Appreciation Lingers as the School Year Ends

A MiddleWeb Blog

I am almost fifty years old and have taught for 13 years and I have never experienced anything remotely like what we have gone through this year.

We released our school on March 18th, early for spring break, and we never went back inside our building.

I have struggled with enormous anxiety and stress and sadness. I feel guilty talking about my stress and anxiety because my family is healthy and I still have my job.

In spite of all the stress and uncertainty, I have learned a lot and have a new appreciation for things that I am not sure I fully appreciated before.

I appreciate my classroom.

I went into my classroom last week to pick up some supplies so I can work from home. I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion. I love my room, and don’t think it’s one of those Pinterest-ready, cutely decorated rooms – it’s not! I have a couple of posters of mathematicians and an Escher portrait, and that’s pretty much it.

But it’s my room and it means a lot to me. It has the drawings my students did on the board, it has  vertical spaces marked out on the white board, it has the fancy desks my former principal got for me. It’s my second home and I missed it more than I ever thought I would.

I appreciate my colleagues.

I miss them! Your fellow teachers really become your lifeline. Every day they answered my questions like “how do you teach this problem?” “Have you had this student, can you tell me how I can reach them?” “ Can you watch my students while I go to the bathroom!?” Without their presence and help, I have found that my job is much more difficult.

Just days before spring break…

I appreciate my students.

I have had those days when teaching depleted me of all my patience and left me emotionally and physically exhausted – teenagers can be difficult. But they can also be exceptional. And after all of this I can’t imagine a job where I didn’t get to work with young people. I miss their smiles, enthusiasm, and energy.

I appreciate the parents.

I have had the time and opportunity to talk with more parents on the phone than I have ever had before. They were so sweet to offer words of encouragement and kindness and support. I also learned that so many of them face challenges that I didn’t know anything about.

I appreciate teaching.

I’ve always thought that teaching was a calling and I feel that more than ever. I miss sitting with my students face to face and teaching them. Just the actual nitty gritty of teaching – what don’t they understand, what are they getting, where is the problem. And the wonderful moment when the light bulb comes on and they do understand.

I appreciate the clarity this has given me.

As much as I love my job, sometimes in the past after one of those days I’ve wondered, “Am in the right job? Am I even making a difference? Should I do something else?” I feel very clearly now that I am exactly where I should be and teaching is what I should be doing.

At this point, I am very anxious to return to my classroom and my students (I have learned more about Google Meets than I wanted to know). And I will be very grateful if I am able to see my students face to face this fall.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School, where she serves as the Academic Leader of the math department. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. For the past nine years, she's taught high school math, including Algebra IB, Algebraic Connections, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, Algebra with Finance, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. She is currently involved in the Laying the Foundations initiative and the Mathematics Design Collaborative. In her free time, she enjoys reading blogs and tweets from other math teachers.

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