This was the most challenging school year of almost every educator’s career. We’re used to certain aspects of the work getting easier over time, but there were so many new challenges in 2020-2021 that even the most experienced teachers often felt like it was their first year all over again.
You had lots of personal and professional growth, of course … but somehow you’re feeling less confident in your abilities now than ever before. It’s a very weird dichotomy, to feel like you worked so hard and learned so many new things, yet there’s no sense of a commensurate payoff.
So what does it look like to wrap up a year feeling like this? How do you get a sense of real closure?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re all experiencing various levels of collective grief right now. There’s a sense of loss for what we’ve missed out on: “regular” school, being close to family and friends, traveling, vacations, and our normal way of life. Some are also grieving deeper losses for any number of reasons, and not being able to process those losses in our normal ways is also painful.
The thing about grief is that we each experience it differently. And, there are many different phases and types of grief which people might cycle through.
Some days, I’m content. I’ve made peace with the limitations I have in my life right now and the things I love that are unavailable to me currently. I feel content and able to embrace my new routines for as long as I need to.
Other days, I’m simply resigned to these new routines. I’m restless and frustrated. Sometimes I’m deeply sad. I have moments when I feel hopelessness and helplessness that won’t ever seem to end.
But that’s the other thing about grief, right? It doesn’t feel the same forever.
The ups and downs are all a natural, expected part of the process.
So if that’s how you’re feeling as the school year draws to a close, know that you are not alone in experiencing those mixed emotions.
There’s a surreal quality to the end of this school year, because many of the activities and face-to-face goodbyes that create closure have changed or been eliminated. Traditions have been altered. Not shutting down classrooms with our colleagues and celebrating together in the usual way makes it harder to emotionally and mentally transition into summer.
On top of that, the excitement for summer may also feel a bit muted, with fewer plans to look forward to.
And throughout all of this, there’s this sense that maybe you didn’t do a good enough job, because you could have done MORE.
The what-ifs start to swirl: Would that student have passed if I’d done A,B, and C? Would that parent have been on my side if I’d offered X, Y, and Z? Would that kid I yelled at have participated in our Zoom meetings if I’d done a better job connecting with them?
All of our lowest moments of the year circle around in our heads: the mistakes made, the opportunities missed.
And this year that feeling is intensified because of all the limitations in how we were able to reach our students. The number of kids who were disengaged and not making learning gains is probably much higher for you this year than any other in your teaching career.
My encouragement to you is to avoid dwelling on the losses. Don’t focus on the things you could have done, or wish you had been done differently. Don’t torture yourself by imagining how much better everything would have been if only certain conditions had been different.
Your kids’ learning gains this school year are NOT an accurate measure of your abilities or theirs.
Their learning (or lack thereof) is NOT reflective of your worth, or theirs.
You’ve been teaching through a crisis. And if you’re reading this, that means you’ve made it this far.
That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot, in fact.
I hope you will look back on this school year as a test of resilience and fortitude that you have passed.
You did it.
You got through the sudden and expected transition from the style of teaching you’re used to, and fully immersed yourself in something completely different and nowhere near ideal for you or your students.
You’ve faced limitations and setbacks and confusion with the best you were able to give at the time.
And now you will face the end of the school year with that same determined attitude.
This is a time for patience and flexibility. It’s a chance to learn to be soft-hearted toward ourselves and others when our basic instincts want to flare into anger and indignation at having to deal with problems we never signed up for.
This is a time for going inward — to stop looking for validation from outside sources, to stop seeking out others’ approval — and make peace within ourselves.
It’s a time to let go of regrets and “could-have-should-have” anxiety. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made. Open yourself up to repairing the harm done via honest conversations and apologies where needed. Make peace in every way with what’s already done, so you can have a fresh start moving forward.
Give grace toward yourself and everyone around you. This is a time for more humility and patience and understanding than ever before.
With time, we can let go of regrets and what we hoped would be, and practice radical acceptance of the experience we are currently having.
That is the BEST possible way to position ourselves to move forward and face whatever comes next.
I hope the previous 6 weeks of Wednesday emails in my “Power Through” series helped encourage and energize you through the spring months.
You did it, my friends. You’re powered through, and you’re almost at the finish line for the school year.
And I’m not going to leave you now! Here’s how we can stay connected:
#1 I’ll continue sending my Sunday night emails with free encouragement and practical tips (sign up here.)
#2 My Truth for Teachers podcast will continue to release new free episodes through the end of May. The regular episodes are longer than the “Power Through” ones (about 20-40 minutes usually) and there’s a blog post transcript for each one. We take a break each summer and then resume with new episodes in August.
#4 I’ll have a free webinar over the summer to help you counter the “lost year of learning” narrative and craft an inspiring, achievable vision for next school year (more on that soon!)
#5 The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program is open to new members from June 15th-July 15th. If you want a full year’s worth of ongoing support, encouragement, and practical resources for streamlining your workload, 40 Hour is the place to get it. Our community focuses on professional development AND personal development, so you don’t have to navigate any aspect of the new school year on your own.
Thank you for supporting me, and supporting my work.
Each time you listen to one of my podcasts, visit my website, open my emails, engage with me on social media, purchase one of my books/courses/printables, or tell a fellow educator about my resources … know that it is so appreciated!
I’ve chosen this work because I want my ideas to make a difference for teachers and kids, and it’s an honor to have your time and attention. More great stuff for you is on the way!