June 9, 2020 found me cleaning out my classroom after a long, difficult year. It was the first time I’d been allowed in the building in months. A date - March 12 - was still written on the board, along with that day’s schedule: Lectio Divina, Math, Literature… Also written on the board was the benediction my students and I had exchanged on that last day in the classroom:
“It is good to be me here with you.”
These words had been written on the white board in our empty classroom for almost three months. As I tried to scrub away the marker residue, I was reminded of all the things we had lost in those months, and I was overcome with both a feeling of profound sadness and sweet relief. I was sad because of all the time I had missed with my precious students; but I was also relieved that the trials of distance learning were over. Not knowing how to reconcile those two feelings, I went home and wrote a reflection on the year:
One of my students called March 12 our "last Together-Day;" the name stuck, and memories of that last day in the classroom have carried us through these difficult months. Standing in my classroom, trying to scrub off the residue from a schedule written in ExpoMarker that's been written on my board for almost three months, I'm reminded of how we started our very last Together Day - the same way we began every Thursday - with Lectio Divina, a "sacred reading." We quieted our hearts and meditated together on Psalm 34:4-5:
In that final week of "in-person" school, we were all a little afraid and anxious; many of my students seemed to understand that any day we might wake up and not be able to be together. So in those last four days in the classroom, we changed the way we ended each day: as one of my girls put it, "Good bye will happen eventually, but I'm just not ready yet." We'd already stopped shaking hands at the end of each day, and so, in those last four days, we also stopped saying "good bye." Instead, as each of us left in the afternoon, we said, "It was good to be me here with you." And when the day came when we gathered online instead of in our cozy classroom, we were ready with the same words: "It is good to be me here with you!" We didn't know how long we were going to be apart, but it didn't really matter, and we didn't really ask. The Lord delivered us from our fear and gave us the strength needed to do each day.
And each time we smiled at each other on a computer screen - felt the joy of being together and the sharp pang of being apart - we were reminded of the far greater burden of the sin that separates us from God. But we also felt the joy of knowing that Christ has already delivered us, and that one day soon we will be together with Him. And that that Together-Day will last forever!
The end of the school year is never really the end - we'll see each other in the Fall. But it is a time to reflect and recall all the good work of the year. We know that all good work belongs to the Lord; and that has never been more apparent than now, at the end of a painful, hard season. Soli Deo Gloria!
What a difference one year can make…
June 9, 2021 and once again I was standing in an empty classroom, wiping away the last residue of another school year. But this time it was completely different. Yes, I was still a little relieved the year was over - after all, it had been a hard one! But there was no sadness left. Instead, I was filled with overwhelming joy. Remembering how I’d felt exactly one year before, I once again went home and wrote down some thoughts:
In the exhaustion at the end of the school year, it is so easy to look back and just remember the hard parts; it’s so easy to just be relieved that it’s over. In a very real sense, the past ten months have been harder than any that came before: maintaining cohorts meant being isolated from coworkers and support systems; masking and sanitation requirements made classroom management all the more complicated; balancing distance learners and in-person instruction doubled the workload; trying to preserve a sense of normalcy for the children while worrying about quarantines, temperature checks, social distancing, and sick loved ones meant putting my own emotions aside every morning... At times it felt impossible, and many days I wanted to just give up. This year was HARD.
But despite the frustration, tears, and sacrifice, this year was a year of wonders! It was a year of recognizing needs, lifting requests to God, and watching in awe as He faithfully answered prayers. It was a year of watching even the smallest children do things the world had decided were impossible. A year of overcoming. A year full of the simple joy of being together.
Last spring, we mourned the loss of "together days". This fall, we didn't know how many together days we'd get before we might be forced to shut down again; everyday my students and I prayed for just one more day in the classroom. Now it's spring again, and against all odds, we rejoice in a whole year of "together days".
Our God is a good father who rejoices in giving gifts to His children. This year, He overwhelmed us with the gift of each other, of time spent in the presence of the ones we care about. Many days the togetherness didn't feel like a blessing: it was exhausting and overwhelming; many days there were tears, careless words, and outbursts of temper. But looking back, I wouldn't trade those Together Days for the world.
To my students - both past and present - I would like to say this: being your teacher has been my greatest joy and privilege. We did the work, and we did it together, and...
IT WAS GOOD TO BE ME HERE WITH YOU!
Ms. Perry is the 3rd Grade Teacher at Ambleside School of McLean, Virginia