my kids still are going to be okay. I made sure they knew that I cared about them, which was far more important than any new technology I might have incorporated into the classroom.

I’m really tired of it all this year, but very proud as well

Long story short, I’m tired. I’m tired of changes. I’m tired of being emotionally pushed to my limit most days. I’m tired of the pandemic politics that have crept into the classroom. I’m really tired of Covid (just like everyone else I know). I’m tired of the “new normal.” But, despite all of the unbelievable challenges schools have faced this year, I am also immensely proud.

I’m proud of myself for never giving up, even when I thought I couldn’t keep going. I’m proud of my colleagues for still giving their best every day by keeping the culture of our building positive and exciting during such a negative season of stress and grief. I’m proud of my students for showing up and working hard, persevering through their trauma, and showing tremendous growth academically and personally.

So, while I cannot wait for the next 19.5 days to be over, I am also going to miss these kids so much. We all changed throughout the last nine months together, and I believe that they helped me survive this school year. They gave me hope each and every day. They gave me purpose and the courage to get through some really tough stuff. I’m glad that we had each other during our unique, pandemic of a year.

More to Read:

Three Things This Middle School Teacher Wants Parents to Know

About Megan Komp

Megan Komp is an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in a suburb of Kansas City. She is in her 10th year of teaching middle school students, an avid reader and writer, a running junkie, and habitual 13 year old at heart. Follow Megan on Twitter @mrskomp

Read more posts by Megan

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