I am looking at the ten of you, sitting there, in various slouchy positions.  You are teens.  You are living in a covid world.  I only see half your face and I only get that for half the time.  When you are home, you are a name in a black box, except for the brief “I have to take attendance and make sure that you aren’t someone else” moment when we all log in.  

We watch a whole thing on Generation Z.  I put it into some context.  I talk about seeing the world through your eyes.  About the need to see the world through your eyes.  I pleaded with you to find your voice, to be your voice, to use your voice.  I forgive your silence because these masks block more than just a virus.

I give you your “You-Do” list, wait for any questions, and then send you into our workshop. I wait for the writing to begin.  I wait for the tap tap tapping of the keys.  I wait for the buzz of quiet conferencing.  Instead I hear…

“Can we go outside again for another mask break?”

“When is this due?”

“I bet I can use that poem from last year!”

“Where is the list of articles?”

“Can we go outside again for another mask break? Please?”


Thank god you can’t see my face.  You would see the tension building in my jaw and my lips pressed into a thin line, holding back my words.  You would see my vitriol.  My judgement.  I am angry.  You are not doing your job!  I have given you my kinda brilliant mini-lesson on voice and I have connected the definition of Generation Z with the current writing portfolio project, “Taking a Stand.”  I have made it relevant and just challenging enough to stretch your minds without putting anything out of reach.  I am doing my job.  

Thank god you can’t see my face.  What are you hiding behind those masks?  What are you missing?  What do you need?  I am grateful for the face covering.  I am grateful for the imaginary distance that is greater than six feet.  I am grateful for the restraint I am pulling from somewhere deep within me.  

I am quiet.  I let you find your way to  quiet.  Some of you do, eventually, start to write.  Some of you will write later.  Some of you will never write.  

In a few weeks, I will see the writing.  I will gasp out loud at the insight and I will berate myself for the many (many!) grammatical errors that found their way into your final pieces.  Some of you will surprise me with what you complete and some of you will surprise me with what does not get completed.  I will be repeatedly surprised by how little I know you.


9 thoughts on “Failure

  1. So much here. Your post is very real – about engagement, and inspiration, and effort, and being upset, and things that are common in teaching at any time. But this sentence – “…these masks block more than just a virus” – take these concerns into a new realm. I am touched by your honesty. I am sure your students are, too.

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  2. It’s so interesting to me that you titled this “failure”, because I thought what you shared at the end–how you know that there are going to be kids who surprise you with what they write–shows how you’re reaching kids, even when they make it hard to know that you’re reaching them. I love your use of repetition in your writing here, especially the “Thank god they can’t see my face” and the “I am quiet. I let you find your way to quiet. Some of you do, eventually, start to write. Some of you will write later. Some of you will never write.” I wish I could send you over some chocolate (my cure-all on a hard teaching day).

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  3. I love reading your posts. I relate to this post so much. Your word choice and voice in your writing makes it so vivid! I have had very similar days with my students as you had today.

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  4. The entire time that I read your post, I thought about my Monday. I failed terribly on Monday. Kids weren’t prepared for literature circles and in two book groups, the discussion was flat and choppy. I wondered if it would be different if all of the kids were in school, but I’m not so sure. I feel your words and the emotions that come with them.

    PS – I can’t stand when the hoods are pulled up because with the masks I can only see eyes. I like seeing all of the faces of the students (even with the masks).

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  5. Your ending really resonated with me. “I will be repeatedly be surprised by how little I know you.” There are students I worry that I wouldn’t be able to pick out on the street since they’re only seen over a monitor from the forehead up. This year has just been hard on so many levels, and one of the biggest challenge is the ways our relationships with students have been hampered. We’ve spent so long managing ourselves and our students with six feet of masked separation that we’ve lost some of the connection that helps us know them…at least in the way we used to. “I let you find your way to quiet.” Beautiful. May tomorrow be a better day.

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