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Gen. McLane superintendent Lane reflects on educating amid COVID | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

If disillusionment is the gap between expectation and reality, the 2021-2022 school year, as much as any other, challenged our resiliency and ability to remain positive when things were not at all what we’d hoped for.   

When given the opportunity to use this space on the Erie Times-News Viewpoint page at the beginning of the school year, I talked about remaining focused on what we’d learned from our previous experiences while not being distracted by all of the emerging issues that had the potential to pull apart our communities. I wish I could say that was some prescient warning, but I had no idea what this pandemic school year had in store for all of us.

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The challenges of this school year were magnified by the disillusionment resulting from what we thought would be a typical start to the school year. When it became clearer that would not be returning to the “normal”  we’d longed for and measures were announced to mitigate the spread and impact of the virus, tensions rose.   

School teachers, administrators and staff headed into 2021-22 knowing we’d need to address students’ learning and mental health needs coming out of the (first) pandemic school year, and that was not particularly disconcerting because we’re educators…that’s what we do.   

We weren’t quite prepared, however, for our sudden place on a manufactured political dividing line. With equally pure and unequivocal conviction, both sides drew lines in schools and school board meetings across the region, the commonwealth, and the country became proxy battles representing something much greater than any single talking point.   

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Throughout all of this, our teachers educated and cared for our students while our schools did everything possible to remain open. Unlike the previous phase of the pandemic — when most of us were able to reliably plan around the same lockdown restrictions — teachers, students, and families were now faced with the challenge of quarantine and not knowing when or for how long in-person access to school may be limited.   

Teachers and students were in and out of the classrooms while families didn’t know when or where to plan for potential child care needs. Despite the measures keeping students, teachers, and families safe in the midst of a global pandemic, it was the addition of this back-and-forth unpredictability that frayed the patience, stamina, and understanding in every corner of our school communities.   

It would be tempting at the end of this school year to picture ourselves like marathon runners stumbling across a finish line or a prizefighter slumped on a corner stool after the fifteenth round, but that is not what we see in our hallways or classrooms as the year winds to a close.   

Teachers are wearied and worn, but they are also rejuvenated by the return of the traditional challenges and joys that initially brought them to classrooms. Most resilient are the students — they have needs that we’ll continue to identify and address, but they exude positivity and hopefulness that we could all take a cue from as adults.   

After more than a quarter-century as a professional educator, I am comfortable saying that this has been the most challenging year we collectively shared as a school community. Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever been more inspired or impressed with the commitment of educators to be there for students regardless of the challenges and when they are needed most.   

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A true sign of resiliency is the ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and it would be naive to think that we know what August will bring (we’ve certainly learned that lesson). However, I do know that we are ready for whatever it may look like, and we’ll comfortably adapt as needed because we’ve done just that many times before.  

Matt Lane is the superintendent of the General McLane School District.

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