Friday, December 9, 2022

2022-23 Farewell Tour

 I was a teacher at heart at an early age. Always left-handed, my handwriting left a bit to be desired, even back then. My sister, Karen, was my first student, I suspect, and has continued to tolerate -- even cheer me on through-- incessant ramblings about education throughout the years.
For several summers, my pre-teen self ran a backyard nursery school. Parents paid fifty cents to send their kids to my back yard for 2 hours, three times a week. At age 10, I thought I was rolling in the big bucks. We put on plays, using a sheet on a clothesline as a stage curtain, grew crystals on charcoal briquettes, raced miniature red-eared turtles, before it was illegal to own them as pets in Pennsylvania. We served more Koolaid than is probably legal under current federal dietary guidelines, played on swing sets made of metal, and tied clover chains that stretched down the entire driveway. 
Somehow, I lacked the power of persuasion after my morning "Backyard School" to garner all of the bigger kids in the neighborhood to break the Guinness Book of World Records for clover chains by tying enough together to stretch down our entire street. To be fair, I don't know what the record was -- if there even was one -- that we would need to strive to break. It was prior to 1973, which many of my current students believe predates written history, and google didn't exist for my endless desires for instant research.

(In my research for this blog post, I discovered that nine years ago there was allegedly a 16892 foot chain.  Not sure if it's listed in Guinness.)

In short, teaching has been part of who I am for, well, almost as long as I have been who I am. 

Yet this past Thanksgiving week I made a ruminating possibility that had been bubbling up more often recently into an official, irrevocable, decision.  And being the educator that I have always been, I did my research.

I delivered my letter in person to my superintendent and two principals - one in each of the buildings I serve, celebrating the pleasingness of 11-22-22 as the number sequence.  Truth be told, I delivered the letters on 11-21-22, but couldn't bring myself to back up the date. It just wasn't as perfect, in my weirdly mathematical obsession.  A copy of the letter appears below, without the hyper-script footnotes, since this blogging platform doesn't seem to support the idea of additional details through footnotes. Remember, Teacher of the Gifted, not the Gifted Teacher.  (There probably is a way to do this, but technology, smh.)

November 22, 2022

Dear Dr. Lausch:

About eight years ago, two of my students wrote an entire collection of lyrics and music for a concept album they created, entitled Sonder.  This collaborative project was their Talent Development Opportunity (TDO) in one of my Themes in Literature classes.

This was just one of thousands of times when I claimed ignorance, learning from my students, instead of teaching them. (Always Teacher of the Gifted, not the Gifted Teacher!)  Derek and Tim explained the title’s definition  as “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers you pass but don’t interact with necessarily, has a life as complex as your own, which we, individually, are completely unaware of.” (See Footnote 1 - Blogger doesn't allow footnotes, apparently)

I’ve reflected on that project, and concept,  countless times since that presentation.  Sonder permeated my brain throughout the upheaval of Covid, as we, as teachers, became hyper-aware of the multitude of factors that could be contributing to our students’ educational shortcomings as we navigated a collective “new normal.” Essentially, educators have become “Sonder Investigators,” not really understanding the infinite circumstances of our students, yet realizing the call to attempt to try to do so with empathy and compassion.

In August, I attended the funeral of a colleague, who I had spoken to less than three weeks prior. Cheryl chatted about her plans to do three more semesters, and then join her husband in retirement. We had plans for our students - collaborative activities between her Life Skills students and Key Club - and dreams of expanding services in our Rent the Runway closet to include professional clothing. I knew Cheryl as a passionate woman who loved her job, and, with tears rolling down my face, promised to challenge myself to strive for the incredible energy, creativity, and enthusiasm she brought to Donegal. While listening to the testimonies at her funeral, I mourned her loss even more deeply as I realized how much she had on her list to explore with her family that was never going to be realized.

While I had a personal target of completing twenty-five years of service at Donegal, circumstances have changed dramatically. As I reflected on where I am in my life, I realized that so much of who I am is defined by my career and that my life outside of Donegal is often pushed to the side as I prioritize the needs of my students beyond my own family, and even myself.

It’s an odd feeling to experience sonder on one’s own life. I’ve realized over the last couple of months that I don’t really know who I am without the “Teacher of the Gifted'' label - that my ability to recognize the split identity of my non-teaching self has created a sense of sonderlessness (if there is such a word) in my own mind.  I don’t really seem to have time to explore the full complexities of my personal life because of my primary focus and identity as a teacher.

 This year has become very reflective and introspective for me, as I’ve been able to discover that what I have is onism. (See Footnote 2) In the immortal words of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, “There’s a million things I haven’t done…”, and while I’ve struggled with the subject/verb agreement in that quote, I am anxious to start chipping away at that list. So, please consider this letter my irrevocable notification of my intent to retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

I am profoundly grateful to Donegal for the investment made in me, and the continuing educational opportunities I’ve had at some prestigious universities trying to up my game learning to work with the best and the brightest in the district. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most talented people on the planet, and have received immense joy in watching my students discover the power of self-understanding and reflection as they practice metacognition and discovery. I am a lifelong learner, and will continue to learn and share new knowledge with others, even if I’m not in a classroom. (Case in point, I suspect this may be the first letter of intent to retire that you’ve ever received containing footnotes.) 

With Gratitude,

Susan A. Heydt

Secondary Teacher of the Gifted


Coined in 2012 by John Koenig, whose project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows , aims to come up with new words for emotions that currently lack words. Inspired by German SONDER sonder- (“special") and French SONDER sonder (“to probe").


n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die—and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.

After I delivered the letters to the administrators, I spent the next day delivering the shirts, pictured below, to the people who mean the most to me. Colleagues and friends who are my absolute CREW. I delighted in telling each and every one of these people how much their support, patience, enthusiasm, and tolerance of me has meant to me. I got to say all those things you think about telling the people you love and respect, to their faces.
It was a phenomenal way to celebrate Thanksgiving Week - celebrating, very quietly, telling these friends and colleagues how much their support has meant to me. I truly was blessed to literally give thanks for them.

Last evening, the Donegal School Board accepted my letter of my intent to retire, so yes, this is officially the Farewell Tour. 

On the back of the crew shirts is a list of my current schedule for this year. Each of those lines represents at least one student - and sometimes as many as 20 students - who are working on some project (or more) that I am responsible for project monitoring,  or taking some class, with me this year in either the Junior High or High School. It's a super-fun representation of the creative scheduling we do to support our gifted kids in our district, and the list rivals Elton John's 2022 Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour shirt, without the benefit of the frequent flier air miles.

I've been well-challenged,  learned so very much from my students, and continue to love (nearly) every minute in my classroom. Yet, the feeling of sonderlessness is calling me to greater clarity in my own metacognition of myself. I teach it, I preach it.  Now it's time to experience me.

To quote Green Day, Semisonic, "every new beginning comes from some other new beginning's end." If the next new beginning is as fulfilling, humorous, exciting, and exhausting as the last, I should be just fine.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch!


The Christmas movies have been streaming pretty much non-stop since the leftover
turkey was wrapped up for sandwiches. This is absolutely fine with me, as I'm pretty
much a Christmas-aholic. I love the entire season - the movies, the music, the angel
trees, the white gifts, and all the traditions that live in memories and many Rubbermaid
totes stacked for 11 months a year in the garage. It's no secret that the same can be
said for almost every kid in school between Thanksgiving and Winter Break - laser-focused
on the countdown to the magic of Hanukkah, Christmas, or, at very least, a glorious
9 days without alarm clocks and homework.

More than a few years ago, I invited the Grinch into my classroom, starting the first week
in December. I was teaching 6 - 8th graders in the middle school. Our high school had
performed Seussical the Musical and the district was the proud owner of a handmade
Grinch costume, just ripe for the picking. (And we had a very nice assistant principal
who fit in the costume!)

Recently, I discovered a Facebook group for Gifted and Talented, where teachers
share ideas. Someone was looking for ideas for units for December. While it's been
twelve years since I've taught this unit, it was so much fun, so I shared the idea. Several
asked for more information, so here it is, fresh from 2010! It could easily be adapted for
older or younger students, based on current units of study. Here’s a rough overview of
how I used it with middle schoolers:

I started by securing several copies of the book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We did
a class read aloud, with students mind-mapping the story. With the Grinch in the center space,
students drew bubbles and connected the actions of the Grinch - both good and bad - to map
the story.

We did a Socratic discussion on the implications of such actions, were they to happen
in our own community. What would you do if you were Cindy Lou Who and found
someone stealing your family’s gifts? (for example). What types of charges might be
brought against someone entering a house uninvited? Ultimately, do you believe the
Grinch is guilty of a crime? (For younger kids, this could be a really cool SEL lesson).

Students divided into two groups and began to research some of the local laws regarding
personal space, property, theft, etc. Those who wanted to support the Grinch, and argue
circumstances found data on loneliness, isolation, and mental health. Once they found these
arguments, they turned to case law and statutes. Some students talked to local police, some
looked for experts who could give them information to support their argument.

We reviewed what a non-jury trial might look like, and some of the basics of what happens
in courtrooms, including evidence, objections, over-rulings, etc.
I contacted the assistant principal, who agreed to wear the costume, and the local district
justice who was thrilled to come to school in his robe and with his gavel, to listen to the
arguments of the students.

On trial day, the kids assembled in the library to present their case to Justice Reuter. They
were SHOCKED to have the Grinch arrive and sit at the defense table, drumming his fingers,
and scowling, very Grinch-like.

The kids did a great job, and Justice Reuter was amazingly patient in offering feedback and
answering questions. He told them how impressed he was with the research they had done.

This activity could easily be used as a Perspective/Point of View lesson, as an SEL lesson
on tolerance and mental health, an analytical lesson for Civics and Government – adapt as
you see fit!

Meanwhile, I have memories of kids who weren’t always interested in research who were
searching case law to defend a resident of Mount Crumpit, and weren’t afraid to argue with
a judge to defend their opinions.

Friday, August 12, 2022



It's been more than a minute - okay, almost two years - since I've blogged. Forgive me, I've been busy.

"Busy with what?"
Yeah, about that.  I guess my answer is "Life."

Things in my teaching sphere are changing pretty dramatically this year. As most teachers know, the beginning of the school year has most teachers asking the questions listed in this blog's title in varied order  - "NOW WHAT?" before the "big new policy" for the building, "WHAT?" for the inevitable shocking announcement or protocol that is inconceivably inconceivable for a multitude of reasons dealing from complexity of enforcement or execution to downright gobsmacked reality, and "SO WHAT?" to help soften the blow of the changes in external forcefields and their impacts on the internal classroom that we are individually charged with controlling.
Our district has added Newline boards to the classrooms - basically the world's largest cellphone, minus (I think?) the ability to make an actual phone call. (Stay tuned, I haven't actually done the training yet, so you might still get a butt dial if I lean against the board!) Most recently, we were told to expect the removal of all telephones from our classrooms, instead expect TEAMS phones with picture dialing.
Two basic forms of communication in the classroom are brand new. And we're still more than 2 weeks from the start of school.
Yet, the three questions will help us all to deal with new realities and procedures, and give us all something to bond with the newbie teachers, sharing the age-old understanding that nothing in education is ever stagnant.
I actually have WHAT, SO WHAT, NOW WHAT posters in my classrooms. Being able to ask, and answer, those questions helps to give purpose, motivation, and meaning to lessons. It's my way of justifying why I'm asking students to do a particular assignment or activity -- it's honesty and transparency for the gifted and talented kids who are skeptical about being asked to do something perceived as beneath them, too stupid to do, or a waste of time. 
Is it true that sometimes we do things we don't like?
You betcha.  That's training for life. (Don't push me so far that I give my mammogram or colonoscopy as prime examples of such required fortitude to be developed.)
My lesson plans have changed - and are visible to the kids.  Certainly, I have more detailed steps in my actual teaching plans, but every student has access to this sort of overview every week available to them on Schoology.  It helps them - if they bother to open the folder - to know my expectations, requirements, assignments, and what they will be missing if they are absent. It also, I hope, explains some of the crazy stuff we do that seemingly has no rhyme or reason, until one considers the constant presence of all of my underlying lessons of metacognition. (This year, we're once again checking out James Anderson's Habits of Mind.)

If' you'd like to see an example of an introductory lesson plan for students, click to view the first entry of last semester here.  Our Themes in Literature topic last semester was "This I Believe", loosely inspired by the now-retired NPR program by the same name.

We have a new teacher in the gifted department, and my elementary counterpart teacher and I spent yesterday trying to help the newbie-to-gifted understand the scope of what we do, while not simultaneously causing her to go screaming into the closest cornfield. (Remember, this is Lancaster County, after all!) As we attempted to give information, and answer questions with as little specificity as possible to avoid the overwhelming sense of drinking from a firehose, even we, the veteran Teachers of the Gifted, were feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

Until we realized:

WHAT - We are attempting to advocate and design appropriate experiences the gifted kids in our charge based on their unique learning needs.
SO WHAT - Because they deserve our best to reach their full potential.  (To Learn and Grow!)
NOW WHAT - This is always the question. Ultimately, because these kids in our classrooms will be making decisions in our world in the blink of a few short years, and we want to make sure they have appropriate skills and resources.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

It started with a tweet...

More than twenty years ago, I met  my friend, Amy, on a listserv for quilters.  We connected, challenged each other, and became fast friends, despite our ten year age difference, our careers -- she's an engineer working with computers for Dell -- and the style of our quilts.  (She's avant guard art, I'm pretty darned traditional in my design.)  Yet over the last almost 23 years, we've seen each other nearly as many times face to face, text or chat frequently, and think of each other often, so it didn't surprise me when I got an email from her Wednesday afternoon.  What surprised me was that she was asking if she could share my contact information with Scott Simon from NPR.


Amy is a serious news junkie.  Even more so than I, and that is saying something.  Apparently Scott Simon tweeted about the difficulties in teaching during a pandemic, and she responded to that tweet, referencing our own conversation from a couple of weeks ago about the start of my school year.

One thing led to another, and by Wednesday evening I was actually talking to an editor about my school year, after securing permission to do so from my superintendent.  His "estimated" ten minute phone call was nearly 40 minutes long, and I was told we'd schedule the on-air taping for sometime the following afternoon.

I woke up Thursday morning thinking I'd had another of my really vivid dreams, this one being particularly specific, and pretty outlandish, even for me!  After breakfast, I checked my email, and noticed actual contact with NPR, and realized the reality of the entire situation.

By the end of the day, I had downloaded recording software on my phone, and was Zooming with Scott Simon about the challenges and revelations of teaching both in person and online simultaneously.  It was a lot of fun, and twenty-odd minutes passed quickly.  I was coached by Sophia, his producer, how to upload the interview I'd recorded on my phone -- which explains the crystal-clear sound that NPR projects, even during ZOOM calls -- and it was over.  On Friday, I was told it would air on Saturday.

Every weird experience somehow relates back to my classroom, and this was no exception.  I haven't deleted the recording app on my phone, in case my National History Day kids might be able to record their own interviews more clearly than our previous attempts with a variety of other platforms.  I love being able to take life and turn it into improving a learning experience for others later.

On Saturday morning, it was interesting to hear how they edited 20 minutes down to four, and still maintain the integrity of our conversation.  I also noticed, listening surreally to myself, that my "telephone voice" that Sara Frazier and Erik Ewing both have teased me about over the years translates to "radio voice," as well.

And, now I've had to cross off of my "Never have I Ever" list, "searched my own name on the NPR website."  

I hadn't anticipated a flurry of emails to my school account from Donegal alumni who have retired to Florida, or fellow teachers about to start remote/face to face teaching  themselves, so the conversation with Scott has widened the conversation even further.  I figured I'd blog here, given the number of friends who have asked how NPR found a small school in Lancaster County for commentary on a Saturday morning.

Pretty cool stuff, and all because of Amy's addiction to the news, and her response to a single tweet.

#npr @NPRWeekend @nprscottsimon

Monday, August 3, 2020

On Becoming a Leper

It's August.  In a typical year, I love this month.  School supplies are on sale, and I spend most of the month scurrying around the county buying sharp new markers, notebooks, and organizational stuff to make my classroom a magical place.  I work on bulletin board design, updating my syllabi, and start planning the first week or so of ice-breaker activities.

None of that is happening this year.

Since March 13th, I've left my house less than three dozen times.  When I do, I scurry out, grab what I need, and scurry home.  I Norwex myself, my shoes, and my car, and shower when I get home.  My social circle of people I've been closer than 10 feet for more than a minute or so is less than a dozen people.

I'm a neurotic mess.  I'm not doing a Target run for school supplies, because it's risky.  I'm not shopping for cool Llama chairs on clearance at Walmart for fun flexible seating, because they are verboten by the School COVID police.  I'm struggling to design instruction, because how do you plan for the myriad of possible scenarios, and do so effectively?

I'm not sleeping.  Sure, I fall asleep, and then 1:30 comes along with weird nightmares where I'm in a giant sterile maze with students seated in individual corners talking to each other through those whisper tubes that they have on playgrounds.  They can hear each other, I can't hear any of them, and I have no earthly idea what the topic of my course even is as I scramble through the maze trying to pick up a clue.  My principal calls my cellphone and asks where my updated syllabus is.  Seriously?  If I had a syllabus, I'd know the topic of the course.

On Friday, I went out.  I drove with a friend to a The Stitching Post in Maryland.  It felt safe, there was hand sanitizer that was mandated upon entry, and no more than four patrons were allowed in a very spacious store.  In fact, I'd estimate that store to be more than three times the size of my classroom.  We made one other stop to pick up an item, attempted to go to Trader Joe's, where 25 people stood, socially distanced, awaiting entry, in the rain.  As much as I like TJ, it wasn't worth the risk or the rain.  We ate Arby's in the car on the way home.  We were gone for less than five hours, on the road for most of that time, and I came home absolutely exhausted.

It was Friday night when I realized that what I had experienced is NOTHING like what is about to happen to my world.  Early Saturday morning I dreamed that I was becoming a leper, but the diagnosis date was not until August 25th.  Since that time, I've been strategizing how to cram summer into the three weeks I have left.  I seriously considered completely quarantining myself for two full weeks and then hosting Christmas in August, because it's VERY likely that I will be too dangerous a risk to be around the Christmas tree with family in December, a mere two days after winter break begins.  (Nobody can quarantine for 48 hours, and expect not to spread a yet-undiagnosed virus, right?)  

I've pretty much abandoned the August Christmas idea, because I can't possibly get all the shopping done, and it's too hot to have the oven going to make all those cookies, let alone find a quality tree this time of year.  Instead, I'm now treating myself like a therapy dog in training -- forcing myself out to do unnecessary errands.  Today, I am proud to report, that I went to the pharmacy, and lingered long enough to look at greeting cards.  I also bought a new welcome mat for my front door, which is ironic, considering how few people are actually welcome to cross my threshold.  I thought about going to TJ Maxx and sniff around, get used to people, see what's there -- you know, therapy dog-like -- in an attempt to move myself into a more advanced state of socialization.

Yet, my brain is still thinking that seems a bit too risky to attempt such an adventure.

So right now, I'm celebrating the little things.  The first tomato ripened on the vine and was quite handsome in size.  I shared  a photo of it on Facebook, mostly to show my neighbor, Sharon, that the first one had been picked.  Nearly 100 people LIKED the darned tomato.  Seriously?  

Last night, I dreamed that fewer people acknowledged my obituary than my tomato photo when it was posted on social media.  I spent from 2 - 5 am watching Golden Girls and Frazier, praying for sleep.

I love my job, I love my students, and I adore working in the field of Gifted Ed.  The closer I get to my impending leprosy, the weirder things are going to be, and the less sleep I predict I will get, as I play this giant game of chicken, waiting for a virtual start to the school year to be announced.  Should I retire?  My head says yes.  My heart says no.  

Compassion for everyone is definitely in short supply.  If it were available at Target, I'd be head-first into the cardboard bins, buying individual supplies for everyone, COVID Leprosy be damned.  

And so I wait, and hope, and ask that you care more about people than tomatoes on social media.  

Friday, July 24, 2020

Grieving the Loss of Normal

At midnight on July 1st, I officially relinquished the title of Co-President of our local Educational Association, after fourteen years. More than a year ago, I made it clear that there needed to be new representation for our union, and my co-president and I have spent significant time with the incoming presidents, providing advice and protocols we've used during our tenure.
Nothing we've said or experienced in the last fourteen years could prepare our replacements for the current educational environment and uncertainty of the fall. (And I am so very grateful to no longer be wearing those shoes!)

Teachers KNOW that the spring Virtual Learning Experience was significantly flawed. Most of us are spending the summer completely redesigning our courses as online content "in case" that is what the fall will bring, madly trying to figure out how to promote kindness, understanding, collaboration, public speaking skills, respect, mask etiquette, hand-washing instruction, wiping down surfaces, and monitoring of real vs. "I-don't-feel-good-as-soon-as-the-exam-is-passed-out" illnesses. Obviously every sniffle, cough, or verbal outburst will hold an underlying sense of concern for teachers. The fall is frightening, but the reality of the summer is even worse.

Please, I beg, please, give us a minute to grieve the loss of everything we know as normal.

Flying around Facebook this morning was a plea from Sera Deo, a 4th grade teacher from New York. Her words echo what is in the heart of every teacher right now. "Give us a minute." Sera begs, and I join her plea. (Along with encouraging you to read her entire post. Click on that hyperlink and read what she has to say -- she deserves your attention.)

Teachers haven't recovered from our "vacation at home in our yoga pants" last spring. (Someone actually had the audacity to ask me that in June.) March 13th -- okay, maybe even March 10th, was the last "normal" day of school for me, because the vibe in the school was the sort of anticipation that teachers and students feel when a blizzard is predicted. We knew, in our guts, we were going home, even before it was officially announced. And no, that online learning and teaching-in-yoga-pants wasn't anything close to a vacation for anyone - teachers least of all.

We are exhausted, we are scared, we are emotional. We usually use our summers to plan for the fall, and to recover from the previous year. We've been worried, confused, and scared for students since that time. Any teacher can name a student who is on their heart, at risk for food insecurities, domestic violence, depression, homelessness concerns, potential child abuse, or suicide. (But they won't NAME those kids, because they can't. They are protecting them under the confidentiality laws that exist.) We worry, because, as Sera says, "For every idea you have, we know a student and a family who needs something different. What works well in your house for your children is not necessarily the solution for all."

We know the needs of last year's students, and know in our hearts that the needs of the incoming classes will have some extra needs on their lists of concerns.

During April and May, the world was praising the efforts of teachers. Jimmy Fallon sang his praises. And now, appreciation for teachers has been replaced with demands for the need for childcare, for schools to open, and things to return to normal.

Guess what? NORMAL is a setting on the dryer. There is no Normal. Last night, our Board of Directors approved the Health and Safety Plan for reopening in the fall. All districts are required to do this, and it is up to parents to be informed. Please read the protocols put in place by your district. Discover what teachers are facing as "the new normal." I realized some seemingly very trivial things when reviewing ours: that the locked classroom doors to protect kids from gunmen will now be propped open to keep us all safe from the virus. The volunteers who help teachers in their classrooms will be few, as most are retired community members who now fall in high risk categories. All the "normal" stuff that happens in high schools - giggling in the bathroom, chatting in the hallways between classes, cramming 16 people at a six person table because the whole posse absolutely can't be split up at lunchtime, drinking from a water fountain, and countless other staples of "normal" won't be permitted. Realize that those who drafted these plans did the very best, with the limitations presented.

Give us a minute.

Did you do as I asked above and read Sera's commentary? ("If you didn't, shame on you -- it's required text for this lesson. Be fully informed before you engage in discussion. Understand the nuance of the author's words..." Sorry - I lapsed into teacher-mode.)

There has never been a time before when we weren't ready to make it ok.

We want to do what is right for our kids, and yours, because we consider them ours, too.
Give us a minute. Please.

ALL EDUCATORS I KNOW — feeling emotional.😔

We're trying to put on our game faces (and figure out how to express all of our feelings using only half of our faces, because, well, MASKS), and make things okay for ourselves and our students. We'll do our best, because we model what we want our students to do. But do the teachers a favor, and don't share your fears and concerns, and expect us to make you feel better. We need to save our energy for the students in our charge in the fall.

Give us a minute. Let us recharge.

As Sera stated, "There has never been a time before when we weren't ready to make it ok."

We'll do our best in the fall, but we need to sleep, breathe, and process all of this before we can answer questions or start laminating nametags for desks.

I'd like to shake Sera's hand sometime -- when it's safe. Maybe even give her something other than an "air hug" or "air high-five," both permitted by the current plan, (socially distant, of course.) She is a teacher with wisdom to share, and speaks eloquently for the need for time, space, and grace as we had into the 2020-2021 school year.


Friday, June 5, 2020

On Grief, Grieving, and Facing the Next Level of Jumanji

photo courtesy Donna Yingst Shenk
I cleaned out my classroom on Wednesday. It was the first time I'd been in there since March 13, with the exception of two 20 minute "grab and go" opportunities during Virtual Learning this spring. It was weird to be there, and the experience was emotional. I packed away several boxes of books, including class sets of "On Grief and Grieving" by Elizabeth Kugler-Ross. Now I'm wishing I'd brought one copy home to re-read.

The year is over, and we didn't get to say goodbye. 

After dinner, I took my llama-like chair down the street to watch the 2020 version of The Senior Parade.  It was a little comforting, and a lot bittersweet, to see the eight minute parade led by our SRO, Scott Ney, and firetrucks from all three municipalities, followed by car after car filled with seniors celebrating the previous night's "Virtual Graduation."  Many wore caps and gowns, some had signs, some threw candy.  It was a giant rush -- that same rush I get when I have a truly wonderful day of meaningful discussions in my classroom with my students.  It made me grieve the loss of the "real" school year all the more.

I've previously mentioned the TDO, the Talent Development Opportunity, project that is part of my Themes in Lit course.  A week after school closed, I received an assigned reflection from one student which included a sentence that said:

 "I really hope we go back, because I don’t 

 want that random Friday to be my 

last day of high school ever."

photo courtesy Donna Yingst Shenk

Those words have haunted me since Taylor wrote them in March, and they make me incredibly sad.  All of the "what might have beens" are still tumbling through my awake mind, and my dreams, and I'm forty years older than the kids who are making history by living through their high school years during a pandemic.  I should be able to handle this better than they are -- yet, somehow, they're demonstrating strength in accepting change much more readily than many of us.

Thursday morning, I awoke to seeing the Tribe perform the ritual senior circle and tossing of caps in a field at a neighborhood church after the parade.  I was crying, before I even got out of bed - for the loss I felt for this year, for the safety of the non-social-distanced circle, and the downright glory I felt for the sense of normalcy that existed for that brief moment in the twilight hours of June 3, allowing the class of 2020 to gather together and celebrate because a wonderful group of community members made it possible by collaborating on social media.

Everything is not normal, and random is the only word we can all claim at this point.  Somehow, with the support of a wonderful community, the class of 2020 picked up the pieces and satisfied the challenge Dr. Lausch had offered to all of us this year at Donegal:  

Every Name, Every Need, ONE TRIBE.

It remains our duty as educators to identify the struggling, figure out what they need, and continue to bless and nurture every member of the Donegal community.  Amazing things have happened, and will continue to happen, because of the parents, teachers, friends, and surrounding neighbors who love and support our graduates and graduates-to-be.  It's easy to say that we'll come together, one way or another, in the fall to welcome the next class of seniors, and we'll improve upon what we've learned and make better use of technology or ramp up the quality of our lessons, all while focusing on Every Name, Every Need.  It's really hard to do that without looking back, and shedding more than a few tears for what could have or should have been.

To the class of 2020, I say congratulations on your graduation.  Please, go change the world, using the compassion, kindness, and unconditional flexibility you've learned.  We need you, now, more than ever, to constantly remind us of our need for flexibility and imagination to solve whatever obstacle we encounter.    

To the teachers and parents, it's officially summer, after a few more professional development days.  Restoration and renewal will be replaced by getting ready for the next level of Jumanji 2020.