I have just completed four weeks of teaching students in the middle of a pandemic. Not a boatload of people throughout history can make that claim. It is not normal. While it is much harder than I could have imagined, it also feels safer than I had feared. It feels good to be back to school…and it feels so good that it feels good, especially after so much anxiety about going back. It feels like a perfect fitting glove to be back in my role as teacher. It is where I belong. I feel #TeacherStrong and am filled with gratitude.

“We experience that work is not only a necessity and hard labor…but our work brings us likewise joy and fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment. We grow and develop ourselves in our work. It becomes part of who we are. However, we are more than our work. Any serious effort that enhances and enriches our own and other people’s life can fill us with joy and gratitude.”

Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict

Twenty percent of our students have chosen to participate in remote learning—they Zoom in from home to their classes every day. I have seen their faces (for some of the time) but have not gotten to know them very well yet. Eighty percent of our students, who I have come to recognize from their eyes up only, are doing a hybrid version of in school and remote learning—attending classes 2-3 days a week in person and the other days Zooming with the fully remote students. The fancy word for this is “synchronous learning.” It means I am teaching students at home and online simultaneously while students are adapting to new ways of learning.

It is taking a lot of resilience, creativity, and hard work for all of us to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning. I have gathered so much strength and peace from the Benedictine motto—ora et labora, pray and work. Before school started, I spent time with soulful friends and in solitude creatively praying with SoulCollage®. I felt a seismic shift within that allowed me to detach from my fears, to separate myself from the circumstances of going back to school and to focus on the needs of my students. It truly has been a “Seek Peace and Pursue It” experience. The peace has remained for four weeks—I am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion as we journey through this new way of doing school. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—personal and family traumas, mental and emotional health issues, learning disabilities, poverty and now, the impact of a pandemic.

Students have shared with me what they have been grateful for during the time of quarantine and what has been challenging. The challenges were what I expected (and experienced myself)—not seeing friends and family, missing a routine, having to wear a mask and other precautions, not being able to go out or take a vacation and sometimes, boredom. A few students expressed frustration—wishing that everyone would do their part to follow the advice of scientists and medical professionals. A few students had gotten COVID or experienced frustrations in their home life. One student said just wishing things were different was most challenging.

What students said they were grateful for—well, it blew me away. I have been profoundly impacted by the wisdom and maturity of what they shared. Here is a collection of student gratitude statements:

  • I learned that people show their true colors. I learned who my true friends are.
  • I had more time for reflection.
  • I have a new appreciation for school and other things that I took for granted.
  • I had more time to take care of my mental health.
  • I had more family time.
  • I was able to be more independent and not rely on others to make me happy. I realized I can be happy with myself.
  • I was able to form new friendships and rekindle old ones on Zoom.
  • I value school more now.
  • I was forced me to be more creative and do things I wouldn’t have considered before.
  • I am grateful for staying sober.
  • I am overall happier.
  • I have truly found myself and it made me stronger.
  • I got a puppy/cat.
  • There was lower pollution with everyone staying home.
  • I was able to work more.
  • I was able to catch up on my sleep.
  • I was able to watch some fun TV—I didn’t have time before.
  • I was able to exercise more.
  • I was able to be safe and help others not get COVID by staying home.  
  • Nothing

As much as I am excited about and motivated by teaching, I believe students learned something they could NOT and would NOT have learned in the classroom. I was impressed with their candor and vulnerability—even with the student who felt there was nothing to be grateful for. Sometimes life is like that.

This teaching is sacred work for me. I learn so much from my students and I am grateful that we are taking the first steps together into the uncertainty of doing school differently. We will all learn so much.

Benedict teaches us that work is our gift to the world, our social fruitfulness, done in community…Work allows to focus on something other than ourselves, and in that way draw us away from self-centeredness.

-Michael Rock, St. Benedict’s Guide to Improving Your Work Life