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Let’s not lose sight of our ‘why’

New York Teacher

In mid-March, all teachers, new and seasoned alike, were faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of continuing to serve and support their students from a distance due to COVID-19. As a second-year speech teacher, I have struggled to figure out, with little training and guidance, how to translate a full schedule of face-to-face therapy into a full schedule of tele-therapy.

I questioned whether or not I was doing enough — whether or not I could do enough to support my students and their families during this time of great collective uncertainty and fear.

On my first day of remote therapy sessions, I sat, anxious and unsure, behind my laptop, waiting for two kindergartners to join me for the videoconference. Suddenly, two little faces appeared and lit up at the sight of each other on their computer screens. We laughed, we smiled and we read the picture book “The Gruffalo” together. For a time, I forgot all about COVID-19 and all the increasingly frightening statistics pouring out from the media.

Back at my school, where I work with students from pre-K through 8th grade with a vast spectrum of abilities and needs, I used to question if what I was doing was having any real, beneficial impact on my students. I questioned if my methods were sound. I questioned if my students would be better off with someone more experienced and seasoned.

On a day in October, when both my flexibility and my patience were being stretched to their limits, I found myself nearing the end of my final speech session of the school day. Throughout the course of that day, I had carefully selected therapy materials thrown across the room by a frustrated student, attended multiple IEP meetings and had no time to eat anything other than a granola bar.

For that final session, I was with a 7th-grader who, in a small group setting the day before, had needed constant reminders to follow directions appropriately. Following a lesson on making inferences from text, I asked the child what he’d like to do for the last five minutes of the period. He paused for a moment and then said, “We could just talk, maybe. I like talking.”

Immediately, the fog of anxiety and doubt that had been clouding my mind began to clear. The student’s words had brought me back into the present moment — a moment in which we were no longer simply “teacher” and “student,” but two human beings.

The student’s words reminded me that all the children I work with are individuals who want to feel heard, as we all do. I remembered why I entered this profession in the first place — to help others find authentic, essential human connection. I became a speech teacher to help others find their voice. Of course, I am still learning what works. But the work I do remains guided by this fundamental motivation. If I can remember this — my “why” — figuring out the “what” becomes a whole lot less overwhelming.

Now that we have embarked on this remote learning journey, my purpose as a speech teacher has become clearer and more resonant than ever. Quietly humming underneath all the confusion, fear, anxiety and sadness is a feeling of pervasive and overwhelming gratitude that I can continue to serve as a familiar and reassuring presence to my students. I can continue to do my best to support them in any way I can. I am learning to soften any rigid, unattainable expectations I have of myself.

Now, just as before, I have many unanswered questions. There is always more to do and learn. Yet in the meantime, there are books to be read, children’s voices to be heard and games to be played. 

In this time of uncertainty, let us not lose sight of this. Let us not lose sight of our “why.”

Speech Lady is a pseudonym for a second-year speech teacher in Brooklyn.