I’ll Be There For You

Grace. It’s a word I heard a lot when schools first closed back in March. Teachers asked for grace as we navigated through difficult times. Colleagues extended grace towards each other as we all chartered a new course of remote learning. Supporters showed grace towards protesters involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. Parents offered grace to teachers as we worked together using remote learning.

Fast forward to August. If you’ve been on any social media outlets, or if you have ventured out of your home at all, there has been a recent shortage of grace. Parents are angry at the thought of schools going back to remote learning or moving back the start date. Teachers are angry with other teachers over differing points of view. I’ve witnessed educated professionals arguing vehemently about everything from wearing a mask to student reading lists to Bitmoji classrooms.

There was no grace involved in these arguments. In fact, some of them were downright ugly. So, what happened?

In my opinion, educators are in the midst of going through the grieving process, but unfortunately, we are taking our hurt out on each other. When schools closed in March, we were in denial. “Surely this won’t last for long. We will go back before the end of the year. I will get to see my kids again, and I can tell them good-bye in person before summer vacation begins". I know I was in denial about our school going back right up until the moment we received the announcement. Full disclosure? I’ve spent most of the summer living comfortably in denial. I keep telling myself we will go back to school in August. Surely things will be back to “normal” in August. I will be in my classroom with students in August. School won’t be that different when we go back. The denial runs deep.

Which brings us to the next step in the grief process--anger. I feel like many educators across the country are stuck in anger. Like many of our students, we want to throw a fit and scream, “School isn’t supposed to look like this. IT’S NOT FAIR!” I agree. It’s not fair, and it’s sad, and gosh darn it, I’m mad. As Brene Brown says, “Anger is a catalyst. Holding on to it will make us exhausted and sick. Internalizing anger will take away our joy and spirit; externalizing anger will make us less effective in our attempts to create change and forge connection.”

So, it’s time to pull ourselves up by our metaphorical boot straps and get to it.

It’s time to let go of the anger and the arguing about anything and everything--especially on social media. Please don’t get me wrong. Grief is real, and your feelings aren’t wrong. However, we are the adults. We are the people who set the tone in the classroom, the school, and the district. As you head back to school, you will run into the people who are clinging tightly to their anger. Those people are easy to recognize. They are the ones complaining about masks or no masks. They are the people who are not happy with the policy of offline, online, or any hybrid in-between. There is a difference between complaining and offering a solution to a problem. If you’ve been in your same school long enough, you can probably already predict which colleagues are going to complain.

As you head back to school, I encourage you to be like Mr. Rogers and “Look for the helpers”. Look for the people offering each other kindness and compassion and, yes, grace. I hope you already have these people in your circle. I hope you have teachers in your building who don’t judge when you express frustration, but build you up and help you become a better version of yourself. I hope you find the people who offer solutions to problems and not those who are stuck in their anger.

Let’s extend this grace and spirit of helping out into the world, and let’s start with social media. Please don’t get caught up in online arguments. Know that there is a difference between expressing a differing opinion and contributing to an argument. I have seen teachers being mean to each other online, and it’s not a good look. We are better than that. If we attack each other, it shows a lack of respect. Others then feel free to disrespect us and our profession. We need to elevate our profession.

So, we can no longer deny the new school year is upon us, and it doesn’t look like any other school year--ever. It’s time to get past the anger component of the grieving process and move onto acceptance…and even hope. When life is hard, and you need a friend, or friends, and a little grace, I hope you hear these words somewhere in the hallway of your school or on social media:  I’ll be there for you.

Denise Henggeler has been teaching 4th grade at Northeast Nodaway for 22 years; however, she has never taught the same lesson twice. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood/Elementary Education (1997) and her Master’s of Science in Middle School Education (2007) from Northwest Missouri State University. Denise co-wrote a grant for her school to become a NASA Explorer School.She  loves being part of a district so small that the preschool through twelfth grade is housed in one building. Denise was named a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist, and she encourages students and colleagues alike to “Dare Mighty Things”! You can follow Denise on Twitter at @NEN4thgrade.


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