I miss the teacher I used to be.

I remember how excited I was the day I walked into my first classroom. It was 1995, and I was teaching first grade. I felt ready; all those college classes and practicums with veteran teachers, not to mention my student teaching, had prepared me well. But there’s nothing quite like putting into practice everything you’ve learned and observed. It was a year of finding out what kind of teacher I was, the one I’ve been for over two decades.

Until this year.

I remember that year we had an academic Olympics which culminated with a ceremony outside, parents cheering their Olympians on. As my career grew, I graduated to higher grades. I became a middle school teacher in a building that had the longest hallway I’ve ever seen. I let my students cover that entire floor with an incredible amount of newspapers before sending them out on a fact-finding mission. As the years have passed, I’ve entered the world of high schoolers. Having taught freshmen for almost a decade now, creating units that they not only embrace but remember fondly, I’m thrilled to hear from them many years later when they return to reminisce.

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This has been a hard year for education, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I confess I’ve shed some tears. But it’s fall, and I have students in my classroom once again even though nothing is as it was. It may be true that most of them only see me through a computer screen now, but they’re still my kids and I’m still their teacher.

Even though I desperately miss the teacher I used to be, I’m learning to embrace what I do have, adapt where necessary, and offer huge amounts of grace to everyone, even myself. After all, there wasn’t a class in college to prepare me for what I’m experiencing now.

This year just might be the year to shift our focus.

We have the unique opportunity to reach out and truly empathize with one another as we are all experiencing pretty much the same thing. We’ve all lost what we had. Classrooms aren’t the same for any of us.

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Perhaps this is the year to look at processes instead of products. We might even learn to see things from each other’s perspective which can only help us become better teachers, better students, better parents.

Yes, I wish I could see my students interact while I walk around my room and listen as they work in small groups. I wish I could share a smile with my entire face instead of just my eyes, but that’s not where we’re at.

And where we’re at, our reality, is where we have to put our energy. Once we’ve all had a chance to mourn what this year is not, let’s rise to the challenge and make it the best it can be. You may not recognize the teacher you are right now, but please give her a break. It may seem like your child is not reaching his potential as a student, but perhaps it’s time to help him shift his focus. And, as a parent, you may worry your child will fall behind academically, a valid concern, but perhaps there’s wisdom in looking at all the hidden opportunities for growth that have always been there on the fringe of typical school lessons.

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I miss the teacher I was, but I have a feeling that once I get the chance to be her again, I’ll realize I don’t want to be exactly the same. I’ll bring a little more empathy into my classroom when all this is over. I’ll have an attitude so full of thankfulness that it will bubble over into what I do. And I’ll certainly never take any of it for granted again.

Sandy Brannan

Sandy Brannan, author of Becoming Invisible, So Much Stays Hidden, and Masquerade, is a high school English teacher. She spends as much time as she can with her grandchildren, creating memories.  http://sandybrannan.com   http://facebook/com/sandybrannanauthor  http://amazon.com/author/sandybrannan