Dear Class of 2021,
Last spring, the class of 2020 had a very difficult ending to their senior year. They missed their senior trip. They missed prom. They missed graduation practice. They missed senior picnic. They missed a traditional graduation ceremony. They did not get to say good-bye to their favorite teachers and staff members. They did not get a final look over their shoulders as they left the school building as students for the last time. It sucked.
As I think about your senior year of high school, I am anxious about what you may miss out on because of a virus that we still don’t quite understand. The Virginia High School League has already voted to postpone all sports until early winter which means that there won’t be a first home football game this fall. This means that homecoming will look different this year than it has in the past. Because we cannot all meet together for an assembly, the first day of school will not include you walking across the stage after all of the underclassmen have taken their seats in the auditorium. Hopefully, only the beginning of your senior year will look different than what you imagined as you prepared to finish high school. But we cannot guarantee that the end of your senior year will look any different than it was for the class of 2020.
This school year will not be normal. No matter how school starts this year for you, it will not be a normal school year. You will either take my class 100% virtually, or you will take my class with a modified schedule of a few days at school and a few days at home. Both ways are abnormal for most high school seniors.
Sadly, there are things that we will not be able to do as a class because of the way that school will resume this year. I am already trying to decide what the essentials are for my course so that you can get the best senior English experience possible. Trust me, I’m going to do all that I can to make this last year of high school meaningful for you when it comes to the class that I teach.
But unfortunately, I cannot be the teacher that I have always been. At least not right away.
I don’t want to list all of the ways that I will need to change my teaching because I really don’t want you to know what you will miss out on. You are already going to miss out on so many other things that I’m sure you have already thought about. I understand. I am mourning those things with you since my son was a graduate of 2020.
All that I can promise you is that I will do what I can to prepare you for the next stage of your life. When I started teaching senior English fifteen years ago, I understood the responsibility that I was taking on. I accept the fact that I have the privilege of helping my seniors prepare for college, a career, or the military. Not everything that I will teach you this year will seem relevant to you right now. However, I promise that what you will learn will include practical skills but also life lessons about how to be a good human being. I try to instill in all of my students that they have a voice, and my job as an English teacher is to help you to know how to use that voice. Sometimes this means reading things that other people have written as a way to understand how other people use their voices. Sometimes this means writing about your life journey and determining how your life experiences affect who you want to be in the future. Sometimes this means looking at the world around us and identifying things that you want to change.
As we look forward to your senior year, I am hopeful. I hope that our new normal is not too stressful for you. I know that some of you have anxiety disorders or clinical depression. Some of you may be very open about those mental health concerns, and some of you may be hiding them. But they are very real, and I understand.
I know that some of you have physical ailments that may cause you to need to learn remotely for a while. I understand, and I will do all that I can to communicate with you so that you can be successful in my class. I am hopeful that we will develop a strong rapport as teacher to student that will help you to use your voice to advocate for yourself not just now but in the future as well.
I know that some of you may have difficulties in my course for a number of reasons. Some of you have not been successful in an English class before so you already have anxiety starting your senior year, knowing that my class is a graduation requirement. Some of you have learning disabilities that make reading and writing difficult for you. Some of you are still learning English as a language, so reading and responding to academic text is a challenge. I hope that I can help you to overcome the obstacles that will try to get in your way of successfully passing my class.
I know that some of you are angry that your senior year will not be a normal school year. Some of you are angry that you will not be able to play a complete season of the sport your participate in. Some of you are angry that you may not be able to perform in this year’s musical or play, if those are able to happen this year. Some of you are angry that you will not be able to take a specific course this year because COVID-19 has limited our course offerings. Some of you are angry that on top of the expectations that we already have that there will be more, including wearing a mask and keeping your distance from others. I hope that my demeanor will help to calm your anger. I hope that my optimism will help you to see that we can manage things that we cannot control. I’m sorry, but sometimes we cannot control our circumstances. All that we can do is learn how to deal with these situations in ways that are positive and helpful rather than destructive.
Class of 2021, I am hopeful. Let’s all acknowledge that this sucks. However, let’s try to find good things in the midst of this new normal. Let’s learn to communicate with one another so that we can get through this in a way that makes us stronger. Let’s listen to one another rather than blame one another. Let’s promise ourselves that we will try to look at this realistically with a little bit of hope.