“We May Never See This Same Group of Kids Again”

Coping with the unique grief of school closures.

When governors around the country issued their 24-hour notice that schools would close their doors to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, teachers barely had a chance to say goodbye to students. Some had already left for spring break, some were already staying home to self-quarantine with their families, and others were scrambling around trying to get necessary last-minute materials and school work.

Needless to say, it was chaos.

This was unlike a snow day or summer break. With schools having closed for an unknown period of time, teachers around the country are feeling everything from anxious to sad to straight-up depressed that their daily interactions with students may be over. We are here with some tips on staying connected to students you may not see again.

Robbed of a Full Year

Kansas and Virginia have been the first two states to decide that school will not meet again until August, and many other states are sure to follow. The uncertainty of whether or not teachers will even see this class of students again is stressful. Teachers value the full year with their students, and we were approaching the season in which students often grow them most. With students having built trusting relationships with teachers; that’s when the real learning happens. For teachers finishing up the final two months with high school students they’ve been teaching for many years, they feel robbed of precious time that mattered towards mentoring and educating kids they have really grown to care about deeply. And the students feel it too.

Virtual Learning Isn’t The Same

While virtual learning keeps the connection going, nothing replaces seeing your students daily, nor should it. There are rumors that online learning will be the wave of the future after Coronavirus. But, teachers know better. There’s no substitute for seeing the same students daily, getting to know their quirks and moods, and using that knowledge to be someone who truly matters in their education. And in their lives. We can take solace in the fact that parents and students (and even ourselves) have determined that we matter, and we are irreplaceable.

Tips To Stay Connected to Students

So how can you stay connected? It’s time to go old school with ways to bridge the gap as we, and our students, grieve missing the last few months of the year together. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a picture of you and your family, your dog, or doing something you enjoy and send printed”postcards” to your class with a personal message on the back.
  • Send a letter. Kids of all ages love to receive mail, and at a time when much of their social engagements have screeched to a halt, a handwritten note that you care about them can make a difference.
  • Send a personal email. If letter writing isn’t your thing, emails can do the trick as well for older students. Personalizing a message and checking in on students who you care about, and may need you more than ever, may be the best virtual learning that goes on for now.
  • Call to see how kids are doing. This can matter now more than ever. Video conferencing and phone calls mean you can continue to work with students from afar.
  • Check out some of the other fun ways teachers are building classroom community online.

Helping Graduating & Promoting Students

Students and teachers who are in their last year in a given school building, such as 6th graders moving onto junior high, or seniors graduating and moving away, have a unique struggle. Not only are they feeling regular feelings of isolation and disconnection, but they also have anxiety and a lack of closure around missing key school activities and events. Graduation, prom, and awards ceremonies may have seemed routine and trivial until we didn’t have them anymore. Some districts are getting creative about honoring these events, but there is sure to still be disappointment.

Teachers, let’s take this time of grief to realize that we are in the right profession. These feelings simply mean we are all realizing how much we matter to students, but also how much they mean to us, and that’s a good thing.

Share how you are staying connected to students on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group.

Plus, creative ways teachers are building classroom community online and ideas for hosting a virtual theme week to connect the school community.

"We May Never See This Same Group of Kids Again"

Posted by Alexandra Frost

Alex is a freelance journalist and high school publications teacher in Cincinnati, OH. She has three young sons under age four and has been teaching high school for ten years. She encourages her students to develop communication skills, independence, and a passion for writing in their authentic writers' voices.

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