The second semester began in 2021 and I brought my class of 3rd graders outside for their very first recess on the new playground. Off they went to discover the twirls and thrills of the new structures. 

For me, it was a welcome chance to pause and catch my breath from our first morning together. As I watched my new little buddies run around I thought about everything that brought me to this moment. 

We could not have imagined what that fateful Friday the 13th would bring when we held our last day of in-person school and the pandemic would force us all to learn virtually through the end of the school year. As an instructional coach I felt the loss of connection with the students and teachers deeply. My porch became my favorite at home office and I hustled to produce virtual content that would relieve the strain of the teachers in my building and remind the students how much I cared. All the while we wondered and worried how this online environment would affect the students.

Summer came and went and in the fall we were able to open schools in person again. Reopening was incredibly special. Read more about it in my blog post, Our First Week Back to School: A Journey through OZ. I’m proud to say we were able to offer our families a choice. Each grade level had a group online and a group in person. It allowed us to give families the care they needed but it also meant our staff was stretched thin and made many adjustments.

To care for the high needs of a pandemic I found myself splitting time between instructional coaching and reading intervention groups. The first semester came to a close when I found out there was a group of 3rd graders returning to school in person after winter break and they needed a teacher. Exhausted and overwhelmed I wondered if I would be enough for these kids and all these needs they would bring with them. I worried about what the loss of instructional coaching would do to our school culture.  

Through the weeks in December when everyone was filled with holiday cheer I found myself so often in prayer. Each time it came to this, “God make up the difference where I lack. Show me each day the reasons why you have placed me here.” 

I would repeat Esther 4:14 again and again. “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

While I certainly didn’t feel royal, each day I searched for the reasons why I was placed in this position and was determined not to waste it.

January came and I was back on the playground watching my students embrace the pure joy of play. Im convinced the giggles have never been louder on any playground around the world. Clinging to a rope climb that spins, I watched a group of kiddos pile on that may have never played together in years past. Girls and boys with different abilities, interests, and backgrounds climbed the tower and spun in laughter. No one complained about who would have to do the hardest part, no one was left out. No one complained it was too cold, and no one asked me when we would get to eat snack. So much time apart had brought a purity back to their play. They felt gratitude to just be able to play with any other child. The magic spark was back in their eyes and we all were careful to protect it.  

Back inside our new classroom we had a class meeting and made a poster describing how it felt to be back in school. They all agreed they missed friends and teachers from online, but being back in school felt right. 

I knew the kid’s would mention things like recess and friends, but they also wrote things that were so profound. Hearing their words recentered me for my purpose again – “For such a time as this.”

One by one they began to share their feelings.

“It just feels like a real reason to get dressed again.” 

“I get to ask questions all the time and I don’t have to wait.” 

“We love partner talk time.” 

“We get to book shop for whatever books we like!” 

“I felt like I was in a box, and now I’m free, out of the box.” 

A little teary eyed I smiled at them and felt my purpose again.

“For such a time as this.”

On this 1 year anniversary when everything changed, I am now celebrating my 9th week with my 3rd grade students. I’m recognizing that I’m not the only one who has been exhausted and overwhelmed. So much has changed for them too. The energy we have all given to keep learning alive is outstanding. And so I find myself constantly having to check my expectations. I am not only teaching the rest of this years content. I am teaching hearts and emotions too.

It is my privilege to be their guide, helping these children find their way again. 

My student’s stamina for learning in person is low. They miss their parents, pets, and homes a lot and require constant reassurance. Most of my little buddies get overwhelmed by too many directions at one time and they require far more practice time together than what is typical. They are desperate for regular breaks and have to be reminded to push themselves to complete an assignment the whole way through. 

All the while I am repeating to myself, “For such a time as this.”  

My students avoid computers at all costs feeling finally free of their screens. During indoor recess, they don’t want to watch a movie or Bookflix. Instead, they make up their own games making sure everyone is invited. Every moment of the day they seek connection and give love to whoever is in need. 

“For such a time as this.” 

If I ask them to do an assignment or test requiring them to work on their own without help, panic sets in. It requires days to build up the emotional support they need for such a task and we practice all the strategies they can use to make it through. We practice rereading the question, taking a drink break, using a quiet fidget, taking a stretch and taking a deep breath. We say over and over, “Trust your brain.” And I send them winks and love signals across the room to keep them encouraged. 

“For such a time as this.” 

Hoards of snack and gum seem to disappear in a day. While in the beginning, I worried they weren’t getting enough to eat at home, I now see the kids are just eating their feelings. Goldfish and Double Bubble have helped them cope and self-regulate. 

“For such a time as this.” 

I am hustling to give these kids the curriculum content they need. In some ways they are behind, but in other ways we are precisely where we need to be. I’m so grateful for the teachers who poured into these kids online and I’m doing my best to carry the torch now. I don’t know what the rest of the year holds but my hope is this. 

May I be the teacher who fosters connection. 

May I be the teacher who loves them through the “ I miss my mom, and I can’t do this worries.” 

May I be the teacher who gives them plenty of outdoor learning in nature. 

May I be the teacher who helps them believe in themselves.

May I be the teacher who helps them take risks in learning again. 

May I be the teacher who inspires a love for reading. 

May I be a responsive teacher to their needs, and put that mental and emotional well-being above any state requirement. 

I want them to go to 4th grade next year loving and trusting school again. 

And so I continue to pray I can keep this focus and find the energy to see my new favorite 3rd graders through until the end of the school year.

It will be a time in my career I will never forget and I want to be able to say I did my best, “For such a time as this.” 

I will keep posting about teaching life and of course books and healthy food on social media. Follow me on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page for more education thoughts and good book recommendations.

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2 Replies to “Pandemic Teaching: One Year Later”

  1. “Show me each day the reasons why you have placed me here” Mandy God is using you in an incredible way in these student’s lives! You are the exact person they need in their corner this year. Sending you love (and stamina!) to finish well. Thank you for all you do!

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