Every day, I ask my students to check in with me in the Zoom chat box by responding to a quick “temperature check” prompt. I ask them how they’re feeling, what they’re worried about, or to name something that they’re looking forward to doing. Sometimes the prompts are fun (I had them choose one of 12 chihuahua facial expressions that best described their current mood), while some ask for a little more introspection.
Over the past four weeks, I’ve heard a lot about how anxious my students are, how exhausted they feel, and how much they miss their friends. They miss “normal” as much as I do, and we spend a lot of time talking about going to the movies, eating in a restaurant, hanging out with friends, enjoying holiday traditions, and a thousand other experiences that we used to take for granted. We talk about stress and anxiety and how we’re coping with both. I believe that helping students notice and name their negative emotions helps them build both mindfulness and empathy for others.
I think it’s really valuable to share frustrations and to be open about what we’re struggling with, and I don’t ever want my students to feel as if they can’t share. For myself, though, venting about how difficult things are only feels cathartic for a while. There’s definitely diminishing returns, and eventually I have to take a step out of the pit of despair or I feel paralyzed.
So, last week, I challenged my students (and myself) to reframe our experiences and to share something that they have gained from the past six months. I asked them to think of one thing that they hope doesn’t change when we return to normal, whenever that might be.
Unsurprisingly, their answers made me smile. They told me about how much they’ve enjoyed finally getting enough sleep. They love staying in comfortable clothing all day. Some of them said that they’ve enjoyed not having social pressure to leave the house, because they enjoy being homebodies. Many of them are loving having six feet of personal space and they hope that they never have to be in breathing distance of strangers ever again. Some of them have even learned that they love the autonomy that’s come with distance learning, and they hope we don’t ever return to campus.
For myself? I am cherishing this extra time with my family. I hope that we can still find time for home-cooked meals, family walks, and bedtime stories in the evening when life gets back to full-speed. My son shouting to his second-grade Zoom class in the next room has been challenging for all of us at home, but I love that I have a better sense of him as an eager, enthusiastic student, not just as my kid.
And, ironically, I’ve felt closer to my LBUSD colleagues during this time than I ever did before. Even though I can’t pop over to my neighbor’s room to share ideas, necessity has forced a different kind of collaborative spirit. We’re sharing resources on Facebook, helping each other troubleshoot our tech issues. Links to shared documents are flying around our district email. We’re texting each other with questions, complaints, and snarky comments. In this profession, it’s sometimes hard to feel like I’m part of a team but, somehow, this distance learning trial-by-fire has made it so.
I’m absolutely rooting for a return to normal as soon as it’s safe. Everyone I know is getting a hug and a high five, and we’re all going to celebrate over shared appetizers in a busy restaurant. But I’m grateful to have taken a few moments with my students to appreciate what this time has given us, not just what it’s taken away.