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Finding Hope from a Distance

Thursday, May 28, 2020 by Anna Bourjaily - ACE 24, Sacramento

Anna Bourjaily ACE Blog - Hope from a Distance

I’ve grown accustomed to a new norm as a teacher: sleeping in.

Instead of my usual 6 a.m. alarm, since March 16th my alarm has gone off at 7:45, with just enough time for me to roll over in bed and grab my computer. From there, I sit and wait for my school Gmail to explode with notifications of assignments posting for the day. Within minutes, another set of emails arrives from students who are up and ready to go right at 8:00 asking for clarification in directions. Nine times out of 10, they read the directions too fast, but every so often I’ve forgotten to post something or forgotten a step in the directions. So begins another day of virtual instruction. This one will not end until close to 11 p.m., once I am done grading assignments and editing the next day’s assignments. The day finishes with a daily update video for my sixth graders explaining what to expect the next day.

ACE 24 sacramento bourjailyLike many optimistic teachers, I thought that e-learning (or whatever your diocese calls it) would last maybe up to Easter. Instead, it became a month of ominous press conferences from the governor announcing more coronavirus cases and more closures. Trying to find hope during that time was especially hard, when students who were struggling to stay hopeful turned to me asking if we would be back in the classroom this year. It’s been harder to convey hope to the ACE 27s I have been mentoring this spring as well. New teachers, ready to face their own classrooms in the fall, are getting a crash course on how to create a classroom community over a computer screen. I could tell by talking to them that it was hard to be hopeful about developing their own classroom and starting their teaching careers when there is so much unknown.

Hope is a funny thing. During my time in ACE, there were times where it was hard to find hope. How do you find hope for a better day when a housemate’s grandparent dies and they can barely get through sub plans, or a student struggles in school because of issues at home, or you have a big observation go terribly wrong? The only option is to find something to look forward to. You look forward to the next community dinner and the laughs that come with it, to that student coming back and acing an assignment, or to showing your supervisor how far you’ve come since the last observation. It’s second nature as followers of Christ to look forward to something. We look forward to the coming of Christ, because He is our hope.

"While I cannot see them in person, I still have found hope in my students."

The biggest hope during this time of virtual instruction was to be back in the classroom. Motivation was low amongst students who watched the rest of their school year crumble in front of their eyes. Hope isn’t found in many places these days. But isn’t this a similar story to the Apostles? How they locked themselves in a room with no hope for three days, wondering what to do without Jesus? Christ had always been a message of hope, and He was gone. Motivation to do anything must have been even harder to find for the apostles than for my graduating eighth graders.

When our normal source of hope is gone, we turn elsewhere. My source of hope had been seeing my kids again in person this year, and that is gone. Yet hope, like I said, is a funny thing. It’s appeared in odd ways. When I met with my ACE 27s, we talked about helping students through this hard time and how to keep spirits high. One thing I forgot to mention about my daily videos is that they are completely and utterly ridiculous. I try to start or end them in a fun way to cheer students up. That has turned into rapping the daily assignments alongside Hamilton and learning every TikTok dance on the planet. I’ve had students and parents reach out saying that these videos bring a little joy into their days. Looking forward to it gives our students just a little bit of hope that things are still okay, and we can find reasons to smile. Our students’ mental health is in flux right now. If I can put a smile on their face by attempting the Renegade, I know they are going to find hope that it will all be okay.

While teachers worry about the mental well-being of their students, there is the harsh reality that teachers are struggling too. I miss the organized chaos of our classroom community. I miss starting the day by reading our class mission statement and ending the day with an alliterative well-wish out the door. While I cannot see them in person, I still have found hope in my students. They give me hope during our weekly check-in meetings, when they overload the Zoom microphones with so many stories that the app has to restart, or when they send me their pictures of what they wear for e-learning spirit days. The biggest sign of hope was walking outside my house on my birthday and seeing close to 40 cars driving by to wish me a happy birthday! This is my hope. This is why I roll over at 7:45 each morning to greet my students’ questions and stay up late to make sure they can do the next day’s work with a smile on their face.

We have to hold on to any little bit of hope that we can during this time, just like the Apostles waited for a sign in those three days. I realized during my time in ACE, and in this time now, that while it can be hard to find hope ourselves, we can be a source of hope for others. I know that ACE 27 and all future ACErs, will spread that same hope of Christ to their future students. Providing that hope for others brings us our own sense of hope.

 Learn more about the life of an ACE Teacher at ace.nd.edu/teach.