Sheltered Diaries: Words From a Teacher About All the Distance

Photo courtesy St. Rita Catholic School

I haven’t met Peter Kostos face-to-face yet – and it may be a while before I do. But I do appreciate that he took the time to reach out to talk about what it’s like to be a teacher during this time of distance learning – after all, I haven’t talked with a teacher yet who went to school to teach over Zoom.

And yet, here we are.

Peter is an eighth-grade English teacher at St. Rita Catholic School, and I appreciate that he not only reached out, but wrote me such a great letter describing what his school is like, and what this school year has been like. He sent the following letter right after I wrote this piece about appreciating teachers, and gave me permission to share it in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

He writes:
Just read your post about teacher appreciation week and everything that’s been flipped on its ear this Spring! It’s true and it hit home! I’m finishing my first year at St. Rita – I teach eighth-grade ELAR – and this has been a remarkable year. I sent a note to all my parents last week, looking back at the year and thanking them for entrusting me to teach their children. It was a great reflective exercise and chance to appreciate everything we’ve overcome.

The tornado affected many, high school applications, ISEE test prep, writing 70+ letters of recommendation for my eighth-graders’ high school applications, and finishing the year with eLearning, and at least one classmate and their family all coming down with Coronavirus.

The St. Rita community, like most school communities, has rallied in a way that has been remarkable and, honestly, we teachers and administrators are working harder than we ever have to ensure that our kids, both at school and in our homes (I have an eighth-grader at SRS and 10th-grader at Jesuit) continue to learn and grow.

Yesterday, my wife walked in on one of my Google Meet classes, and she asked last night as we had our nightly family dinner (a nice bonus of this time) if we do real work, as what she saw was a giggle fest and goofiness. I said yes, that’s normal, I’m checking on them, how they are mentally. Yes, we discuss work and getting together for extra help and if they have specific questions about the Shakespeare we’re reading, but this is our time to see each other, our bed head and crazy non-cut hair, and have a chance to laugh together, it’s not always about class learning!

In her business world, it’s always business and conference calls and focusing on how she keeps her business moving forward. I explained it’s the same thing for us teachers – we focus on moving our kids forward, making sure that they feel our love for them, and that sometimes asking how they are, how their mom and dad and siblings are, or to see their new puppy is way more important than solving quadratic equations at that moment. Kids feed off the connections they make with each other and with their teachers.

That is especially true at the end of the year, as our eighth-graders contemplate their next steps in education, many knowing that these days mark the end of, for some, an eight, nine or 10-year journey through the hallways of St. Rita. And that the parents are just as emotional, that the bond runs deep within households. The student may be excited and a bit sad, but mom will be in tears because she’s seen multiple children come through the school and this is their last to leave, that next year is high school and in four years they’ll drop them off at college and life will change forever.

Yes, we teachers love the appreciation and an extended line of credit at Starbucks would be most graciously accepted. But, I didn’t leave the corporate world and start teaching with the goal of accumulating gift cards for Target and silly coffee mugs, neither did my mother, my mother-in-law, or my grandfather or any other teacher. We did it because we loved working with the kids, we swelled with pride when that light bulb of recognition went off over their head, and we reveled in their achievements.

I’m in the process of hand-writing nearly 60 notes for each of my students that I’ll mail out in the next two weeks, it’ll give me a chance to thank them for what they’ve done for me, and how I know they will be successful in whatever they choose to do in life, and that I appreciate them all.

Sharing my love with and for them is worth the hours, the lower salary, and the occasional bout of frustration because in a year, five, 10, 20 years from now I’ll have exhausted that Starbucks credit, but they’ll always remember that eighth-grade ELAR teacher who believed in them, taught them how to believe in themselves and changed their life. Will all of them? No, and that’s OK, because if just one does then I’ve done my job!

Thanks for your posts during this time of weirdness; they’ve been fun to read!

p.s. – I don’t like Lima Beans, black licorice, or synergy either; teachers like differentiation!

I hope to hear from even more of our readers as we all navigate this together. Feel free to reach out to [email protected].

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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