Is This Really How The School Year Will End?

As I sit in my empty classroom this afternoon, the craziness of these past fourteen months has, for some unknown reason, been wrapped into this “thing” that I cannot seem to let go:  I am planning lessons for the last week of school.

I am in disbelief that I am actually planning lessons.

I know that I have written that sentence more than once. Please indulge me. I don’t know what is wrong with me. Could it be that this entire year, in all of its oddity, has finally crystallized into something that I can put into words? Perhaps. When people (not classroom teachers) ask me what teaching high school mathematics has been like these past fourteen months, I usually just say, “It is hard,” and leave it there. However, for some reason, today I am just fixated on these lesson plans. I almost feel like one of my students who struggles to “move on” from something that may seem trivial to many. I can think of one of my current students choosing not to submit a four problem assignment because he could not “get the right answer” for problem one.

Never before have I been expected to deliver new instruction the last week of school. I am not really sure what I am expected to do. What I do know is that I cannot just sit with ten teenagers in front of me and fifteen in the virtual world, doing nothing. Even if these “last week of school” lesson plans are full of Google “How did this year work out for you?” Jamboards and relationship building activities, I am still working on lesson plans!!!

Until March 2020, the last week of school involved: tweaking, copying, administering and grading final exams, collecting textbooks, looking for missing calculators, saying goodbye to students, packing up my classroom – trying to purge some of my junk in an effort to slow down my transition to “teacher pack-rat.”  I can remember looking with a little bit of envy at my colleagues who could accurately assess their content with a lengthy multiple choice exam. Those colleagues did not really have to grade the final exams.  I can remember the mixed feelings I felt as I said goodbye to “my kids” from all of the classes. I would try to get my mind ready for any end of the year Professional Development, check-off lists, summer contact information requests, navigating District summer PDs, planning lunches with colleagues before we were too far removed from our lives at school to remember that we wanted to see each other. I can think of all of the “stuff” I would try to pack into my tiny classroom closet:  fans, cords, an electric hole-puncher, SmartBoard pens, and teacher editions of textbooks.  I can think of how I felt when a student would run into the room on the last teacher day, out of breath, to turn in the textbook before an obligation was submitted. I can remember turning off the lights to my classroom and walking down the hall, ready to leave my classroom keys in the office for the summer.

But on this day, all I can think about is that I am working on lesson plans for the last week of school.

I imagine that many of those end of the year activities will occur this year. But how will it feel? This quasi-normal hybrid teaching life is odd, to say the least. I can hear lyrics to a song from the Broadway show “Hamilton” in my mind…."The world turned upside down….”  And it has been. Since March 2020, everything involved with the art of “teaching” is different somehow. I could probably write a book about that – from my perspective.  I am sure that my colleagues all over the world have their own stories.

There are threads of normalcy in this madness, to be sure. Students will make sure that I feel that. Many students will bounce into the room – happy to see me – and I can’t help but feel a little lighter when I am around them. Seeing their eyes shining above the masks or the tops of their heads in the Zoom rectangles are what make this strangeness actually livable. A senior stopped in to see me today. The prom was last weekend. I started to think about graduation.  What will it be like to attend graduation out in the stadium? How will it feel to bid farewell to the rest of the students at the end of next week? How do you say goodbye through a computer screen?

All of these are fascinating questions.  And all of these questions are racing through my mind.  The joy and sadness of the end of any typical school year creeps into my thoughts.  Then, like clockwork, my mind creeps back to:

I am working on lesson plans for the last week of school…..

Mary E. Pinkston has been a math educator for twenty-nine years in the Brandywine School District in Wilmington, Delaware.  Mary has served on the executive boards of the Brandywine Education Association, the Delaware Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the Delaware Professional Standards Board. A National Board Certified Teacher, Mary was the 2010 Delaware State Teacher of the Year, 2011 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (Math), 2011 NEA Foundation Global Fellow and an NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence semifinalist. Mary also enjoys time with her church family, and involvement in several service organizations most notably, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.


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