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Closing Our Classrooms Amidst This Crisis

As teachers emotionally pack up their classrooms to close out the year, they are still creating connections and personal ways to celebrate the time with their students.

Those Were the Good Times…

I love to look through the eyes of my children. They are both toddlers (2 and 3 years old). Their emotions are so genuine and loving. As parents, we are influenced by our own childhoods. We often want to recreate what we experienced for our children so they can feel the same emotions that we did. Nostalgia is such a bittersweet experience but really hard to dislike. I read the top ten lists of things that only kids living during the 80s/90s would remember or understand EVERY TIME and love the pictures on social media of objects from the past like the ones pictured here:

It brings us together, sparks our memories of a different time, and makes us recall memories and people more vividly. The bitter part of nostalgia is that you think those things are gone forever but the sweet part is that we have the memories forever and can share them with others, especially our kids.

My friends and family know that I keep a lot from my past.  I have elementary school work, middle school report cards, concert tickets from over ten years ago, cards from everyone, and some old clothing (just in case it comes back into style).  Now I have a lot from my kids and I will keep it for them too. I actually look back at these things all the time. This is the social studies teacher in me. I love the stories about people’s lives and how the things represent memories and a different time. With that said, I’m not very fond of endings, especially abrupt ones.

Benjamin and Elizabeth
A birthday card from my 4th birthday!

Your Sadness is Real!”

The nostalgia reminds me of this article named “Your sadness is real: an open letter to teachers“. It’s important to acknowledge that this time has sadness and we are nostalgic for times before.  While we think of the innovation, rejuvenation and opportunity that was in my last blog post, it’s also been upsetting and unsettling. Teachers were not finished “giving the love to their students” and worry about them even more now that they can’t see them. The students rely on seeing us and we rely on seeing them, to listen to them, see how they’re doing, and to learn with them. Also, it seems personal interactions with each student and the personalities of each class have been somewhat stripped away.

Our time in the classroom also ended at a time which I felt, as a teacher, was the best time of year! We had really built the foundations of relationships and connections. We knew our kids and could just work on strengthening that relationship personally and academically. In a kickoff book study with educator and author Tom Murray, he told us that kids will remember this time forever, which is so true. It caused me to reflect and ask myself what can we give to the students personally that will remind them of our time together always?

Classroom Closeouts

The book study with Tom Murray is for his book Personal and Authentic, which has such inspirational words for educators. He also brought up his daughter’s teacher who closed out her classroom for the year by doing a Zoom with her kids so they could see their classroom together one last time. It really resonated with me. How are we going to close out this year without seeing our kids? I didn’t like closing out years to begin with, when I taught, and this year will come to a close without us really saying goodbye. I took pictures of my classroom before I left teaching and went into administration. I still look at them and think about the memories made there, the laughter and the learning. I know people are taking pictures of their classrooms now to remember this time too.

The really strange part of this whole period of time is also that we did not clean up. So many teachers are posting their rooms completely left untouched from mid-March with homework on the board, classwork to be graded, and belongings still in the same place we left them. It looks like a class was in there the day before. Every time I see a picture like that, it fascinates and saddens me.

My classroom before packing up
My classroom again

 As I listened to a podcast from Angela Watson entitled Crisis Classroom Closeout,  she speaks about the sadness of packing up but also the ways we can personalize the ending to our school year in a world that seems much more depersonalized than before.   Teachers have been masters at this! They have created so many ways to connect with students and celebrate time together. For example, giving the students choice such as writing to future students of theirs, reminiscing on the best memories in their classrooms during the year, or describing ways their learning has changed throughout the year are examples of personalized approaches to the year ending.  It’s also so important to note, which Watson does, that everyone processes these feelings differently and they should be able to conclude the year in their own way. Some might enjoy the Zoom call to see their classroom one last time or to share their memories of the year while others might want an upbeat celebration that we are all healthy and are able to see each other virtually. Maybe both will do.  We ran a Family Feud game live at the middle school this week. Maybe that would be fun for particular classes at the end to spark memories throughout the year.  I also really love the ideas of sending thank you notes to staff and students because this has been HARD for everyone.

Inspirational Ideas

Tom Murray, in Personal and Authentic, focuses on the importance of personal learning in the classroom. He wrote that if we care more about academics than we do about children’s hearts, then we have “lost our way” as educators. If we solely focus on test scores, what content we learned, and GPAs, we have failed to help students. He also wrote that the greatest teachers are much more than content deliverers. They create learning spaces where learners want to be and will remember.

While reading his book, thinking about the nostalgia educators feel, and also how teachers plan to commemorate the year with their students, I realize the importance of Tom Murray’s words, especially during this time of crisis. I am inspired by reading the creative ideas of teachers and what they’re doing to end this year so students remember their classroom as a place they loved. Some that come to mind in my district are the following:

  1.  A teacher at our high school is asking students to write their favorite memory of the year so that she can create a digital memory book for them.   
  2. Another is thinking of making a digital collage reflecting on their emotions throughout the year.
  3. One middle school teacher is writing a letter to her students to tell them how wonderful they are and how they will do great in high school. She is also picking out a song just for them and explaining to them why it’s their song.
  4. Our middle school social studies teachers are having students create time capsules to commemorate and reflect on this period of time.
  5. I’ve heard of Zoom parties for the class to celebrate the year together.
  6.  Others have created iMovies for teams and classrooms showing highlights of the whole year or season.
  7. Some are creating Flipgrid assignments with tips for next year or motivational messages.
  8. One teacher is having students create their own Digital Portfolios to reflect on what they learned.
  9. Another high school teacher plans to create a time capsule with favorite memories or funny things that happened in class.
  10. And another is making a video of how their time has changed between learning at school and then at home to show future classes.
  11. I’ve also heard of using StoryBoard That to reflect on how lives have changed during the pandemic.
  12. A teacher in the high school is having students make a virtual abstract book of them explaining what they’re studying in a research class to share with the community.
  13. Another is making a project entitled “Dear Future Student….Dear Future Me…” that will be given to other students and mailed to themselves in future years.
  14. The line up of senior portraits on school property (from our PTO) as well as senior highlights on social media provoke an emotional response every time!
  15. Our high school teachers are also creating Google Docs for each senior to put in their yearbooks because we can’t sign them this year. They’re also providing school stationary to students so they can write notes to their friends and keep in their yearbooks.

And there are so many more! The nostalgia feels somewhat bitter but teachers have once again found ways to celebrate and make the experience positive for students in their own ways. We can still connect and create the sweet times as well.  This can build connection, resilience, and appreciation that we might not have had before. So, although the physical classrooms must be packed up now and students and staff won’t be returning to them this year, the personalized memories and mementos we create will be things that students can return to their whole lives. I would absolutely keep them forever.