Starting the 2020-21 school year with a Positive Mindset

Following a glorious Labor Day weekend on the east coast schools began a new academic year this past week. All across New York City the year 2020-21 kicked off with in-person classes or on-line classes or in many cases hybrid classes which combined on-line and in-person teaching and learning. My mind went back to my post from May 12, 2020 titled Teachers and Pandemic Fear. In that I had listed all the steps my graduate students would have liked to see implemented before they returned to teaching. From what my students shared with me this week some or all or none of those items had been addressed depending on individual schools and daycare centers. And since during this first week my students had anywhere between 3-12 children in their classrooms there was still a lot of trepidation and nervousness about going back to in-person teaching. Undoubtedly, first and foremost in our minds is how we are going to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these dangers.

Added to the pandemic stress the Spring and Summer of 2020 also brought on a tidal wave of fear and unrest across the country related to racial injustice, natural disasters, and political tensions. In any other year just one of those factors would have been enough to cause high levels of anxiety for anyone.

As difficult as it might be we hope that, as they begin a new school year, all our brave teachers will try and look for the positive within the current negative national and global climates. It's important that we not lose sight of the good and the kind and the beautiful that still bloom under layers of viral disease, racial injustice, political invective, and devastating forest fires that are filling the skies with ash and smoke. It's important to develop a positive mindset despite these challenges.

I asked my students who are working in New York City schools and day care centers to pause for a few minutes, and visually represent what they might be looking forward to even though the year ahead is filled with so many uncertainties. Here are their expressions and images for finding strength in the small comforts we might have all previously taken for granted.

Florencia: For this unusual Fall 2020, I look forward to learning and spending more time in the outdoors with my classroom.

Dayamara: I wanted to evoke both the uncertainty as well as the glimmer of excitement in my piece. I’m excited at the prospect of being settled back into my routines and interactions with new students and my co-workers, while also acknowledging that there are many obstacles we will have to work through...This manifests as planning for curriculum, reconnecting with new families, and seeing students excited (and perhaps even anxious) to learn for the first time.

Carmen: I made this word art portrait with words that were meaningful to me. Much of what I will bring into the classroom this year comes from my experiences, my culture and the people in my life that I love. All of this together has given me the grace and positivity to be generous in the lives that I am fortunate to teach and learn from.

Mary: Picture taken in the backyard of my childhood home- It was the morning after a big rain storm, and I was struck by how beautiful the light and the haze over the yard looked. I am so thankful to be able to wake up to this every day. When I see this, I get a sense of peace and gratitude, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be alive. In August I made the painful decision to resign from my job. I love my work, but, due to personal and family health issues, it was too risky for me to go back. The future is uncertain, and I’m anxious and worried about so much. Yet, despite all of that, I feel this is going to be a time of personal growth and self-discovery, and that gives me hope.

Rosanna: What I look forward to as a teacher in Fall 2020 and this academic year is to nurture and foster children's learning, by keeping children engaged in making learning fun.

Dalila: I'm looking forward this semester to go back to my class to welcome all my children with safety precautions.

Shanece: This piece illustrates unity and freedom of expression in a private school. I’m looking forward to teaching in a setting where the students will ALL be able to attend class and build a social relationship. Also, the quote on the board represents our past experience with Covid. It’s there as a reminder of what can be overcome. The book on the desk is called The Future. With this book, I’m aiming to teach my students about adaptation and flexibility in a variety of situations, adjusting to a new school system and expecting the unexpected.

Leanna: I wanted to depict the internal stressors and worries I have about teaching at a preschool and also starting my masters this year, that then lead to the positivity I emit into the universe all while having those stressors and worries.

Perla: During the pandemic, I stood away from the news to try and remain positive and I came across sunflowers. I googled the meaning of sunflowers and it stated it meant "adoration". I am a spiritual person and the sunflower also has a spiritual meaning of "faith". It resembles the sun which for me, meant positivity or sunshine, something to look forward to at the end of all of this. The color yellow also signifies "enthusiasm" and in a time where all I wanted to feel was happiness, it helped. I scribbled two verses of the bible from Isaiah 58:11 and Psalm 118:14.

Daniella: What I’m looking forward to now that everything is going back to normal. I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to try and do a blackout poem.

Carol: To provide a safe and healthy environment for each individual child.To encourage togetherness form 6 ft apart.To plan age appropriate activities and build on children’s prior knowledge.To provide materials that will enhance learning to meet the need of each individual needs. I am looking forward to a positive school year.