I’ve mentioned the challenges of working in an elementary school during this time of COVID. Telling the kids to spread out. Masks all the time. So. Much. Sanitizer. Constant changes. One of the reasons I wanted to work in an elementary school is honestly because it seemed playful and fun. That hasn’t always proven true, and this fall has been even less fun than usual.
In typical years, the time between Thanksgiving and Winter break at an elementary school is equal parts festive and frantic. We have 15 days to cram in two month’s worth of learning and celebrating. The schools I’ve been in go all out with decorations, which means trees, menorahs, stockings, and so on. It’s also the wrapup of the first half of the year, so we pile tons of tests in there just to add to the excitement (and panic).
This year was different. Widespread testing is postponed or canceled for the most part in elementary schools where I live. And when I got back from Thanksgiving break there were no trees going up, no stockings… maybe just a handful of stars and tinsel in the hallways. The lights and energy of the holidays are usually palpable when you walk through the front door. This year no one would have known it was December.
My job has changed so I am not telling stories to kids anymore right now, so no Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Christmas tales. Last year I made a tree out of ancient textbooks. I also have a little sliver tree with international ornaments. The kids love these touches. This year I didn’t find time with all my other shifting responsibilities.
Every year has also brought a dress up countdown for teachers, 12 Days of Christmas style. We all wear red one day, silver the next, silly socks on Tuesday, crazy hats Thursday. I wore my tacky Christmas sweater on the right day and I was the only one who did! Most of us are so tired and beat up we are just lucky to be dressed and physically present. December, such a special, silly time of celebration and connection, was just more show-up-and-get-it-done days.
The twelve days also bring treats at times. Hot cocoa after school. Cookies in the mailroom. Pancakes from the local breakfast place. I generally skip all that since too much sugar makes me sleepy. But one morning, when I returned from my morning outdoor duty all dressed up in my tacky garb, a piece of paper caught my eye. It was a paper, to me, thanking me for my gift of flexibility. A quote from Picasso about finding your purpose and sharing it. A short explanation of how I have adapted to every role and challenge this year. An appreciation.
It was a simple thing. A word. An acknowledgement. A recognition that in this crazy time, I have played my role as best I can. And what I do matters. Then I noticed that every teacher’s door in the school had a similar paper.
I made excuses the rest of the day to walk around the building, dropping off items or doing other errands. But what I really wanted to do was see other colleague’s notes – what gifts did our administration identify in them? Kindheartedness. Generosity. Passion. Good humor. Creativity. I nodded my head at each one. Maybe not what I would have said is most important about that person, but each one still rang true. Some of them made me laugh since they were gifts I often struggle with. Efficiency. Patience. Productivity. Focus. Again I nodded, but understood why those weren’t top of mind for me.
This has been a year of challenges. My job has changed at least weekly, sometimes daily. Stress levels have brought patience muscles to their breaking point for many, even me. While the cookies and chocolate are sweet, the gift that meant the most to me was just some words and the knowledge that what I am doing is seen.
Who around you needs to be seen? Who can you lift up with a word or two? Who brings a gift to your life just by being in it? I hope you’ll take a minute to let them know this week. Words are precious gifts.