Starting again?

Remember when the beginning of the year felt like deja vu?

Yeah. That’s not the case this year.

I am about to finish my first week and it feels a bit like I’m Rip Van Winkle or an amnesiac whose memory comes back in spurts.

The last time I had an August first week of school with students in the room with me, it was the salad days of 2019. I had a 2 year old who spent half the day at a Brazilian preschool and was with our nanny the other half.

Now I have three full-day kids at Graded and no nanny. I keep feeling like I moved, but I didn’t? It feels similar to when we moved to Brazil and had to make new routines and figure a new rhythm out, but I never left. I’m still home.

I love being with students. When I got the email 1 weeks before we came back to Brazil that we’d be in 100% in-person, I cried. For a moment I worried that my kids would be freaked out that I was crying on the couch but they never looked up from the cartoons. Pandemic kids, amiright?

This week has been good-hard. I’m not sure I even have the energy to describe it more than that.

As always, I write a letter to students at the beginning of the year. This year, I got to read in front of them in the room, in my real voice, not a voice that has been converted to 0s and 1s and then sent into headphones or speakers. I didn’t cry, but I thought I might, and god bless the mask for hiding any chin quivers.

Like I’ve done in years past, I’m sharing the letter below.

Dear students,

Listen. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of a group of people together, in a room, beginning a year together. That’s not the dings and dongs of Zoom, your dog barking in the background, your home phone ringing. These are school sounds. Can you believe it? 

This is my 15th year of teaching and every year I start by writing students a letter introducing myself. This year feels different. In some ways, I’m also getting to know myself again. Who is Mrs. Griswold who teaches in a classroom and not on Zoom? What is Mrs. Griswold like when she can walk up and down the desks and look over students’ shoulders and not just open breakout rooms? 

Maybe, like me, you’re wondering what this year will be like, and what you will be like. The last time you had classes in a classroom every day, every week, you were fifth graders. You’re different now. I’m different now. So I’m grateful for this letter and this chance to tell you a little bit about me, because I, too, am curious about who I am right now. 

My name is Mrs. Griswold and this is my fourth year teaching at Graded. Before teaching here, I taught in Nashville, Tennessee, and New York City. When I was a kid, like many of you, I was born in one country, but lived in others. I was born in the US, but I moved to Mexico City in middle school, and then to Caracas, Venezuela for high school. I even have an IB diploma! My husband, Mr. Griswold, teaches high school math and computer science, and we have three kids who are students at Graded. Calvin is in grade 4, Matilda in grade 2, and Everett is a K4. 

One of the best parts about me right now is that I am not a homeschool teacher! For the past year and a half, I have been teaching my kids how to write their names, spell short words, multiply, write stories, add, subtract, and more. Can I tell you a little secret? I hate homeschooling. I love my kids and I love teaching, but I don’t love them together. 

One thing this pandemic has proved to me is that I love teaching in a classroom every day. I love the little things like watching students make progress day by day. I love encouraging students, and watching students share big ideas. It’s just not the same on a computer screen. 

I also learned that I am a person who loves teaching middle school students. What I missed most when working from home was the smiles, the chats in the hallway, the silly dances, the laughter, the high fives. 7th graders are funny, caring, energetic, and unique. It’s hard to experience that on a screen of little muted squares. 

At this point in the letter, I usually talk about my hobbies, but so much of that has changed with the pandemic. Right now, I like biking, walking, hiking and camping. But I’m hoping that I can return to some of my old hobbies, like swimming, playing the mandolin, writing, and traveling. Maybe now is my chance to reconsider who I want to be, and how I might be different now. 

Here’s what I know for sure: I am so grateful to be in this room with you right now. I am so happy that I get to teach you and that we get to learn together. We are lucky. Lucky to have this amazing school, lucky to have classmates and teachers who care and work hard. We can’t let any moment go to waste. Every day together is precious, and education is an amazing privilege and a gift. 

Now it’s your turn to introduce yourself. Write me a letter and tell me about who you were, who you are, who you want to be. 


Mrs. Griswold

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