I do not think that there is a single educator who does not deeply feel that this past school year was the most challenging year ever. This year marks my twenty-fourth year in education, and I think, like all of you, nothing would have ever prepared me for what this last year brought to us all. Educating students in the midst of a global pandemic while dealing with political, social and racial unrest is not something you learn about in your educator preparation courses in college.
Yet every single educator across Colorado did more than meet the challenge. As we look back on this past school year, there are many emotions that come to mind: triumph, exhaustion, sadness, joy, fear; you name it, we all felt it. There are many lessons learned and there are many ways that public education will be forever changed by the lessons of this past year. As we move forward, there will be time for deep reflection and analysis. But for now, it is time to rest and rejuvenate.
This also marks my seventh year experiencing education as a parent. My oldest daughter just completed sixth grade while my youngest completed third, and my middle fourth. Among the many things that happened this year, I got to experience them all not only from the lens of an educator or the president of the largest union in the state, but also as a mom. As a mom, my deep respect and passion for public education and educators only grew. I had a front row parent seat to the peaks, the valleys, and everything in between, of remote learning, quarantining, mask wearing, etc. There were days where I was amazed to the point of tears by what my childrens’ educators were doing to make learning happen. And learning definitely happened. I think my third grader sums it up best in her end of year letter to her teacher:
“Dear Mrs. B,
Thank you for being the best teacher ever! You have persevered the whole year. I’ve learned so much from you this school year. Challenging or not you can do it. I have enjoyed your class and (am) sad to leave it. I am going to miss you so much.”
“Challenging or not, you can do it.” Those words hit me hard. Perseverance. Whether you are an eight-year-old third grader, a first year teacher, a twenty-year bus driver, or a teacher about to retire, we all defined perseverance this past school year. Together we overcame the most challenging school year we will ever face. We are all changed by this past year.
After we all have some much-deserved rest, disconnection and down time, it will be our moment to define the future. While I hope that we will never have to experience a year like this past one, we know that every year holds challenges and obstacles to overcome. This next school year we will come back to the unknowns of moving forward after the most traumatic year our students and we have experienced. We will have critical school board elections. We may have challenges that we can’t even begin to think of right now, but what we know, what we have learned from this year, is that challenge or not, we can do it. I wish you a restful and rejuvenating summer. I look forward to continuing the fight for students and public education with you, the true champions. Be well. Take care. Rest. Get ready.
Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.