A weird school year is ahead, but the focus remains on our students

A weird school year is ahead, but the focus remains on our students

This commentary is written by Katie Siers, a Social Studies teacher at Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center.

We are about to embark on a new school year. But this year is different. It is unprecedented. It is bound to be chaotic, crazy and ever-changing. 

Even after 15 years of teaching and a glorious mess of a school year coming my way, I am looking forward to being back in my classroom, being in-person with my students, and seeing my colleagues – who are some of the hardest working people you’ll meet, tireless advocates for our students and, most of all, friends.

As in many professions, educators are subject to changes, often with little notice. But this change is different. We are excited to go back to school, to see our kids, to see each other, but we are anxious. There are so many unknowns, so many opinions and so many conflicting pieces of research.  

Working at Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center, we have a unique circumstance in which 10 school districts, spanning two counties and, subsequently, two health departments, must be consulted. Plans were made so that all of our students can have the opportunity to come learn with us. Without the tireless efforts of our administration, we would not have a plan to return to school this fall. 

Our current plan is to see our Ross County students five days a week. We will see our Pickaway County students two to five days a week, depending on transportation. We have some students who will be fully online because of health concerns. As an educator who likes to think she is Super Woman, although it pains me to admit I’m not, I am worried about being able to be the best teacher for all of these kids simultaneously.

Pickaway-Ross is a school that trains our essential workers. We cannot put education on hold. If we do, we will have gaps in those industries for years to come. We need auto mechanics, carpenters, child-care specialists, computer technicians, cosmetologists, electricians, engineers, graphic designers, machinists, physical therapists and athletic trainers, vets, welders and so many more. Our staff members will be here daily, investing in your kids and giving back to our community because we love what we do and we believe in the value of what we offer, no matter the challenges.

So, while we are anxious and concerned, here’s what I know about educators: We are in this career because we love what and who we teach. Helping students learn about their constitutional rights and how our government works invigorates me. Helping them learn how to budget and what it means to invest money fulfills me. But the moments when I really get to connect with students are when I help them see how capable they are, how necessary they are, how I get to remind them they matter and I noticed that they were absent yesterday. Those are the moments I teach for; that is my joy. I’m neither alone nor the exception because there is a multitude of people in my building and across this country who communicate these same messages.

I don’t have the answers for how this school year will go, but what I do know is that we get to set the tone for how it goes. We are in this together. This year is going to be stressful for students, administrators, teachers, counselors, support staff, bus drivers, parents and custodians (Thank you to ours! They are the best!). You may disagree with what has been decided. You may loathe wearing a mask, but for now, it’s where we are. 

Let’s speak positively about what we can. Let’s choose to be patient with one another instead of growing angry. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of one another. Let’s smile under our masks, give each other air high fives and make this the best year we possibly can – goodness knows, we all could use a little encouragement right now. 

While many jokes have been made about 2020, these days and hours are valuable, too. For many students in our building, these days make up their senior year. May we use them to move forward and to make a lasting impression on our kids about what it means to come together, especially in times of adversity.

Katie Siers is a Social Studies teacher at Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center.

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