An Ode to My Students
“Good morning- wait no- afternoon!!!”
“Well, what is your Minecraft name?”
“Show us Ollie, Ms. Treinies!”
“Is that your sister, Franz?”
From the second the Zoom room opened, students began to unmute at a rapid fire pace and their laughter rang throughout my kitchen. I kept quiet, just soaking in their words. I obliged when they called out for my dog to be shown on screen, his drool landing on my knee as I held him up. Is there anything greater than students talking?
As I stared at the faces on the screen, moments before the official event started, I thought of just how far we have come. It was late May, standardized state testing had just wrapped up, and we were all just counting down the days until summer. The students on the screen, mostly my homeroom, were all students who typically came in person to school. Despite spending all day together, they still craved the community we had formed, the togetherness of Team Treinies. The student who was leading the current conversation (Minecraft, of course) was one who hadn’t shown her face on one single Zoom at the beginning of the year when we were all virtual. Now, not only could we see her whole face, but she was talking and asking questions and showing us her little brothers.
“Alright, alright, alright. It is time to bring it together in three… two…” At this point all my students joined in: “ONE!” Our repeated rituals, our daily routines- they had them down, even when it was outside of school hours. I hated to interrupt them, but we were online after school for a reason after all.
This event was the coming together of Zoomies (students participating via online learning) and Roomies (students who attended class in person) from all three of our 3rd grade classes, as well as their friends, family, and adults on campus who love and care for these brilliant eight and nine year olds. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and comfort levels of the participants, I chose to host this family event via Zoom. I also intentionally chose a time after work hours in hopes of maximizing the amount of participants. About 15 students were able to participate. Interestingly enough, they were all students who typically attended school in person. They each had at least one adult with them and a few had younger siblings. My writing project mentor Deb Kelt also attended, as well as my principal.
The flow of the event mirrored invitations to write we often participated in during a writing workshop on a regular school day. We began by setting our intentions for our time together. We were here to listen to fellow authors and their writing journey before reflecting on our own memories and lived experiences and writing ourselves. After our intentions were set, I introduced our writers.
Bavu Blakes (M.Ed, Educational Administration, UT-Austin) is an educator, a servant–leader, and an award-winning musician. He taught middle school before transitioning into his current role in Austin ISD as a Cultural Proficiency & Inclusiveness Specialist. He is also the co-author of El’s Mirror, alongside his 9 year old son, Ellison Blakes, who just finished fourth grade.
We had read El’s Mirror previously with a guest reader, Round Rock ISD Trustee Tiffanie Harrison. Since it had been a few months since then, Ellison graciously agreed to read a few pages to us. The premise of the book is a young Black boy who runs into a few problems with other people in school. Before he problemsolves with his parents, they have him look into his bedroom mirror. Reflected in the mirror he sees someone who looks almost like him who went through something similar to what El is currently going through. After remembering their stories, he is ready to face the issues head-on.
Not only were we able to hear a few pages read aloud by one of the authors, Ellison also talked to us about his inspiration, the process of writing the book, and some expert advice. Ellison spoke to us about how he took his own experiences and with the help of his dad, was able to spin a story that all kids would be able to relate to and find guidance from.
After the presentation, we invited the third grade students and their families to think about something they have experienced and who would be in their mirror. Who do they gain inspiration from? Who speaks to them when they are feeling down or lost? Who can we lean on when times are tough?
From my dining room table, I was able to peer into the world of my students outside of school. I saw my students sitting with their siblings, parents, cousins, and friends. Their heads looking down at their papers side by side and their hands passing markers and crayons. My students and their loved ones are living proof that this work matters, whether it is via Zoom or in person. There is no ‘learning loss’ because their home communities will always be their first and forever teacher. There are still challenges- like any ‘normal’ school year, but challenges are best overcome when you have a community surrounding you.
My first year of teaching did not go as planned. We shut down in March, without a chance for goodbye. My second year of teaching also did not go as planned. We taught virtually for a month, and then hybrid (at the same time!!!) the rest of the year. Something tells me my third year of teaching will be just as chaotic and challenging. That’s teaching for you. We were stretched too thin, and it is going to take some time to recover.
Before the year ended, I wanted to share with my students just how much they taught me. My goal for teaching has always been to make sure my students felt loved and cared for. This looked different depending on what we were doing. Sometimes, it was opening space for them to share or keeping the snack box fully stocked. Other times it was standing firm with my high expectations and not accepting anything but their best. The year might be over, but these truly brilliant and wonderful and welcoming third graders will always have my heart. This poem is an ode to them, they are the ones I see in my mirror, the ones who inspire me, the ones who give me strength.
I am Thankful
I am thankful for this classroom of changemakers.
I am thankful for the laughs we shared, the learning we did, and the stories that I will remember forever.
I am thankful for Owen’s love of geography, for Violet’s strong enthusiasm that shines bright like a ray of sunshine, and for Michelle’s big heart and love of helping the people around her.
I am thankful for Geovanni’s willingness to always share out and spin stories for us, for Nathaniel’s sweet smile and ability to keep trying, even when things get tough, and for Aveyah’s kind compliments.
I am thankful for Braydon’s love for the game and bright enthusiasm that shines through, even on Zoom, for Damarius’ steadfast presence on Zoom and dedication to completing his tasks and for always showing us Molly and for Nicole’s desire to be gentle, friendly, and welcoming to everyone.
I am thankful for Wrenna and her desire to do the right thing and change the world. You pay attention to the people around you in your own way. I am thankful for Natanael and his love of cats, reading, and being with his class, for Annabelle’s humor and laughter that is contagious.
I am thankful for Presley for always reminding us that we are so loved and cared for in this classroom, for Asher’s love of pizza and EVERYTHING, for Matthew’s playful presence and love of naps.
I am thankful for Diamond being able to join us and share her experiences, for Alison and her imaginative stories and colorful drawings that I just know will be published one day, and for Azaria who is always willing to ask for help and clarification.
I am thankful for all these amazing things. But most importantly, I am thankful for you because you are YOU.
Special shoutout to our furry friends who have made an appearance on Zoom this year: Ziggy, Molly, Luna, Ruby, Donner and Blitzen, and Georgia.