Sari Beth Rosenberg in her face shield.
A Retrospection of a Peculiar Semester
As I close out my eighteenth year of teaching, I never imagined it would end this way.
After telling students to show up to our last Google Meet class of the school year in their favorite masks, I greeted my students in this UV face shield:
A few other students played along and turned on their cameras revealing their own masks. There were a few scary Halloween ones, but mine was the weirdest by far.
Usually on the last day of school, we have a junk food potluck (donuts, Oreos, Doritos) and reminisce about the school year. Seniors trickle in and out of my classroom so that I can sign their yearbooks.
This year was obviously very different. I tried to entertain the students with my ridiculous face shield (an insomnia impulse buy at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in New York City) and a story about someone trolling me on Twitter. Even a few months ago, I would not have revealed details about my online life, but after this bizarre social experiment that we call remote learning, so many boundaries have shifted.
Part of my last day of class delirium was fueled by sleep deprivation. I had stayed up most of the night making a video for my students.
That Monday, students had submitted their final projects along with a brief video explaining their inspirations. I got the idea to have students record these short videos from Candice Hoyes, our guest speaker from the previous week. After Candice and I brainstormed, I decided to combine all their short videos into a long video that would serve as a time capsule for them—a way to remember what was inspiring them during their junior year of high school, whilst living in quarantine during a global pandemic (!!).
The final assignment was to pick a current day issue and put it in historical context based on what we learned about throughout the school year. I was so impressed by their work. Topics ranged from the history of the feminist movement, to an analysis of the song “Ventura Highway” by America, to the historical context of Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F***ing Rockwell” album, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to the historical references in Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” to the history of Black Americans in the LGBTQ+ community.
"By taking away the traditional in-person school format, teachers and students were forced to find new ways to connect."
For the last day of class, I decided to use iMovie to create a short trailer based on a longer video that contains all the student clips introducing their projects. It was surreal to rewatch footage of us all in class participating in the Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans debate in October. Little did we know what the spring semester of the school year had in store for us.
On the last day of class, after playing the video for students and discussing some of their projects, we said our virtual goodbyes. I thanked them for showing up and doing their best over the long three month period.
Many students revealed that as a result of online learning, they started to see their teachers more as “regular human beings.” I shared that I thought teachers felt the same way about their experiences with students. Interestingly enough, by taking away the traditional in-person school format, teachers and students were forced to find new ways to connect. A focus on the socio-emotional health of both students and school staff is no longer a taboo subject. In fact, awareness of our students’ mental well being has become central to the education process during online learning.
"It had been over three months since I first greeted my students to our remote learning experience by saying, ‘Welcome to my classroom, it is also my apartment.’"
At the end of the discussion, we all came to the conclusion that once we return to school next year, teachers and students need to more closely collaborate to create a stronger school community.
As we said our final goodbyes, I watched each student’s avatar disappear from the Google Meet screen. Eventually it was just me, staring at my image on my laptop. It had been over three months since I first greeted my students to our remote learning experience by saying, “Welcome to my classroom, it is also my apartment.”
There is so much uncertainty about next school year. When we ended class, I could not even say, “See you in September.” Based on what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic, class might still live virtually on our screens in the fall as well.
Only time will tell.
Moving Forward into the Unknown
Today I saw a few kids in Central Park from what was probably another New York City public school posing in their graduation gowns. Strangers shouted “congratulations” and cheered for them.
This is not the semester or year that anyone expected, but human beings have an incredible ability to adapt. This phenomenon reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quotation:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Amidst the uncertainty of what the 2020-2021 school year has in store for us, I know one thing for sure: teachers and students will find a way to “keep moving forward.”