In a school year like no other, my students were a source of joy


This first-person article is the experience of Sabrina Jafralie, teacher and university lecturer in Montreal. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.

I want to stress that I am writing this article on the unceded Kanien’kehá: ka territory.

When I became a teacher in 2001, I made a deal with myself. If I wasn’t excited about the new school year, then it would be time to move on. And this year, I was about to move on.

I was not lacking in excitement. On the contrary, this excitement was replaced by anxiety and fear. This virus robbed my joy of teaching. I was considered to be at high risk for complications from COVID-19 and honestly this only increased my fear.

Last spring I just wanted to stay in my house, my homemade bunker, where I felt more secure.

Then August arrived and the call was made: we would go back to school. My doctor supported me and encouraged me to return to class.

The icing on the cake is the effort made by the management of my school to make things safer for us. They created dedicated entrances and disinfection stations, labeled hallways, and cut classes in half. My principal was ready and dedicated to keeping the school community safe, and she was successful.

As the weather warmed up in May, Jafralie and her class spent time learning outdoors. (Submitted by Sabrina Jafralie)

I prepared for my comeback by wearing my new trendy items: my mask, my glasses and my hand sanitizer. And that’s how the year began.

Initially, being back to school after the abrupt end of March was odd. We did not greet each other and the students in the same way. We focused on teaching each other and students on how to connect to the Google class and on separating the students. In some ways it was just a prison. I did not appreciate; I have lost all my joy and happiness. School became a place of work when it was my family. I was mired in worry, and I was drained.

But then, when I least expected it, I felt joy. I was in a grade 11 class, discussing and dissecting the social justice movement, the George Floyd murder, and the summer protests. It was as if time had stood still and we weren’t constrained by masks or goggles. Instead, it was just me and my kids. I was happy with our discussion and to see the students become critical thinkers. I returned home happy. To finish.

Other happy moments followed. At school, our community adapted to security protocols, we became Google experts, and we designed and redesigned the curriculum to help students fall in love with learning again. We have the COVID creativity. We have learned to put a twist on our traditions and recharge our purple heart community at Westmount High School.

Another day my Grade 10 students were overworked and I was offering them strategies for their mental well-being. The students said, “Dr J, we need to talk. We cannot keep up with all of our work.

Let’s be clear, I was not happy that they were stressed; the joy was seeing my students standing up for themselves. They are 15 and 16 year olds who take a stand and negotiate with their teachers what they need to be successful. I was and I am proud.

Everything was finally improving. I was happier and even excited. But despair was still there. It came from the indecision and changing plans of the Quebec Ministry of Education. Now, I did not face a pandemic and neither did the Coalition Avenir Québec government. However, their flip-flop attitude and decisions have repeatedly unsettled our fragile joy.

This happened when the government announced that all students were returning to class to complete their spring term. Time and time again, the government thwarted our plans – destabilizing our school culture – once we had finally adjusted.

I want to make sure people understand that the Department of Education has made decisions that impacted our safety from the comfort of their own homes – all while I was here trying to teach and teach. keep students sane in the event of a pandemic. It is unforgivable.

Jafralie and a few students are seen at the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony in October. (Submitted by Sabrina Jafralie)

But even the government could not stop the return of joy. As we planned how to celebrate our graduates, the excitement showed on our faces. One of our brilliant guidance counselors – the always optimistic Karen Allen – was ready to celebrate. COVID-19 has nothing on our Karens.

This year, we successfully planned and executed our very first graduation fair! We knew we couldn’t have a traditional ball, but we wanted to celebrate with our kids. We have therefore planned a spectacular alternative. There was a red carpet entrance, a TikTok station, a dunk booth, and food provided by alumni.

The activities were not a source of joy. It was the students. I listened to them testify how hard we worked for them to make it a good year. It is priceless.

This year, we have entered the new normal. This pandemic was a tough opponent, but it didn’t stand a chance against my school community. We as a school and as teachers have become stronger. I look forward to more joy next September.

I dedicate this article to all teachers, administration, students and in particular to my wonderful director, Demetra Droutsas, who protects us. Thank you.

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For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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