Back to School: The Heart of a Teacher

I stand on Val‘s Stage today as a Kindergarten teacher; a teacher who is told that she has to go back to school– five days a week – with her whole class – during a pandemic. People ask me how I feel. Well, here is how I feel…

In June, after three months of at-home learning, my students were asked to send us a short video in which they told us what they loved most about Kindergarten. We received a variety of answers, including memories of field trips and special events; but almost all of them stated that ‘playing with their friends’ was what they enjoyed most.

One of our little ones, who has been diagnosed with a socially-challenging developmental disorder, sent the most touching video. Tears filled his eyes and his voice as he said, “I miss Mrs Val.” Mrs Val fought back her own tears as he continued with, “I miss Ms. Holly.” (Our Early Childhood Educator) “And I miss my friends.” This was more than a statement of what he loved about Kindergarten; this was an honest expression of his feelings in that moment, after three months apart. This separation has not been easy on children, especially our friends with special needs.

For four- and five-year-old children, play is their work. In those two years of Kindergarten, they learn how to get along with others, how to self-regulate, and how to be a contributing member of a community. They use language to express their wants, needs, and feelings. They learn to listen to others and respect differing ideas. They learn to ask questions and explore their innate curiosity. And each of those learnings is done while they play with their classmates.

It’s time for children to get back to ‘work’. They can’t effectively work from home like many of their parents do. They need each other.

When people ask me how I feel about going back to school, I tell them that I will face what I need to face and do what I’m told to do. I chose a profession that involves spending my days with little children, and if I didn’t believe that my job was essential to their social-emotional development, I wouldn’t do it.

I look past the tears, dirty noses, and washroom accidents to their smiling eyes. Sometimes it takes a while for them to gain that social confidence; to move through the stages of play from solitary play, to playing side by side with others, to interacting, to actually cooperatively playing together. Somewhere in that play spectrum, they see the value in friendship, and their eyes light up when they enter their friends’ space.

While this pandemic created a situation for families to reconnect and has forced them into spending more time together (which, for most families, was a positive thing), it’s time for children to reconnect with their friends.

Most of my students will have been at home for half a year when we start school in September. That’s a long time for a child who’s only been on the earth for four or five years. They will enter school after six months of being told they can’t share, they can’t play with friends, and they must stay a huge distance apart from others. They have had a fear of interaction instilled into them. Outside of the safety precautions we will need to implement, rebuilding our social learning environment is going to be a challenge.

Many parents, and teachers too, are expressing fear about this year’s startup. Fear breeds anxiety, and who needs that?

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

Peter 5: 7

I look forward to seeing those smiling eyes, even if the rest of their faces were hidden behind masks (which right now is not a requirement). Children need to get back to work, so I need to get back there too. As a teacher, I will lead by example as we navigate through a whole new way of doing things. I will show flexibility and embrace change as a necessary element of my job. We will learn together as we play together, and our eyes will reflect our enjoyment as we rediscover how much we need each other.

We’re going to be okay. And if we’re not, we’ll deal with things as they come. That may seem reckless, but it’s a risk we need to take. Our children need each other now. Their future as world citizens, who live and work together effectively, depends on it.

I look past the fear and the necessary restrictive measures, and I look forward to seeing their smiling eyes.

Welcome back to school, my friends!

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4: 6-7

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