Dear Pernille, and perhaps so many others
You have been losing a lot of sleep this past year. The world has felt so heavy, so hard at times, and when you finally have found your stride, life has thrown yet another turn your way. Events that will shape you the rest of your life, experiences that are being lived through that will follow you until the end.
You have worked too much, you have tried to create boundaries as well as anyone else, and yet you have felt the insatiable hunger of failure nipping your heels every day, haunting your every decision. Never enough. Never good enough. You have felt like the role of teacher came first, above mom, above wife, above person. You have stayed up too late, gotten up too early, pondered and wondered, sought out idea upon idea in an effort to continue all of the dreaming that shapes the classroom community you build every year with your students. And you have looked at the constraints and tried to plan your way through them, busting the chains of the old ways that have stood in your path, getting tangled up in obstacles unforeseen, expanding energy quicker than you could replenish it.
And now you face the creeping end of the year and you hear the whispers of learning loss, of failed year, of not enough so loudly they feel like drums beating a new path ahead. They drown out the voices of the educators who innovated, who created, who invented and rose to the occasion. Of the kids who met us in the pursuit of learning despite all of their obstacles. Of the home adults who kept trying no matter their own circumstances. Do not listen to them. This past year was not lost. The moments we have lived through, the experiences we have created, the learning that has happened has transcended what we thought was possible. We did the impossible, we did it, despite everything in our way.
Because this year the learning was perhaps not as much in the standards. It was perhaps not as much in the pages of textbooks. Perhaps it looked nothing like we had ever tried before. It was a year of navigating new. Of hearing the words “unprecedented” and “Covid” too many times. A year of figuring out how to connect through screens and distance. Of asking kids to tune in when their reflexes were to tune out. Of asking ourselves to try again when we were beyond exhausted. Of sending one more email, making one more phone call, of showing up and trying again.
It was in living through experiences that will help these incredibly resilient kids for years to come, will help us, the school staff who kept trying for years to come; how to problem-solve technology, how to advocate, how to manage time, how to learn independently, how to chunk out assignments, how to get the help deserved and needed. How to recognize what is the most important in everything we do; not the content but the kids, not the grades but the growth. It was in showing up in whatever capacity we could despite everything that stood in front of us. It was in digging in even after the energy was depleted. In not painting a year in failure before it had even begun.
Because there were many who wanted us to fail. Who told us that the only way to do school was the ways we had done it for hundreds of year, a way that has failed so many before. There were many who couldn’t wait to tell us how this would never measure up, how this would never be enough. And yet we came, we worked, and we kept trying long after our contract hours, long after our energy had left.
So dear Pernille, you have to let the whispers of failure go. You have to rise from the ashes of your own doubt, burn down the defeat and recognize the strength that you carry within you after the last 13 months. You have to look back at this year and see the small triumphs that have risen through the cracks. Not as an attempt to dismiss the things that didn’t work, the kids where traditional learning was put on hold, but to recognize that among the fires there were things that did succeed. That success is not just found in standards and grades, which you have known for so long, but in the small conversations, the openings into their lives, the bonds that have been formed no matter they had to work their way through. No matter how much you worried.
That you and all of the kids in your care did incredibly hard things. They spoke up when they would rather stay muted. They turned on their cameras even when they would rather have sat in the dark, they chatted when they could, they handed in what they could, they asked questions when they could and they hopefully recognized that every day, no matter how much work they did, they were cared for, they were accepted, and they felt safe.
Because what happened in the past year in education is so much bigger than just learning content. Is so much bigger than just one singular experience. It is about community. About innovating through unforeseen obstacles. About a relentless pursuit of connection, of seeing our own mistakes not as places to rest but places to grow. Of knowing that you did the best you could and that what we did mattered, that what you did mattered.
So celebrate these last few weeks. Revel in the kids and their amazing fortitude. Cherish the times that you still get to have with these incredible kids that you got to call yours for a while. And rest. Rest in the knowledge that you did it. That you worked through it. That you learned lessons you will use for the rest of your teaching career. Rest in the knowledge that there will be more learning and growing in years to come and that we did not get lost, we instead found a new path that we had to forge together and that the content and the skills is still on our path. We may just need a new way to get there.