Today I’d like to introduce Caitlin Campbell, my future daughter-in-law, a high school Physics teacher in Houston. She has kindly agreed to share some of her experiences since schools moved classrooms into a virtual world and cancelled everything else that couldn’t be done virtually. Much gratitude and kudos to Caitlin for taking on this project while also taking good care of her many “kids” as she likes to call them. She shares a different side of what many 2020 Seniors are experiencing. Most of us reading this piece cannot imagine the impact of a canceled Senior year when you come from a different slice of life.
Read on to learn more …
“Bummed” for the kids — By Caitlin Campbell
Let’s start off with this: I am not a writer. I am a voracious reader which makes me all the more anxious and self-conscience about my writing because I know good writing and am judgmental of bad writing. But when Lynn Morstead asks for a guest blog you put your insecurities aside and deliver. Lynn is not the kind of lady you say no to. Besides, what a way to communicate my experience in this time as a virtual teacher and a little of my students’ perspective.
I was on a zoom meeting a couple weeks ago, and as our “do now” activity (classic teacher move) we were asked to enter one word describing how we were feeling at that moment. My immediate thought was “bummed.” The day before, we received the news that our physical school building would not be opening again this school year. My students, as graduating seniors, will never come to my classroom again. Some of this bummed I’m feeling is definitely for myself and my experience in this pandemic, but a significant amount is an empathetic bummed for my students as their senior year “is falling apart”, as one of my students put it. With their senior trip to California, prom, college signing day, and most likely their graduation ceremony canceled, our seniors are feeling much more bummed than I am. These quintessential senior events the students have eagerly anticipated all year (I heard prom dress talk in October) are not postponed, but will not happen at all for them. By the time my school district made the call to close our schools (at the time until March 27th) we had just started our spring break. We had no idea that school day was their last day of school ever.
These classic senior events are particularly important in our school community. High school graduation and senior signing day are important and meaningful occasions for all families, but if your parents have a middle school education and you are the first person in your family matriculating to college, they are doubly significant. Prom is a fun and iconic experience for everyone, but when your high school does not have a single school dance except senior prom it becomes your only opportunity to get dressed up and take photos and dance with all your friends you’ve been with since pre-K. A week-long trip to California with your senior class would be exhilarating for any high school senior, but when the only trips you have ever taken outside of Houston are the school trips you took in middle school and sophomore year, then senior trip means a little more. This senior trip was the first to be our first ever. Our students met with administration to make the case for this trip and had fundraised thousands of dollars to pay for the trip making the loss of the trip extra disappointing.
I teach about 70 seniors and 7 juniors. I see stark differences in the way the two grade levels are handling this situation. Every single one of my 7 juniors has regularly shown up to virtual office hours or reached out by text for clarification on the work. In contrast, I’ve seen about 10 seniors in total at my virtual office hours over the first four weeks. The seniors are mostly doing and turning in their work (although I’m guessing there are some pictures of answers floating around so not sure they are necessarily doing the work…), but most of them are not showing the engagement they would normally show in class. I have about 10 seniors who I have not received a single piece of work from — they’ve just given up.
When talking to our social-emotional counselor that works with our senior class this week she related that some of the students that suffer from anxiety and depression, she regularly meets with in school, are not even responding to her texts and parents are at a loss of what to do. Other students are trying to do their work, but struggling with balancing everything on their plates. I got a message from a student just last night apologizing that she wasn’t going to finish the work due that night because she was tired and still had another assignment she needed to finish. She has nieces she is taking care of during the day as well as helping her little brother do his schoolwork. A lot of our students at the high school have become the ‘at home’ teacher for their little siblings because the parents are at work or don’t speak English, so cannot help even if home. These are stressors a lot of our students are experiencing. Seniors have the added discomfort of grieving the senior year they were supposed to have.
One of my favorite students was on office hours this week just unloading his frustration. He is an extremely high achiever; very intelligent and motivated. He is taking 5 AP classes and doing every single piece of work that is assigned to him but feeling awfully overwhelmed by it all and just extremely disappointed watching the plans he had made for spring of his senior year crumbling away. At one point in the office hours with just the two of us he shared he had just received a prestigious scholarship that awards $8,000 each year of college for summer programs. This is a scholarship he had applied for months ago and spent weeks writing his essays for (and having me read and reread them). He was really counting on receiving this scholarship, and when he was telling me about it this week he had to say “I am really happy” out loud, because he just couldn’t muster up the energy to show excitement for it.
Of course, we will all make it through this. I’ll be back in my classroom (please God in August!) again. I’ll get back to normal life. I’m just bummed that for 2020 seniors this special phase will be omitted from their lives.
Maybe we can persuade her to write again? I think she has more to say than this one article.