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Dear Student,

So much has happened, and we never had time to process it.

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We were in class one day, and online the next day.

So many skills, rules, expectations, and practices that we had worked with in class for years, were gone in a moment’s notice replaced by a whole need set of learning. We were thrown into the water and expected to swim immediately. And so, we did. And you rose to the occasion, succeeded beyond any imaginable measure.

 

You may wonder at times, do I—your teacher—even understand what is going on on your side of the screen? Do I have a clue? I may not know it all, but I have an idea.

 

I hear when I call on you in class and ask you to unmute yourself just to hear the harrowing sounds of ambulances that have dominated the streets of New York City. My eyes fill with tears, but I make sure to keep a smile on my face.

 

I know when you don’t “show up to class” that it could be for any number of reasons from you having had to relocate your entire life in a days’ notice to a new location because staying in New York City was no longer a good option for your family. I get it.

 

I know that when I call on you and in class and ask you to answer the question on what I am teaching that may not be the easiest thing when you mind is thinking about your parent who is a doctor in a large New York Hospital fighting on the front lines, coming home late, and under unprecedented stress. Maybe they have not been able to hug you or come close to you for weeks because they want to keep you safe. Maybe it is because you are wondering when this extended nightmare will all end. I get it. Again, I have tears in my eyes, but I keep that smile on my face and keep those lessons going because I know that is what you expect and need at this time—stability and consistency. So, I do my best to keep things as normal as possible, in the least normal times.

I know that when I say, “why didn’t you print that worksheet out yesterday?”, it may be because going to Staples to get a new cartridge or new paper may be a life-threatening endeavor, and you couldn’t just make it happen. Maybe it is because your WiFi went down, and you are only not able to get the provider to come and fix it during these crazy times. I get it. I won’t hold it against you; I am just trying to make sure there is as much routine and stability in your life as we can possibly have. My heart is with you.

 

I know, when I ask you a question about what I explained now for the third time, and you can’t answer me, that is because I am not the one hearing your little brother or sister crying, the distracting noises you have to deal with in the background. Maybe it is just because you never got to leave your New York City apartment for eight weeks and have not had a chance to run around like children should. I know. I feel your pain every day.

 

I know, the reason you can’t write what I asked you to on a regular word document may be due to a family with four or five school-aged children suddenly needing to all have classes running at the same time with no easy access to supplies, devices, desks, and space. I know. I get it. I am not noticing how much you did not do; I am actually blown away by how much you have done.

I asked you to do your homework. Why didn’t you?

Why?

Probably because quarantine, for now, six weeks may be something none of your teachers can properly cope with. Just one reason. Or maybe it is because Mom or Dad now work from home and no longer have that work-home separation? Or maybe because you are worried about grandma or other relatives that have been affected by the disease.

There are so many reasons why not. I am more amazed by the assignments you have done than those you have missed. Would I be able to work under the same circumstances as a child? I do not know. Would I be able to work under the same circumstances as an adult?

In many cases not. You are absolutely amazing beyond anything anyone could have imagined. I salute you. I will do my best to make sure that the little consistency, predictability, and structure the world has today remain in place. I will stick the curriculum and assignments and make sure that the old world, pre-coronavirus expectations we have in place so that this rock of stability and productivity called school and learning, keep on sailing you through this difficult time.

I will also do my best to keep a smile on your face. And yes, the extra Kahoot or other online learning game that we did, or that pointless joke or story that I tried to share, it was because I know this are difficult times. I know it isn’t east. At all. My heart is with you, and we will try and get through this—together.

So next time I give you an assignment, or ask where your homework is, please remember—I understand. Next time you get disconnected from class, share a funny background on your Zoom, do not have the online Google document I shared with the class in at least four different ways, don’t worry. It’s fine. And yes, I will ask you to do it. But no, do not worry. I am with you. It’s hard to see through the screen, but yes, so many times during class, with the smile on my face there are tears in my eyes because I know you deserve a better world. I agree with you. We are all together, trying to rebuild it for you.

So in the meantime, just remember you are a hero, that you blow us all away with your success and adaptability, and that we will get through this, with you being stronger, more innovative, resilient, and fighting for a better future.

Sincerely,

Your Teacher.

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Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City.