I Survived :: A Teacher’s Thank You to Those Who Got Her Through a Pandemic School Year

Let’s all be completely honest: This school year SUCKED.

For all of the positive spins we can place on it, for all of the lessons we can learn from it, it was, in reality, a hellish rollercoaster that sent us shooting through a dark tunnel, unable to predict the turns and often finding ourselves moving backward or upside down with nothing to hang on to.

As a mom, I prayed that sending my own children to daycare and elementary school was the right decision. I knew my kids needed socialization, but I worried about their safety.

As a teacher, I started this wild school year off with a brand-new curriculum at a new school. I had no idea what to expect and prayed that my 11 years of teaching experience and my previous experience teaching online for a community college would help me survive the year.

It was a whirlwind of a year, but I wouldn’t have survived if it were not for the incredible support systems that surrounded me.

Thank you to my fellow teachers:

We took collaboration to a whole new level this year. We didn’t just share resources and lesson plan ideas. We helped each other navigate online platforms, which we had to learn ourselves and teach our students how to use while we were using them. We shared tips, tricks, and hacks, not only to make things more engaging but often just to make things easier and more streamlined. We shifted from virtual, to hybrid, to in-person, and back again more times than I can count. We shared our frustrations over the difficulties of modifying our curriculum to fit whatever format we were teaching in and the challenges of building relationships with students we hardly saw. We cleaned, and we disinfected, and we talked through masks for 8 hours a day, and we tried to make things as normal as possible in a year that was anything but. Even when we were confined to our computer screens or our classroom, and normal socialization was discouraged, we offered each other support in any way we could and cheered each other on from a distance.

Thank you to my students:

I really worried about connecting with my students this year. We started the year fully virtual, and even though I had “getting-to-know-you” assignments, I struggled to know them as individuals, to figure out their personalities, to be able to associate strengths and weaknesses with more than a name on a page. Even when we returned to campus, only some of them came, I only saw them once a week, and I only saw half of their faces. It was hard to register their understanding and their emotions, hard to tell if I was getting through or creating confusion. On top of it all, I know they thought I gave them too much work, that I pushed them too hard in a year that was already a struggle. But then things settled down, and I got to see them more often, and I could identify the upper half of their faces even when they weren’t sitting in their assigned, socially distanced seats. And we started laughing, and talking, and sharing. By the end of the school year, one student told me he didn’t mind presenting in my class because we were like family, another felt comfortable teasing me about my way-too-excited-about-everything attitude, and a student who struggled with motivation eagerly shared that he had brought his grades up in all of his classes. We made connections after all, and I am so thankful that these are the memories I’ll cherish from this year.

Thank you to the school administrators:

I have enough teacher friends in different schools and districts to know that I can’t speak for everyone, but my administration was awesome this year. From the very beginning of the year, they made it clear that they understood how challenging this year was for everyone, and they made decisions in the best interest of students and teachers. They strove to minimize our workload to keep us from burnout, often shouldering much more of the workload themselves. Administrators spent far too much time this year orchestrating quarantines, walking the schools to track exposure, and facing complaints from the community that they were either doing too much or not enough. Despite it all, they kept schools running when such a task seemed nearly impossible and did their best to keep up morale.

Thank you to the parents:

While some parents were able to send their kids back to school, many others found themselves in the role of teachers’ assistant and instructional facilitator or even homeschool teacher. It’s no secret that parents were stretched to their breaking points this year, and though many had to adjust their approaches to their children’s education out of sheer necessity, most recognized that their child’s success this year was going to be a team effort. I am so thankful for the parents who responded to emails and phone calls, and who tracked their child’s progress and checked in with me when they were concerned. Your child was more successful because you sat beside them at a computer when I couldn’t sit beside them in a classroom. And to the parents who took the time to send me a note of thanks, please know those few words got me through some overwhelming days.

Thank you to my village:

Despite social distancing, my village got a lot bigger this past year. I joined New Orleans Mom right before the world shut down, and though most of us have only been able to get to know each other online, this amazing group of women has become some of my most trusted confidants. We have supported and commiserated with one another through all of the ups and downs of this crazy year, and they have been an incredible resource of knowledge, advice, and creativity.

In addition to my NOM family, I also relied heavily on my group chat with my besties for personal advice, professional advice, and a good laugh. We live all over the GNO, and we still haven’t reunited in person, but they have been there for me every.single.day of this crazy year.

Then there are the other neighborhood moms. This group of women became a reliable web of extra eyes and ears, of help or relief, all just a text message away when we were struggling to balance everything or just needed to send our cooped-up kids outside to play.

And last, but certainly not least, there is my own mom, who despite being 1,000 miles away, gave me a breather every day after school by regularly face-timing with my girls and helping my oldest with her math homework.

The teacher-mom life balance is always a battle, but it seemed a little easier this year, despite the chaos, because I had so many incredible women behind me.

Thank you to my husband:

My husband doesn’t always get the best of me. More often than not, he gets what left of me after a long day of teaching, and parenting, and cooking, and cleaning. But he is always there for me, and he always helps carry the load. He listens to me complain and cry. He helps me troubleshoot tech issues and research teaching resources. He keeps me company when I am up late grading or planning. He makes me laugh, and he tells me I’m beautiful every day. He was the consistency I needed when nothing else was consistent.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


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