This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The Classroom Teacher.

By Twila Read | TCTA 2020-21 State President

One of my favorite things about being an educator is that no two years are the same. Each year has a first day and last day of school, but what happens in between those days is different from every other year. You can be in the same classroom, teach the same subject, or move to the next grade with the same students, but each year will have its own story. 

A few of my years in education have been affected by natural disasters and historical events. Hurricane Katrina brought an influx of students to my classroom with no educational records who were suffering from the trauma of losing everything. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 brought fear and patriotism to my classroom. When I decided to run for TCTA president-elect and eventually become president, I naively thought the 2020-21 school year would be defined by my role as state president. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Our world as we knew it forever changed in March 2020. Early reports said we would be in isolation for a few weeks and then everything would go back to normal. As we all know, things did not go as planned. Eventually, schools moved to virtual learning. It was a huge adjustment for teachers, students, and parents, but we did it. Zoom became and continues to be a normal part of our workday. How many of you wish you had bought stock in Zoom pre-COVID? I know I do daily. 

As a high school counselor, I had seniors who needed to stay on track to graduate. I used a Google voice number to call and/or text my students to stay in contact with them. I made appointments to meet with students via Zoom whenever it was convenient for them. I met with one student at 11 p.m. after her shift at a fast-food restaurant ended. I also had students and parents who needed emotional support. At least once a week I spoke with these students and parents to do what I could to help them cope. It made for an interesting final nine weeks of school in 2020, but we made it. 

During my summer break, I tried to prepare myself for returning to school in July as my contract required. I ordered rubber gloves, cleansing wipes, masks, face shields and hand sanitizer. The closer my return date got, the more my anxiety worsened. How would we handle new student registration? Would they allow students to enter the building and sit in my office? Would they wait in lines? I didn’t know the plan and the unknown was making my mind work overtime. When we returned to school, I was relieved to find out we would be doing new registration electronically and by phone or Zoom. 

To start the 2020-21 school year, my district, like many others, was virtual. Our teachers and staff were on campus, but they were teaching remote learners. As a counselor, I was doing what I always do, but it was through Zoom or by phone. Never in a million years would I have thought I would complete a suicide risk assessment on a student by phone, but because of COVID-19, I have. As the year has gone on and some of our students voluntarily returned to campus, I have provided social, emotional and academic support as best I can in person and virtually. 

At TCTA, COVID also made us rethink how we do almost everything as an organization. Most of our staff has worked from home since March 2020. Thankfully, a new phone system had been purchased before the shutdown so our ability to communicate with members across the state continued without a hitch. As state president, I had to make some difficult decisions. First, rather than gathering in groups across the state, we turned our summer regional workshops into three virtual meetings in July. We had greater participation than in-person events in previous years, including many first-time workshop attendees. Then, in February, we held a virtual convention, with our delegates voting remotely for the first time in TCTA history. While we all missed being together, we were able to conduct business, elect new officers and set our legislative priorities for the current session. 

One thing the pandemic has highlighted is something I already knew — teachers are amazing and resilient. 

You have done it all this year. You have sanitized desks between classes. You have taught lessons with students in your room as well as those at home through Zoom. You have shared your concerns for students’ well-being with administration and counselors, showing you are building relationships despite the pandemic. You have updated a seating chart daily for contact tracing. You have held virtual parent conferences and had your students complete TELPAS writing samples. The list goes on and on. 

I personally want to thank all of you for what you have done for your students during the pandemic. I hope you all have an uneventful end to the school year and enjoy your summer break. You deserve it. 

2020-21 State President Twila Read is a guidance counselor in Grand Prairie ISD.