[Editor’s note: Lizanne Foster is a secondary teacher in Surrey, B.C. She’s been teaching teenagers for almost 30 years. This is a letter she has written to her students returning to school, which she also published on her blog.]
I’m sorry. I don’t know why it’s not okay for you to hang out with 30 of your friends at a house party, but it is okay for you to be in a classroom with 30 students you don’t know. I’ve tried all summer to get an answer to this question for you and have not succeeded.
I also don’t know why you have been organized into cohorts that are supposed to stay separated, but it’s okay for you to hang out with friends from other cohorts at lunch. As long as you stay one metre apart. Or that may be two metres. I really don’t know because I also get confused when I listen to all the announcements.
I’m also sorry that, while you’re attending school this year, you can’t visit or be with your grandparents or your cousins or your best friend or the person you’re dating. I’m especially sorry that you have to switch out the people you care about from your bubble and replace them with your peers at school. I know you’d rather be with the people you are closest to, but this is the new reality.
You know how we’ve often talked about things that don’t make sense but that we have to do anyway? This is one of those times. Just because there are inconsistencies doesn’t mean we should create any extra risk. The rule is that you can’t have house parties, so don’t. I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble with public health officials.
That would not be a good way to start your final year of high school.
I can imagine that when you started kindergarten in 2008, graduating during a pandemic was not anywhere on your radar. But here we are.
What I do know is that you’re going to be okay.
In each of your families, there are stories of relatives who have survived challenging times. You are the descendants of people who survived armed conflict, genocide, displacement, slavery, apartheid, hunger and other struggles that may still be ongoing.
Remember when you interviewed older relatives for the Intergenerational Project? Remember how surprised you were to learn how difficult and challenging your relatives’ lives had once been?
Now, life’s lottery has dealt you a pandemic.
In addition to other difficulties you may be going through, have gone through, or will go through this year, you’ll be ending your school career during a pandemic.
But just as your relatives survived and thrived, so will you.
You got this.
For the past four years in high school, you’ve been riding the turmoils that being a teenager brings. Heartbreak. Lost friendships. Knowing so much about some things and not enough about others. But you kept on learning. You kept figuring things out.
Graduating during a pandemic is another thing you’ll figure out.
School is going to look different. Not everything that you had at school in March is going to be back in September. You won’t be able to hang out anywhere you want with whomever. But you’ll still be able to connect with friends through Snapchat and TikTok and Instagram and... probably a new app you’ve already been using that I don’t know about!
Depending on how many students are in the classroom, you may not be able to do any group work at all. This is a big adjustment for me as well — you know how much I love group projects! The main reason I do is because I know that you learn so much more when you’re talking to each other instead of listening passively to a lecture from me.
The good news is that we’ll still be having brain breaks! We have to organize a system to ensure all the racquets and bats and balls and frisbees for brain breaks stay clean, but we’re going to be outside a lot. Make sure you’re ready to go outside, no matter the weather!
Really, you’re going to be okay.
During your lifetime, a lot of news has been dreadful. When you were born, in 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq. In 2002, Canadian troops were deployed to Afghanistan. You grew up knowing what "terrorism" is. You know how destructive a tsunami can be. You have watched the devastation wrought by hurricanes and wildfires and earthquakes. But you have also watched how people came together and worked tirelessly to save lives, to fix what was broken, to make a difference.
You too have helped whenever there was a need to raise money and awareness so that a wrong could be made right. I am constantly amazed at your dedication to being the change you want to see in the world. You have joined with teens globally to participate in climate strikes and to protest racism and injustice. You are not okay with the status quo — you want a better world. And I know you’re going to make sure it happens!
This is why I know you’re going to be okay.
Remember all those Core Competencies self-assessments you’ve been completing since Grade 8? Remember how you had to show how you had been communicating effectively and how you’d used your critical and creative thinking skills? Guess what? Those are the same skills your relatives and ancestors used to get through all the harshness that came their way.
Think about all your strengths that you wrote about in your reflections on your personal and social competency. You’ve already demonstrated that you can not only take care of yourself, but you can also overcome all kinds of obstacles and challenges.
You absolutely have got this!
As your teacher, I promise that I’ll do all that I can to help you navigate through this most unusual graduation year. One of the skills we’ll be spending time on is what I call “dung detection,” but what is more formally called digital literacy, so that you can figure out the signal from the noise all over the internet. It’s a skill that you’re already using as you try to make sense of all the mixed messages coming to you about the climate crisis, and the virus.
Digital literacy may look like a different set of skills than those that your relatives needed in order to survive during other times. But at its core, it’s still about learning how to succeed in the world by knowing how to sift through a ton of information for what’s useful and relevant to you.
I promise to make sure that your time in my classroom is spent developing skills you’ll need not only for this year but for many years to come. And I’ll make sure that while we’re learning, we’re also doing the things that keep us feeling good and being well.
We got this.
100 per cent.