Stephanie Oyler

When we started distance learning back in March, we thought it was maybe going to be a few weeks. Then it stretched to a couple months. And finally we realized that it was going to last the remainder of the school year. As we strolled into summer, teachers and students alike couldn’t fathom not being in school come September. Summer morphed into fall and brought the realization that although we may be in the school building, things were going to be very, very different.

I got to spend eight days with my students before my husband tested positive for COVID-19, thus starting 24 long days of quarantine for myself and my kids. By the time I was able to come back to the classroom, I got 10 days with the kids before we went distance learning. I teach family and consumer science – very much a lab-based and discussion-orientated curriculum.

In the last 10 months, I have been in the classroom with students 18 days. 18. If you ask 10 teachers what the hardest part about teaching is, likely all 10 of them will say anything but the students. They are what keep us going. They keep us coming back day after day. Likely all 10 of teachers would also say this is the hardest thing they’ve ever done in their teaching career.

Every morning I open my computer to my calendar that houses all my Google Meets. There I find my life. My organizational abyss of meetings… It’s such an odd conundrum for me. I always wish to be more organized; however, when I see my life organized that way, it gives a weird feeling of anxiety.

Then it happens… Slowly but surely little pings of acceptance come from my computer as students start to enter my Google Meet. The best part of my day is about to begin! My seniors are coming to class! To say I adore these kids is an understatement. They make me laugh, they frustrate me, and they’ve been known to make me shed a tear or two. I’ve worked with them since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, and honestly I’d give just about anything to be able to teach them in person.

I have several of the same kids in my third hour culinary arts class as I do my first hour class. Those lucky kids get me two hours a day! Culinary is my favorite class to teach, except when I have to do it online. Let me tell ya, nothing challenges a music, art, shop, FACS teacher like a global pandemic that results in extended distance learning!

As hard as it is for us as teachers, it’s the kids I feel especially bad for. So many of them are struggling with the motivation to even join the Google Meets. It’s painful to hear the sadness and frustration in their voices – that is if they unmute themselves. It’s more likely that they type in the chat how unmotivated they are and how they don’t even know how to pick themselves up. Some of our students that have historically been very consistent students both academically and with good attendance are feeling miserable about school right now.

I will continue to be as hopeful and cheerful as possible with my kids as 2020 comes to a close. 2021 brings us a new year with endless possibilities. My hope is that in six months when these seniors are crossing the stage to get their diploma we will be able to give them handshakes and hugs!

Stephanie Oyler is a Messenger guest columnist and teacher at Onamia Schools.

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