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Here’s What 2020 Taught This Veteran Teacher

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    Lauren Kosasa

Lauren Kosasa was born and raised in Oahu, Hawaii. She has lived and taught in Wuhan, China and Queens, NY. She started her journey as an ABAR (anti-bias/anti-racist) educator 4 years ago and is always learning from middle schoolers how to fight for our communities. She is currently a 7th grade ENL and social studies teacher at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School.

It has been really challenging for teachers to take care of themselves amid the new demands of this year. Last spring everything felt very urgent and as teachers it was hard to prioritize anything, especially ourselves. We were doing triage with students, families, and our own families. This fall was even more wild because things kept changing. In my experience self care is a term that can be thrown around and ends up feeling like one more thing to do, like self care is a completely individual thing. Teachers have really struggled this year but my school has found two things that have really helped: one, teachers being honest with each other about the challenges and two, our school’s clear focus on community and crew.

There can be a lot of pressure in professional spaces to look like you are doing it all. It can be challenging to share when things are difficult or overwhelming. This year our team has had to work on being vulnerable with each other, asking for help, and sharing resources and support openly. Each teacher has her/ his/ their own struggles with the demands of this year at school and with their own families. It has been helpful to make space for grapples and take the time to ask questions like: How are we showing up for each other? How are we being forgiving and understanding? This year it has been essential for each of us to let go of the idea that we can do it all ourselves individually.

It has felt really good to have Crew clearly set as a top priority schoolwide. This means our administration was clear that taking care of our students’ emotional health came first. I really needed that support to explore and grow as a teacher. It has taken a lot of work to make sure kids feel a sense of belonging and safety in a remote setting with a schedule that kept changing. I couldn’t rely on all the structures and processes I had built and relied on for years. Being remote was a whole new experience and I was learning alongside my students.

As an experienced teacher, I had a strong vision of what it took to build community with students. I had a strong vision of what would work and what wouldn’t in the classroom. In a remote setting I just wasn’t sure how it was going to work. My students really stepped up and supported as a crew. They took ownership and had big energy to bring ideas. This year I am so grateful for them, for the silliness and joy of 6th and 7th graders—they will take over joyfully if given the space! They helped me realize that I don’t need to get through every part of the lesson if there is belonging and joy.

The realization from teaching during 2020 that will stick with me forever: is this task authentic? In the classroom, I could see if students were jazzed. I could see if they were interested or if something else is going on for them. There was a nuanced understanding of their reaction to a task but now it is different. There is no space for work that is not worthy of their time. My seventh graders are amazing with what they can do and how they can articulate their needs. They have been able to share when things aren’t working in a very clear way and I hope to always honor that. This is one way to stay connected and learn together and things like this have helped all of us take care of ourselves and each other.

*EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.