10 Things I Think I Think

I spent a lot of my days worried about my students. I called, sent messages. The worst was not knowing and not getting a response. I hated playing the “I’m really worried about you” card, because sometimes I feel like the students wanted to be left alone, but it had to be done at times. And I was amazed at what some of my students opened up about.

I’ve tried, folks. I’ve really tried.

That’s the refrain I keep telling myself over the last 10 or so weeks.

I’ve busted my ass – and I’m not sure what the ultimate GOOD that’s come out of it since all this coronavirus stuff has hit. Last year, I was summing up Year 1 of teaching, and it seemed as though I could put a nice little bow on the year. This year – it doesn’t seem as though I can make definitive statements on school, work, or just about anything. And I KNOW that I’m not alone. Here’s a bunch of things that I think that I currently think about the future, but honestly, are all subject to change (or at least some alteration).

1. I don’t like what the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) did with their “hold harmless” policy on grades – but I ultimately understand it and agree with it. The number of high school students that decided “hold harmless” meant “I don’t have to do anything” was high. Too high. And ultimately, there wouldn’t be consequences for that decision. All I could do as a teacher was rely on relationships, trying to come up with interesting angles and lessons, and positive reinforcement.

That was a tough sell. However, given the circumstances – Last (4th quarter) part of the school year, economic disparity of some school districts (mine included), technology disparities, and the rudeness of it all – there was no other decision that could logically be made. This doesn’t even take in to account the individual situations that some of my students are in. Hell, I even understand if some colleges/universities took a similar approach this time around. Logistically, there were too many hills to climb if “grades” were to be a major focus. My classes were a mixed bag, and I get it.

2. We can’t take the same approach in 2020-21. I think, to a person (educator), most teachers know that, deep down, we’ll be back here again at some point next school year. There will, in all likelihood, be some version of online learning next school year. Whether it’s a major interruption to “live” school like this year or a school year that is just more “blended” to begin with, there will be an online component at some point. That means a) we will have to have resources for our students (if your district didn’t have them before) b) the teachers / schools will have to be ready and c) families / students will have to know that this time it counts 100%. It will still be really, really hard – for everyone. But if there’s more planning, and more resources at the disposal for our kids, we can get more done – and more can reasonably be expected to be accomplished.

3. For the record – even though this wasn’t ideal – I think it actually went pretty well.

4. I spent a lot of my days worried about my students. I called, sent messages. The worst was not knowing and not getting a response. I hated playing the “I’m really worried about you” card, because sometimes I feel like the students wanted to be left alone, but it had to be done at times. And I was amazed at what some of my students opened up about.

So, if any of them are reading – all I can say is, I get it. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, which breeds more uncertainty, which makes you even more anxious…. And then it makes it hard to even act. You feel paralyzed. Trapped. Like maybe there’s not even a way out.

When I talk about RESOURCES, I’m not always talking about TECH. Sometimes, we have to be ready to counsel and support people through. Avoiding what distresses us doesn’t help us in the long run. We have to learn how to tackle things head on. Of course – we have to learn healthy ways of tackling these things – with people that will help us and understand and not just demand things. I’ve made that mistake.**** What we need to do is provide structure, work, and expectations – with the tools and support needed to HELP them get things done WHILE TAKING CARE OF THEM. It is more than possible to help students learn while taking care of them – and you err on the side of “taking care of them” if need be.

When I get stressed – I split wood. A lot of it.

5. I kind of feel sorry for some of our elected officials. Relax. I said “some”. We’ve almost entered, “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” territory.

If you open up too late – people are going to lose jobs and go bankrupt. That’s bad.

If you open up too soon – people are going to DIE. And the economy will tank further. That’s bad.

So I’m open about biases, I’m on the side of “can’t we sit tight just a little longer before opening up?” It’s hard for me to forget my medical training. I feel like if we could get this virus really on the decline, it would 1) allow the economy to open up better for the warmer months 2) and buy us valuable time to plan for the upcoming winter because we probably have Round 2 coming.

Having said that, I understand those that are anxious – “Dude, we’re running out of money.” We can argue about what the Federal Government should be doing another day… But it’s precisely this reason I feel bad for an elected official right now. If you open up too late – you know some people risk losing houses, jobs, can’t buy food – and it’s your fault (on some level). If you open up too soon – and coronavirus reactivates in your area, you’ve screwed up.

Forget the pretentious blowhards for a second. There are plenty of people that are thinking about these problems EARNESTLY on both sides of the isle. (Not the gun toting crazies in Michigan, they don’t deserve empathy – they deserve to be arrested). We’ve reached a point where, on some level, there are no winners. We’re trying to limit the number of people that will lose, and what the definition of “lose” is anyway. That’s hard.

6. It’s kind of hard for me to lather up empathy for Gov. Parsons – because he’s been “hands off” from the beginning. Leaving it up to local authorities means you will get a patchwork of decisions. And a “patchwork” defense – when it comes to public health – is tantamount to NO DEFENSE. (But, Jason, leave it up to the individual counties to decide! Last time I checked, it was quite possible to live in St. Chuck’s and work in St. Louis, and viruses don’t stop at county lines… I’m not making fun, it just seems like a logical flaw to me). My point? He’s a governor – lead. I don’t hate the guy – but I’d like to see some leadership.

7. The hardest part for me of all of this is how time has just bled together. Here’s what I mean… I’ve always known what day it is / was. But unless I’ve kept working, there’s at times, no ways to pass time. Libraries? Ha! Hiking? Nope. Consequently, I’ve done nothing but work. This weekend is the first time I’ve taken both Saturday AND Sunday off since school restarted in January. I had so much to do to get ready for e-learning and then to keep up with it (even though the number of students participating dwindled over time) – that until recently, it’s been all work, all the time. I’m completely beat. But if I didn’t work, some days, there would have been absolutely NOTHING to do.

8. To the class of 2020 – I’m sorry that you don’t have the same parties and celebration that other classes have had. To my students in particular – this is the first group of students that I had in one year / class – and then got to finish with as seniors. You are, in particular, very special to me. While I taught last year – this is essentially “my” first group. This is the group that I essentially switched careers for. You have impacted me as much as I have impacted you. When I retire (whenever that is!), I will remember all of you. The lack of formal celebrations does not define you. It is window dressing – you will still move on to attack and overcome bigger and better things – and these will be celebrated with even greater fervor. You are bigger than this moment – and remember, I love you guys for what you have done for me.

9. Plans for the summer include – preparing AP Biology (third year teaching, third new course), rekindling my love for running, and hopefully getting a dog (a rescue) for this family. My kids have waited long enough. There are some hikes in Missouri – now that things are re-opening – that have my name on them (at least before the oppressive Missouri heat and humidity) return.

10. First world problem – but I really want to watch some soccer. US Soccer is still at $#!%show (seriously, pay the USWNT – and what is going on with our developmental system), #BerhalterOut, and I can’t wait for MLS to start playing in St. Louis.

****2nd post to follow shortly

Me, at the bottom of Mina Sauk Falls. More hiking this summer – if it is safe.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 44 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I blog sporadically, and if there's a theme in here, please tell me what it is!

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