I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


Today was traumatic. To my students. To me. I'm learning to recognize trauma. (Oh, what I've learned this year.) I feel the need to document it, so I needed to carve out time to write about it. Today the trauma of teaching in a pandemic (let's compound this with the others) showed up like this:

  • Wanting to cry on my way to school.
  • Wanting to cry before homeroom.
  • Two people with a six-foot long white stick/pvc pipe heading into class saying, "Don't mind me."
  • Students' worry and whispers and blurt outs about who is it? Who's going home? Who sits here next period? What if I go home? Who else will go? What if all my friends are here and I'm home? I have to tell them, "You've just witnessed part of what they call 'contact tracing,'" and that "It's part of what it means to live during a pandemic."
I wrote while the measurements were taking place - I wrote alongside my students and shared with each class.

    The principal and the nurse.
    They walked in with a pole.
    THE pole.
    Six feet long.
    I want to cry.
        This means more students at home.
        This means group work for those students in all their classes - is out the window.
        This means more isolation.
        This means more worry.
        This means back to double-masking for some.
        This means it's still out there.
        This means... oh crap.
    I'm tired of all of this.
    I'm tired of getting hopeful, and then getting punched in the gut once again.
    I'm sick of the sickness... and the deaths... and the violence... and the racism... and my own feelings from day to day.
        I'm working on myself.
        I'm aware this is temporary,
            even if we're in our second year of a pandemic.
        I'm aware that I've felt this way before, and I'll feel this way again.
    Maybe this afternoon will be better.
    Every minute is a fresh start.
    I'm going to put on my good attitude now. This minute.
        Are you with me?
    Let's stay socially distanced as much as possible,
        let's not cluster together at home or in the classroom,
        let's keep our masks over our mouth and nose, and
        let's stay positive 
            about trying to stay negative 
            for COVID.
  • A colleague with their head in their hands before eating lunch.
  • After lunch, eight of my students are at home with their cameras off - instead of two.
  • A phone call during class - three more students are going home.
  • Red faces, cries of "Why me?!" and then collection of belongings.
  • "What? Aw, man!"
  • Me saying, "It's a pandemic. You are resilient," then needing to explain "resilient," using a rubber band that BROKE when I stretched it a bit! Oh, the eyes above their masks showing their shock... Great job, Joy.
  • Me, also saying, "You'll be fine. You've done this before, you can do it again. We'll get through this. You'll be home. You're good." Part of me thinking, "This is what we get for being three feet apart. Back to hybrid."
  • The rest of us walk around the school. We growl and scream. We come back in the building, and I show them where, on my Bitmoji classroom, our "stress reducers" are. I hadn't needed to show them until today. Students chose - look at the sand, the seeds growing, and the breathing videos. We practiced relaxing for ten minutes.
  • I then did a check in with my students, using the mood meter we use every Monday. Many students at home said, "annoyed," and I validated everyone's feelings.
  • One of my students started sharing, someone interrupted, I finally got back to her, and then she said, "No, I'm done sharing. May I go take a break?" I was heartbroken.
  • I got the rest of the class reading (it's ELA, you know), letting them know that reading is also a stress-reducer, should you have a good book. 
  • I waited by the door for her to come back. I waited a long time. When she got back, I had her sit on the floor in the hallway next to me. She started crying. She feels alone in most of her classes since her schedule change (months ago), she feels as if she doesn't know what anyone's talking about (I was able to understand that!), and she says she feels ignored. I listened as good as I ever have. When she stopped talking, she stopped crying. I finally said, "I see you. I hear you. You matter. And I know that the others are louder than you are. They get more of my attention. But when YOU speak, I get so excited, and I really want to hear what you say." I don't remember much else, except that she said, "I feel better now," (Bless her!!), and I told her we could sit in the hall ANY day.
Today was one more piece of trauma from this school year like no other.
Educators are taking care of the children. Like we always do. 
The lessons learned aren't all academic in nature. Like always. 

Our students are learning resilience, patience, time management, love, and that actions = consequences... I'm learning how to teach two classes at the same time, survive over a year in a pandemic, pick myself up (again and again), support colleagues better, recognize inequities, consider others' perspectives, and ride the waves of stress. It's just so difficult. I'm not comparing it to others; I'm simply sharing this one day in my career.

I'm thankful for all I still have. I'm thankful for those small, precious quality moments with my students. I'll write about those another day.

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