Adjusting to the Not So "New Normal" with Grace in 2021
With every year, a feeling of newness comes that causes us to be both reflective of our past and hopeful for our future. The “new normal” is no longer so new, and it has been almost a year since most of us embarked on this journey of online learning. When we first began, we were as babes learning to walk, unsure of our steps, yet moving forward. Leaning on our administrators, curriculum producers, leaders, and coworkers to help us on our way.
The statements “Give yourself some grace.”, “We’re in this together.”, and “These unprecedented times.” became the mantras of this season. As we journey on, I want to define what giving ourselves and our students grace really means.
To me, grace is both a noun and a verb—a feeling and an action. It can be interchanged with giving someone: a chance, time, the ability to make mistakes without punishment, and forgiveness. Grace is a powerful concept, if you really take the time to imagine it.
Many educators and students are becoming burned out with the expectations that we must do everything virtually the way we do in a classroom. We have the same curriculum, the same students, the same issues, but we have now added online learning as the cherry on top.
As a Literacy Coach, I work for the Central Office and coach teachers. This has been both rewarding and challenging. It is rewarding to be a part of the planning process; however, it can sometimes be like learning to ride a bike. You know the benefits and the results that will come from it, but you’re afraid of falling or, in our case, failing. When it gets to the teachers, at times they feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We say, “Give yourselves some grace.” Allow yourself the time to learn the curriculum, to learn your students, to learn a new way of teaching; however, the messaging is sometimes lost in the delivery. We want to give ourselves grace, but we still have observations, evaluations, standardized testing, not to mention a home life. Many teachers are juggling being full-time teachers and full-time parents while working from home.
The teachers look to the students. We want them to achieve for so many reasons. For one, because we know the difficulties that arise with lack of education. Teachers are upset because students aren’t attending classes and are not turning in assignments. Some refuse to turn on their cameras or participate. Instead of grace, there is frustration. Despite all of these factors, at the end of the year, students need to show one year’s growth, and that is what is on many teachers' minds because their evaluation depends on it.
Lastly, you have the parents. I was astonished to see the number of parents saying that teachers should not be paid as much during the pandemic, due to not being in the classrooms. Although I understand the frustration of parents having to work, get students online, and ensure that they complete and submit assignments, I also recognize that it is already an underpaid profession.
I know educators that are working more hours than ever, to assist families with technology, to make resources available in print and online, to create engaging lessons that will make students want to come to class and turn on their cameras, checking papers, and all the while trying to prepare meals and make sure that their children are studying as well.
All of this is taking place, but where is the grace? Grace for ourselves, grace for our leaders, grace for our co-workers, grace for our parents, and grace for our students.
There has been so much loss that has taken place over the course of the year—loss of learning, jobs, and life. Students have lost the friends that they are used to seeing everyday. Some are missing the meals the schools provide and the hugs and comfort of their teachers. I have experienced loss as well, as many of my peers. I have lost co-workers, former teachers, and friends, not to the virus, but due to stress. Not to mention losing my grandfather during the holiday season.
Although my grandfather did not pass away from Covid-19, the loss was just as great.My grandfather was like a father to me. Like many of the students that we service, I was raised by my mother and grandparents, along with my sister and two cousins. My grandmother worked for the school system. My mother was an entrepreneur. If I was a student at this time, I would be vying for use of the internet with my three siblings. Seven of us lived in a three-bedroom bungalow. The four kids in our house would’ve been working at the dining room table with my grandparents assisting us. I can imagine how difficult it would’ve been for them to help us with the common core curriculum and the “new math,” as many parents have dubbed it. My mother would’ve been unable to work due to state restrictions or trying to play catch up by taking as many clients as possible to make up for the months of being shut down. Although it was a happy home, it wouldn’t have been ideal for virtual learning. Imagining this reminds me to have grace for myself and others.
I am thankful for grace. We don’t know what our students are dealing with. We don’t know why they won’t turn on their cameras or aren’t participating as we want them to. Administrators, when you go into the classrooms to observe, you may not know why the teacher is not as engaged or seems out of sorts that day. Teachers, when administrators don’t return your emails right away, they may not be ignoring you. They may have a lot of responsibilities, they may be dealing with loss, or they may not have all the answers.
It’s difficult to admit we don’t have all of the answers because, for all intensive purposes, we are the experts, but we all need grace.
We are navigating uncharted territory and, the fact of the matter is, when our ancestors left their countries of origin to come to this place, they didn’t have all the answers. They didn’t know where they were going to live, they didn’t know what was awaiting them, but something was telling them keep going, keep pushing, and that they would make it. And they did—together. This is uncharted territory for us. It seems bleak, but something is telling me that we are going to make it. Let’s come out of this stronger and better!
Chrysler Elementary School - Detroit, MI
Ciera has been a teacher for 10 years. Although she has taught all subjects in 2nd through 4th grade, teaching English Language Arts has always been one of her favorite subjects because of her love for literature. Ciera is a Detroit native and Literacy Coach for Detroit Public Schools Community District where she is also a part of the Enhanced ModEL Detroit Curriculum Team. She is so excited to be a part of the Open Up Resources Community and to work with teachers all over the United States!