It is officially our second day of summer. Yesterday we had a very full day of day camp, so today feels like the first real day. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and I’m still in my PJ’s. And if I’m being completely honest, I don’t plan to get out of them until school starts again. Pajamas and swimsuits, it’s all I got for summer.
I thought about writing this post many times over the last couple months but chose to wait until the school was all the way over to share my thoughts. No one will argue that the 2020-2021 school year has been different. Everything was different. There were new feelings and concerns and memories and fears. Living in Iowa was very different then our very close neighbors in Minnesota and Wisconsin. No one knew what to expect or how to anticipate what school life would be like. Last summer, as fall approached and our schools started looking at what they would do to start, I made a choice to start substitute teaching “full time.” Being available 5 days a week, with my preference being in the lower elementary school. The way our school buildings are split up, preschool through second grade is in one building, third through fifth in another. I had three children in one building this year, preschool, first and second. I knew that whatever the school did to keep the kiddos separated, there was still going to be a shared germ pool and those germs would be in my house no matter what. Thus, I was prepared to help the school and teachers in any way I could, as a substitute. I knew I would be needed. The rules for substitutes also changed a bit this year, allowing me to sub more often and more consecutive days, along with the opportunity for long term subbing.
Our schools went back to in-person learning in August as “normal.” There were safety precautions put into place, and as a district we never had to go fully virtual (aside from snow days which was the BEST thing ever and I very much wish they would continue FOREVER!) My family did have to quarantine for a short time due to “possible exposure” but thankfully, no one got sick. For the first semester I was in the schools about two to three days a week and I loved it! It was an awesome balance for my family and myself.
In January a new opportunity came up where I was able to step in as a long term sub for the elementary art position. I was in charge of coming up with my own lesson plans and projects. I worked with children ages preschool to fifth grade, over 450 students. It was both a dream and a challenge. I loved watching the student’s creativity flourish. Projects we made together included focusing on 3D form and textures while making plaster masks, weavings, carboard tube monsters and yarn bowls, learning about colors using oil pastels and watercolors, discussing proportions and individuality while developing self portraits, thinking outside the box using abstract patterns with yarn art and repurposing and recycling materials while making magazine mosaics. We used glue. So. Much. Glue. I was also challenged, sometimes having 10 groups of a students a day and keeping my energy up for them all. Students get tired, bored, sad, annoyed and as a teacher, you need to navigate those emotions with them. I did not have any bad students, no bad kids, no bad people. It’s so important to always remember that children are still learning to be good humans. They are learning about sharing and coping with emotions. It is was always my goal to enter tricky situations with students who were struggling with a calm voice, calm body. I wanted my students to know that my room was safe, I valued their time and efforts. During my second week in this position I put the words “LEARNING & PRACTICING” on the top of my board, in the front of my classroom. Students needed that constant reminder, especially in art, that perfection was not anywhere close to the expectation. I wanted them to try their best. I wanted them to learn about art and the techniques we were discussing. And anything they made was exactly perfect for that moment. Flaws were only seen in their eyes. Art is all about being different, being new, being strange, being original, being unexpected, being messy. I watched these kids laugh and cry. I was able to rejoice in their excitement and share in their worries. I also watched the staff around these students nurture and care for these young minds with extreme passion and love while navigating an unprecedented world. I can guarantee you, without a single doubt, those teachers, your teachers, all teachers, staff and school workers do not make enough money and do not receive enough gratitude for all they do. They are amazing.
It was a complete honor to be a very small piece of these students educational journey. I know I took away so much more then I gave. It was an awesome experience and I’m so excited to continue to flourish the relationships started this year for many years to come. Thank you students for letting me be a part of your day, thank you teachers and staff for your kindness and support. The best part about it all, I got to have my niece and all three of my children regularly in class. I wouldn’t normally be biased, but they were my favorite students…usually.