This school year has been like no other in recent history--here's how teachers are reflecting and looking ahead

What are your reasons to celebrate this school year?

This school year has been like no other in recent history--here's how teachers are reflecting and looking ahead

We can all agree that the challenges we’ve seen in the last two years are unprecedented. However, when we consider all that’s happened and all that we’ve learned, there is also much to celebrate.

We can celebrate because students are back in school. We can celebrate the fact that libraries and librarians are in the spotlight. We can celebrate the fact superintendents no longer have to moonlight as meteorologists to call a snow day because we can deliver instruction virtually. 

We can’t forget specific challenges and controversies, though—we’ve argued about masks, vaccines, and books. Teachers are leaving the profession. Librarians are facing criminal consequences over their collections. District leaders are attempting to navigate an increasingly political landscape where it’s becoming nearly impossible to please everyone. 

Yet, as history has demonstrated time and time again, we emerge from crises stronger and smarter. Which in and of itself is a reason to celebrate.

When I turned to my professional network of teachers and librarians and asked what they’ve learned this year (and what they would take with them for the rest of their careers) they, too, found ways to celebrate. Here are a few highlights of what I heard from teachers, librarians, and administrators across the country:

“I’ve learned that I’m capable of teaching fifth grade. After my first year, I have a year under my belt and so do my students. I believe behavioral issues can be resolved with more practice. I’m excited for next year!” Marcus Joseph

“My advice: take time for yourself. You can’t help others or be there for them when you are unable to meet your own needs.” Joe Witek

“That running a library is more like running a small business than teaching: inventory, circulation, purchasing, promoting, employee management, customers + teaching, pd, etc.” Erin Hough

“That libraries are far from obsolete and so important to our students! It was devastating to be closed last year, cease circulation, and then push into classrooms. To see the utter joy and excitement from our students as we reopened this year and have had our library renovated has been so rewarding. The schools that don’t have libraries may think they can do without, but no child should be without them!” Audra Good

“That as a librarian it can be hard to put others first over yourself and your workload. However, it is necessary. Teachers and students need the support of the librarian more than just as a resource for locating information. At times, I felt like I needed to prove that I am valuable, but I stopped feeling like this since COVID hit . . . That is what I learned this year. We are recovering and trying to get back to normal this school year. I have been a crutch to help people to get back to normalcy.” Shelly Stall

All the comments I received reinforced my gut instinct: while it’s been challenging, we are all taking with us lessons learned and reasons to celebrate. When I spoke with Carrie Friday, a colleague who is a teacher librarian at a middle school in Florida, she pointed out what she learned about her students. “I learned that I am capable of even more than I thought I was,” Friday told me. “I also learned that kids who are invested in your program will be a huge help in keeping the program going—they just need opportunities to shine.”

Another colleague here in Illinois told me she’s ALWAYS learning and shared several great thoughts.

“’I’ve learned to embrace the wait time,” said Stephanie Kaye, an instructional coach in Fox Lake. “We live in a fast-paced world. Leaders – coaches, admins, teachers – need to give students TIME to ponder, think, consider…all too often whether it’s in a classroom, meeting, or professional development a question is asked and not much ‘wait time’ is given. Embrace the wait time!” Kaye also shared her thoughts on leadership and the level of teacher and librarian burnout that has become commonplace since the pandemic.

“Leadership in education needs to always remember that while we are here for the students, if the staff feels overworked and underappreciated, the students will be ones who suffer the most,” said Kaye. She shared that now, more than ever, it’s critical to have open dialogue with your staff. “Let your staff be heard, that you hear them and then find solutions together. Develop a way for staff to truly bring up concerns to leadership. Otherwise, people just complain behind closed doors, and nothing ever gets fixed; nothing ever changes. Stagnant water breeds disease.” 

Many other educators shared what they’ve learned in the last two years and why there are reasons to celebrate, but space does not allow for me to include all. However, the underlying message is clear from almost everyone who responded: Through the many challenges we faced this school year, educators can and will emerge stronger.

I hope you are inspired by these learnings and think about some of your own. How are you stronger now and what did you learn in the last two years?  We want to hear from you. Send us your input here and I’ll address your comments in a future column.

As your school year comes to a close, I hope you all find reasons to celebrate.

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Britten Follett
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