A Vision for the Year: Understanding Our Students

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September 13, 2021

We are beginning the third school year to be impacted by the pandemic. I can hardly believe that to be true. Thinking back, when my sweet kindergarten students walked out of the classroom for the final time on March 13, 2020, I could never have imagined that those same students would be entering second grade still facing an ever-changing pandemic classroom.

As educators, we have been on the roller coaster ride of our lives for the past 18 months. Uncertain of when the next drop or turn would occur, we collaborated, problem-solved and worked countless invisible hours to build instruction from the ground up. I have witnessed the creativity, power and care of educators countless times over my career, but never to this magnitude.

Talk to any teacher, and I can bet all would state first and foremost that they only survived those uncertain and scary months because of the support of their colleagues. I will forever be in awe of the amazing educators that surround me.

All that said, WE ARE TIRED. It’s not just me, right?

I thought the summer would bring revitalization, as the summers usually do. But with a new school year ahead, and the continued uncertainty of COVID looming over us, it is difficult to not feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

The first step is owning that. I don’t believe as educators we speak of the challenges enough. It’s OK to feel all those things but also care tremendously for our students and our teaching. We can feel and embrace both.

Welcoming students back to the classroom this year, in whatever setting has been designated by your district, will be one of the most important transitions back to learning in recent times. Thinking about everything we have been through, it will be vital to be gentle – to both students and ourselves. Each day since the pandemic began, we have been navigating uncharted waters. School as we know it is forever changed from this tumultuous time, and it is our responsibility to own and create a new vision for ourselves and our students.

Developing relationships will be the most important. Understanding who your students are, where they come from and the challenges they face outside of the classroom will be instrumental in developing their sense of safety and trust of you. We all work on this every year, but this year, more than ever, I believe it will be critical. If students do not feel safe in the classroom, and have trust in their teacher, it is impossible for that student to thrive.

I know all of us will feel the insurmountable pressure surrounding growth in academics. We know the pandemic was challenging for learners, despite the endless work from teachers and support staff. I know many of us will feel a sense of urgency to dive right into instruction, our heads spinning with all they may have lost, instruction they missed, and all the new learning ahead of them this year.

As hard as this may be to hear, I know that putting this kind of pressure on ourselves will only make the students feel that same pressure. We need to be the models for how to navigate this unique time in education. If we feel the weight and worry of lost learning, students will feel it, too. If we take each learner for who they are, we have the opportunity to create a learning environment that helps build confidence in what students know and provides the tools to help them develop at their own pace.

This is against the grain for most of us, as pacing pressures are always present, but this year especially, the need to see kids as exactly who they are and all they do know, will be the catalyst for true and steadfast growth throughout the school year.

In the end, as we have always done, teachers will rise to face the daily, minute-by-minute obstacles that will come our way. Just know that you are not alone. The work you do each and every day is valued beyond measure. Together, we will continue the endless pursuit of providing the best education possible to each and every one of our students.

Let's go!

About Leah Porter: I am a third-grade teacher at Wilcox Elementary in Holt Public Schools. As an educator for over 15 years, I strive each day to help students develop into their most authentic selves. I value providing instruction that helps create leaders and competent, critical thinkers who will be strong voices and caring citizens in their community. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2021-2022, I strive for all my work to be seen through the lens of equity and accessibility, and how to build educational systems for learners that will transform the trajectory of education across the state of Michigan and beyond.

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