One week down for this new school year. On Sept. 1, I met 160 new teenagers and, however imperfectly, we made it through our first four days together. It’s my natural impulse to catalog the challenges and glitches, but I’m making an effort over the three-day weekend to dwell for a few moments on what went right.
My students made me laugh, in that out-of-nowhere, I-can’t-believe-they-said-that way that only high school students can. I got to see some of my new students’ faces, and it gave me such a burst of dopamine, I was still grinning hours later. My students are connecting with me via myriad devices and computers, with varying Internet stability, countless unavoidable distractions — and they’re each making heroic efforts to be “in” class.
Did we have difficulties? Were there minutes of confusion that I wish I could get back? Absolutely. Were we zoom-bombed? Yes, unfortunately. Did I pat myself on the back for successfully creating an assignment on our new digital platform, only to discover that I wasn’t actually able to see it when my students turned it in? Sure did. Did I use the phrase “somewhat disastrous” to describe one of my more ambitious lesson components? Yes, absolutely.
But my hope is that my students saw that I didn’t stop trying and that I didn’t stop smiling. If they remember these rocky first few days, I want them to also remember that I was really, sincerely happy to be with them. That’s more important to me than things going perfectly. In fact, I don’t want them to imagine that I have everything completely under control — there’s so much about the world that’s chaotic right now, and I’d rather model for them what it looks like to work through it than pretend that I’m the only one immune to it.
At the beginning of each school year, I always think about my father, who was a teacher and a coach at Lynwood High School for 50 years. Over his tenure, he worked with thousands of students, both in his classroom and on the track and tennis courts. When he died, the church sanctuary was full to bursting with former students, and remembrances poured in on social media as well. One thing that struck me was how many of his former students went on to become educators themselves, including one of his first students, who became a fellow coach at Lynwood, the athletic director, and then a retiree before my dad hung up his own clipboard. How many countless young lives were positively affected by my dad’s former students? How many of those young lives went on themselves to shape the future as educators, coaches and parents?
This past week, Long Beach lost the legendary Andy Osman, who passed away a year and a half after his cancer diagnosis forced his retirement after more than three decades as an instrumental music teacher at Poly High School. I was in vocal music as a student at Poly, so I never took a class from Mr. Osman, but many of my classmates and friends learned and grew under his instruction. And, yes, many of those classmates and friends are teachers now, inspired by their time with him to turn around and inspire others. There is exponentially more beauty in the world today because Andy Osman made education his life’s work.
The influence of one teacher is incalculable.
I sit with the weight of that responsibility as each school year begins. There’s no way to say how long or impactful my career will be, when it’s all over. But every year, especially this year, I have the chance to make a difference for a few students, who may make a difference for others down the line. So I try to keep a smile on my face as I’m inwardly panicking in the awkward silence as I wait for a page to load. I smile through frustration at processes that aren’t going smoothly, and I smile at the seeming impossibility of the vague roadmap for the year ahead. Maybe seeing me smile through the struggle will make it easier for my students to get through their own difficult days ahead.
Happy new year, LBUSD. May this be a year that we make a positive impact, and may that impact ripple for generations to come.