The last time I was in my classroom and saw my seniors was 7 weeks ago. The day before we went into lockdown 3, I remember telling them that my mum had called me to print out one of her kiwisaver forms asap so she could withdraw all the funds before the lockdown because the bank was going to take all her money. Today I told my class my mum took it all out and had nothing to spend it on because everything was closed anyway. We laughed as we looked back. Even coming back now, it seemed like a life time ago we were saying our last goodbyes.
There are 43 students enrolled in our level 3 course this year and thankfully we have 2 classes each running at the same time. Before the lockdown, we were based altogether in the library and found it easier to work in a lecture type environment where me and my co-teacher would teach the whole lot together for the first part, then students worked independently on their own. Today we returned to the classroom and 21 students came to class. I jumped into a google hangout at the same time in case any year 13's who were at home wanted to join us online. I set up my computer to face the board at the front of the class to capture me and my co-teacher teaching. I used my co-teachers computer to login to the hangout and it faced the students. The picture below shows what the hangout looked like.
My co-teacher and I talked about what we wanted to do with the class before they arrived. We knew we needed to re-connect with them again and it meant leaving out any talk of assessments and to focus on what was on top for them right now. My co-teacher shared a video of Barrack Obama speaking to students whose last year of school it was in the U.S and how as young adults, they were about to venture out into the world. He spoke to students saying that 'this is your generations world to shape' and that the 'power was in your hands'. At the end of video, we talked about the power that they, as year 13's now half way through the year, were now holding in their hands with regards to their futures - were they going to grab hold of it or let it go?
We asked them think differently as students who were going to move into the workforce. I was so encouraged to see my co-teacher tell the class how advanced they were with online learning which already put them at an advantage in this current environment (see 9 minutes, 58 seconds on the video above). As a 'digital' school, most of our students have used one to one devices since they were in primary school. Students were reminded of the fact that the digital skills that they took for granted and were normal for them, were not normal for other students their age during the lockdown. We wanted them to see that as digitally savy guru's of Tamaki College, they had the edge. We posed the question to them - what could your future look like now that you've seen the impact that Covid has had on your lives? They got into groups and we spent the remainder of our time talking about this and sharing lockdown experiences.
Listening to the stories that my year 13's shared, had me on an emotional rollercoaster. A group of 5 students laughed and joked about their experiences and how one family travelled all the way to the city to wait for 2 hours in the KFC drive thru just to be turned away because they had cash. Another said she'd waited for an hour for a big mac combo at McDonalds to find out they they had run out of the middle bun for the big mac. We then debated if that was actually a cheeseburger with 2 patties or a skinny quarter pounder. I told them that I'd missed big macs so much, I learnt how to make the big mac sauce (true story) and they just laughed.
One person shared how they'd never really talked to another student in the group before the lockdown, but then they started to google chat like they were long lost friends because they felt like they were the only two actually trying to get their assessments done whilst in lockdown (and they were right). Another group shared similar stories of how bored and trapped they'd felt and they couldn't wait to get out.
The last two students I chatted with, really got to me. I had only seen them once in the whole 7 weeks, which was at the start of the lockdown. They apologised and explained why. One was in a bubble with her parents and 7 siblings, the youngest being a 5 month old. She was the eldest and she said when she'd tried to get online all she would hear was her mum calling her name 24/7. There was never any time to rest. The other student lived with her nana, aunties and cousins. Her 21 year cousin had just given birth before the lockdown and she was sharing her bedroom with her cousin and the baby. She shared how no one had taken the lockdown seriously and she felt she had to make the adult decisions in the household as they didn't really care. She'd only had 2 hours sleep the night before and was struggling to find the time to get her work done. I knew that it was hard for our kids but I didn't realise how bad it was until I heard their realities. My heart broke. I heard myself say 'I hear you, I understand and I'm here if you need me'. What I really wanted to do was cry and give them both a hug.
After the class, I was excited and exhausted at the same time. I could see that our seniors wanted to be at school. They were at school to feel normal again, to feel like teenagers and for some of them, not have to make damn adult decisions. School was their safe place. They didn't mind that their teachers had expectations for them and pushed them. Because they knew that WE knew their stories. They just wanted the chance to try and make the most of every second they were in class before they had to go back to their realities.
I guess the point I'm trying to make with my blog post is that it's easy for us to see the big picture for our kids and point them to a future that's bright. As teachers we strive to ensure our kids are successful in this big wide unforgiving world because it says that they need these credentials to go to uni or those work skills to get a job. What I learnt from today was that every child has a story and every story is important. Reconnecting was about hearing and understanding and hope-ing. I needed to hear every story even the most uncomfortable ones to make me appreciate my role as an educator. We don't always have to have the answers for our kids but we can teach them to ask the questions. Why is it like this? Why is it affecting me? Why, why, why?
In summing up, I guess my thinking has changed in that supporting our kids to get credits is important but wanting them to feel valued and heard first, creates those significant connections in their lives. We want them to feel like they have a purpose and a place in this crazy world. We only have them for a short time so forgive me if for much of the time, we are just talking and learning about life.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you" - Maya Angelou