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The 2022 School Year In Retrospect: An Up Close Perspective

From Unsplash
From Unsplash

As we reflect upon the  challenges and accomplishments of this past school year, many of us are beyond thankful and grateful for a year of uninterrupted accomplishment, growth and success. Following over two years of pandemic related setbacks, barriers and obstacles, this past year was a welcomed return to a level of normalcy. In fact, in 2022  many of our Jewish day schools and yeshivot experienced historic pupil enrollment growth (especially in South Florida), outstanding student academic progress and resilience;  and a variety of successful and impressive educational initiatives and accomplishments.

In the beginning of the 2022 school year, I together with many of my Day School and Yeshiva senior leadership colleagues were concerned about the anticipated cumulative impact of the COVID  pandemic on the academic, social and emotional growth and development of our students. We were particularly concerned about the impact of Covid-slide on our student’s  academic progress as well as the potential negative impact of isolation on their social and emotional wellbeing.  Although these concerns were warranted, as it turned out, we did not experience significant deficits, except in a few rare occasions where select households were in complete self imposed isolation from the school and from the community.

From an academic perspective, we also observed  that many of our students who were academically stronger prior to covid-related school closures, remained at their same level of academic rigor and standing following the pandemic;  but, unfortunately, the weaker students became even weaker….much weaker. As a result, many of our schools pivoted to scheduling changes and new hires  in order to accommodate these students and to provide  more remediation services,  pull-outs and tutoring in order to bring these students up to speed.

Irrespective of these challenges, all-in-all, the 2022 school  year Baruch Hashem, turned out to be a relatively smooth and successful  school year. It was calmer, more focused on responding to student academic concerns and deficits, and we all had a far greater awareness and  understanding regarding the new and evolving  social and emotional needs of our students resulting from COVID related shut-downs, shut-ins and the like.

This was one of the few  unanticipated outcomes resulting  from experiencing the Covid reality. It also provided our school counselors and psychologists with a more demanding student caseload in the beginning of the year.  By December 2021, this caseload eventually  subsided to pre-COVID levels.

Fast forward to June 2020…..

At the end of this school year (just several weeks ago), I conducted a series of year-end debriefs and reflective sessions with my faculty. Several of these year-end debriefs and  analysis were with the entire group of teachers; others were with individual teachers. The process was inspiring, informative and extremely valuable for teachers and  for myself as Principal. It provided teachers with an opportunity to share their concerns, successes and challenges with one another in a very open and non-threatening manner  – a practice I have always encouraged and celebrated with my faculty.

As we completed these year-end deliberations and reflective sessions, I did something a bit different. I invited each member of my staff to share with me one particular take-away or lesson learned from this past 2022 school year. I assured them  that their individual responses would be confidential; but I did promise that  their aggregate responses would be shared anonymously with the entire team. This post is in part a description of those responses.

The challenge  posed  to teachers was –  identify one significant thing you learned this year in school which has changed your understanding, attitude  or perspective as a teacher,  It can be personal or professional in nature or it can be a combination of the two.

What follows is a remarkably revealing  and candid series of responses from these teachers, most of whom are experienced and seasoned instructors.

Responses:

This past year, I discovered or learned that……….

  • Teaching can be very stressful. It not only requires a passion for imparting knowledge to students, but, a level of motivation, energy, and grit in order to sustain the strength, fortitude and resilience to be the best I can be;
  • Students come to school every morning with a variety of unpacked baggage. As teachers, we really never ever know exactly what that child has experienced at home the day, weekend or night before. It is therefore incumbent upon us as teachers to be sensitive , empathetic and open-minded when we experience a child who is struggling  socially, emotionally and academically in class or in school;
  • Parents are human beings. They can be kind, supportive, courteous and respectful; or, they can be argumentative, arrogant and critical of the teacher. We as teachers, must learn how to take a deep breath, compartmentalize our feelings and respond to parents in a more  respectful manner then they act towards us; It’s just the nature of the relationship;
  • One of the  most difficult and challenging aspects of my job is informing a parent (together and with the support of the principal)  that their child cannot keep pace with the rest of the class and therefore requires a series evaluations in order to more fully determine the exact nature and scope of the student’s deficit; this is a very difficult and at times a very heart wrenching conversation;
  • The best part of being a teacher is learning how to partner and collaborate with other teachers; collaboration is the best and we need more of it!
  • I was so ready to leave teaching at the end of this year. The stress, pressure and lack of respect from students  and parents was extremely  overwhelming. I then realized that I needed to take more control of my classroom. This control was informed by new classroom management strategies which  I learned from other teachers and from the Principal;
  • Each and every student is a unique neshama with unique feelings, emotions, sensitivities and yearnings; learning how to relate positively to each student in my class was for me a true breakthrough and accomplishment;
  • Some parents valued Judaic Studies more than General Studies, and visa versa. I learned to accept and respect these differences and to help parents understand and appreciate the dual nature of the school’s curriculum;
  • I learned how to be more  compassionate and empathetic to my fellow teachers who were  experiencing personal challenges  We created and celebrate a culture of support for one another;
  • As much as we feel we are in complete control of what takes place in our lives, reality dictates that G-D runs the world. We are just facilitators,  enablers, messengers and protectors.
  • I began to understand and appreciate the fact that lesson plans were not just an academic paper exercises or requirements…. but rather a critically  important  and valuable planning  document which should never ever be underestimated;
  • We learned how to do more with less, especially when curricular materials were either too expensive to purchase or just not available. I learned to be more resourceful and creative.
  • We learned how our students hang on every word they hear coming from a teacher. They are also keen observers of how we dress, our body language and reactions to specific circumstances; We must therefore be extremely careful about what we say, how we say it and when we respond;
  • Our calling as teachers is  a profoundly  important privilege. I can think of no other profession that has such an indelible impact on the lives of students than that of a teacher. I learned how to appreciate my role as a teacher and how to accept this honor and privilege as a holy and sacred mission.

These amazing year-end  teacher gleanings, comments and thoughts are profoundly powerful and inspiring. They represent the true unabashed inner feelings, sensitive perceptions and thoughts of teachers at the completion of a very challenging school year; and  clearly represent  a microcosm of what our teachers are feeling, sensing and experiencing. Finally, and above all, they represent an outstanding cadre of teachers who are passionate about their unswerving roles and responsibilities.

As principal, I am beyond privileged, honored and proud of these amazing professionals. They represent a remarkable generation of teachers who are blessed with the knowledge, wisdom and insight required to inspire our students for generations to come.

It is my hope and prayer that they be blessed with excellent health and bracha as they continue to inspire and educate our children;  and, as they are called upon to lead and guide our schools into the future.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is currently Principal of the Hebrew Academy Community Day School in Margate FL and Executive Coach and Consultant. He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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