Core scripture: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)
Message: My, oh my. It does seem like we have been through the “wilderness” this school year. And it likewise seemed like it was 40-years long! To think back on what we endured this year, hands down the most difficult year of teaching I have ever faced, makes crossing the finish line that much sweeter.
I have been through a lot this past week. A roller coaster of emotions have thrown me up and down, round and round like my dog shaking a toy. The euphoria of seeing that light at the end of the tunnel following this marathon school year—man! It can’t be beat. We survived!
Through fully remote learning to hybrid back to fully remote to hybrid and finally to full-time in person. None of us knew what was coming next! One thing is for sure. We are ALL better teachers now than we were at the beginning of the year. Amen?
As I wrap up Olathe Summer Conference this week—sorry, but the year is not officially over until my last conference ends this afternoon—I thought it would be fun to look back on the positives of this year. While so many others might complain about the negatives, this Christian teacher prides himself in being a positive thinker.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Without further ado, in no particular order, I give you my top 10 teaching moments of the 2020-2021 school year:
- I got the sweetest e-mail from one of my remote students the last week of school. It was one of those e-mails you just had to print off to keep forever. She went on for about ¾ of a page, straight from her heart, talking about how she didn’t want the school year to end. The e-mail lifted my spirits when I needed it most, and I relied on its love to carry me through this last week.
- Seeing my students for the first time in October during hybrid was almost tear-jerking for me. One by one, they filed into my class. I recognized probably 95% of them, calling them by name, recognizing their faces from Zoom. The only thing that was different about them was their masks. It touched my heart to be able to give fist bumps to these kids for the first time all year.
- The first day of school was so nerve racking yet fulfilling. Seeing that first Zoom pop up on my screen where only half of my Cougar Time showed up for class was such a victory! I was proud of myself for knowing how to let kids into the room at that point. Taking attendance took twice as long, and I had no clue what I was doing, but gosh darn it, we survived that first day. I remember running straight to the back room of my pod finding three other teachers there, giving each other high fives, saying, “We did it! The Zoom worked!”
- Not seeing my remote kids all year long was killing me. I felt like I didn’t really know them like the ones I taught in person. Then, one night as my family went to Dairy Queen, there was Chloe in the corner booth! We made eye contact and recognized each other immediately. She smiled and ran over to me, saying, “Look! It’s Dude!” Dude is my mullet-wearing alias that sometimes makes guest appearances to do lessons on Zoom. To see her face-to-face was a huge win!
- I have no clue how we did it, but with the help of two faithful colleagues and support from our administration, we held weekly FCA meetings on Zoom every Wednesday morning. Our group was small but mighty! My favorite lesson was when former Olympic pole vaulter Scott Huffman Zoomed in from his hotel room to preach the Word to about nine kids that showed up. It was our largest group of the year!
- Prayer group! Every Thursday morning faithful Christian teachers met in my classroom from 7:10 to 7:30 am. Masked and protected even fuller by the armor of God, we tackled the year together, as one. Some weeks there were six or seven. Some weeks it was just one. What I know is, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Every step of the way, God was there!
- I gave each student an award the last week of school printed on a certificate. My favorite award? The Perseverance Award. I learned early on from our caring counselor that one young man had lost his dad over the summer. He battled negative thoughts, sleepless nights, and fell into a very dark hole of depression, yet he still emerged with a B in my class. When I gave him his award, he walked up to me and embraced me in a bear hug I will never forget. I wept like a baby on his shoulder. There was not a dry eye in the house.
- I loved teaching 7th hour on Zoom every Friday simply because one of my students dressed in a banana costume. She called it Banana Friday. She went out with a bang in our last Zoom session when she chatted, “Anyone want to see a banana jump in a pool?” I mean, who would say no? My jaw dropped as I began commentating Banana Girl running into her backyard and jumping feet first into her pool. She popped out and spent the rest of the Zoom wringing out her costume. I had to snap a picture to capture the moment! Otherwise nobody would believe what I just witnessed.
- That same 7th hour remote class was so devoted to me. They would not leave the Zoom on the last day, so much so in fact that I stayed with them and brought them into the faculty meeting with me. The day before eight loyal kids stayed on the Zoom for 45 extra minutes, just to hang out. I took them on a tour around the building, saying hi to teachers in the hallway and going into rooms of teachers they wanted to see. I held on to my device all the way into the parking lot where the Zoom cut out. Kinda wish it could have kept going!
- Ever seen Dead Poet’s Society? That memorable “Oh Captain My Captain” scene? The Zoom version of that happened last Wednesday with my 6th hour. As I waved goodbye to them that day, tears beginning to fill my eyes, they would not leave me. Not a single kid. The bell rang. I kept telling them I had to begin 7th hour’s Zoom. Almost all their videos were on. One by one, they unmuted, showering me with praise. I wept uncontrollably. That was the most difficult Zoom I ever had to end. Every teacher should be so lucky to experience a devoted group like that.
(Video interlude … If this does not inspire you to teach, you are not alive! Here is the “Oh Captain My Captain” scene from Dead Poet’s Society.)
Do you know what the crazy thing is? When I found out I was going to be teaching remotely in early August before the fall semester began, I did not really want to teach remote. I knew I had to in order to keep the 7th Grade Blue Team together, so I did, but I didn’t want to go that route.
Friends, look at the memories above. Seven out of ten of those sweet memories dealt with remote learning. God took a teacher that barely knew how to start up a Zoom and showed him what the power of the Holy Spirit is all about.
This is such a powerful life lesson. So many times in teaching God leads you down a path you don’t care to go down. It is rocky, steep, and there are many slipups along the way. Thorns and thickets scrape at your legs. You fall numerous times, and it hurts, leaving a trail of blood behind.
You trudge up that mountain through His power alone, as He continues to pick you up and urge you on. You have nothing left, but He lovingly picks you back up, carrying you at times, setting you down gently and whispering encouragement, “You got this. Don’t give up.” Through the forest, through the wilderness, a light emerges.
You barely have anything left, but you still trudge on, propelled by a force unseen. A force that is not your own. You begin to trot, picking up speed. All the pain, all the turmoil is wiped clean. Your muscles are fresh! Your scars healed. Just a few more steps to go.
You made it!
We are there, people. Look back behind you. Take a look at the majestic view below. Admire it. Never forget it. Take a snapshot of that view and tattoo it on your heart forever.
We survived the most tumultuous, insane, never-ever-gonna-end school year in the history of education, and we did it together. As one. There is indeed beauty is places I never thought beauty was possible.
That view? The view from the mountaintop? Guess what …
It is all worth it.
Challenge: Where were your wins this year? What memories of teaching through COVID will live forever in your heart? Share a memory or two. I rarely get replies to my blog, but I challenge you to reflect and share. After the week I have just endured, I need to hear some positives, people! Help me out here! 😊 I want to see at least 10 replies. How about 20? Dare I say 30? Come on! I know you can do it! What do YOU see from the mountaintop?
Extra credit go to those who pass this blog on to other educators who you think might enjoy reading or responding to this blog. Whether you are a believer a seeker or even an atheist, guess what … we were all in this together, weren’t we? Share your story. Subscribe to this blog if you feel called to. I am praying that I will be approving countless posts over the next week. Those are e-mails I will look forward to seeing!
Song application: “Every Step of the Way” by Cade Thompson
If I could talk to myself eight years ago
Seeing what I’ve seen knowing what I know
I would tell that quiet kid
There’ll be days ahead
When it doesn’t make sense
I would tell him he can trust Your hand
‘Cause now I gotta picture of the greater plan
I can see with perfect clarity
It wasn’t tragedy
It was what I needed
I couldn’t see it then
But now I understand
Every step of the way
You’ve been You’ll be
Working everything for the best for me
So I’ll trust in who You are
Every step of the way
You’ve been You’ll be
Fighting and writing Your love in my story
You’ve held my heart
Every step of the way
Video application: I saw this video at Summer Conference yesterday. Such a powerful reminder that we have the power to see beauty in every student.
Just for fun: I was in Summer Conference this afternoon with 15 of my colleagues in a breakout room on Zoom. I was in charge of the section we were doing, and as the conversation was rolling, and I thought I would take a quick second to check e-mail. My buddy Jordan lovingly called me out with a chuckle and said, “Uh, Clint? Your screen is still on!”
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for helping us through this crazy school year. You were with us every step of the way, and for that we are indebted to You. Amen.