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United Way of Lancaster County


Jeff Heiney’s Reflections…as a Teacher

class of 2020 final

The 2019-20 school year has been unlike any other. As the school year comes to a close, OneUnitedLancaster invited local educators, students and their families to reflect on the past school year, in their words...


It Wasn’t Supposed to End Like This

I walked into our classroom on May 5, and it appeared as if time really did stand still. It was as if our classroom itself was expecting us, all prepared for another day of learning, just waiting for all of us to arrive. Your desks were neatly arranged in rows, all lined straight across to match the tiles on the floor, just as I leave them every night before I go. The materials for the next day’s teaching were neatly stacked on my side table, because if I stack everything, it makes it look like I am organized and does not represent the actual chaos that exists. The visual schedule on the board was arranged to reflect the next day’s events. Only the next day never came. 

I sat in my big red comfy chair and I looked at our calendar, and I thought about how we would gather to start the day with our morning meeting. I recalled the difficulty some of you might have remembering the days of the week and how I would need to whisper the song in your ears (“Days of the week,” snap, snap, “Days of the week,” snap, snap) to help you remember that Thursday is the day that comes after Wednesday. I look out the window to see what the weather is like, and I remind myself that I still need to make a circle that says “Warm” on it because all we have now is hot and cold, and at this time of year, days aren’t necessarily just one or the other. And then I see the date – Friday, March 13, 2020. How were we to know that would have been our last day in our first-grade classroom?

When that day began, we had no idea how much our world was going to change. For us, it was an already-scheduled early dismissal, so we did our normal “hug, handshake, high five or fist bump” as you left for the day. It wasn’t until after you were already on your way home that we were notified that the administration had decided that school would be closed all next week. Within minutes, the governor announced that schools would be closed for the next two weeks, and we teachers were told to leave immediately. I thought this would be an opportune time for a break, because at this point in the year, I needed to feel refreshed. Those next two weeks would allow me the opportunity to catch up on some rest, get myself organized (after all, neatly placing piles of papers in stacks can only hide the chaos for so long!) and even plan ahead for the last marking period. I had no idea that we would never have the choice of “hug, handshake, high five or fist bump” again this year.

Eventually, it was decided that we would not be returning to the classroom this school year. School wasn’t cancelled, we just could not hold it in our classroom for fear of the spread of this dreaded disease. So we planned activities that we could provide for you online, and Google Meet became part of our new vocabulary. I became so impressed with your ability to learn how to mute yourself during our calls, and I laughed to myself as I read aloud as I watched 20 different tiles on my computer screen, each one in constant motion. It was as if the introduction to The Brady Bunch was multiplied and came alive on my laptop screen. I do have to admit that, although online learning was not ideal, I may miss that mute button when traditional classroom learning resumes.

It’s May 5 and I am packing up my classroom. Never have I done it so early in the year, and never without all of you helping. As I cleaned out each of your desks, I found items that we thought were lost forever. I found out that some of you thought you needed scissors for every appendage of your body. Others felt they needed every shade of red crayon possible. And for some of you, I found that snack you felt you needed to keep from lunch; unfortunately, it was from the day we had Thanksgiving dinner in the cafeteria. I also found your treasures from home that you were so excited to share – gel pens, pencil bags with lots of bling, drawing pads and special crayons. Please know that they will be waiting for you in your new classroom when you return to school.

There was still so much I wanted to teach you, so much I wanted to share. You did not even have the opportunity to meet my uncle, the scientist, Dr. Heinstein, or to find out where his secret laboratory in the school is located. (Here’s a hint – it’s in the faculty room, but don’t tell next year’s class!) We didn’t get to go on our field trip this year, and we didn’t get to have our end-of-year splash party. We didn’t get to set up the big tent in the classroom and have our camping day, and we didn’t get to spend the next to the last morning of school playing “Minute to Win It” games. But we will get to celebrate the 6th Annual Heiney Awards, even if it did have to become the 1st (and hopefully only!) Annual Virtual Heiney Awards later this week.

We can focus on what we did not have the chance to do, or we can choose to focus on what we have: most importantly, our health, our safety, our families and our futures.  Although I did not have the opportunity to teach you everything I wanted, it is my hope that you leave my classroom knowing two very important things, and neither of these you will find in any of our reading books or math lessons. The first is to always remember what I would ask of you -- to always try your best, for I could never ask anything more of you. If you attempted something, I would always ask you, “Did you try your best?” If you answered “yes,” then I knew that was the best I would get out of you. Even though you could have told me “yes” when you knew that wasn’t the truth, you would sometimes answer me “no.” It was at those times I appreciated both your honesty and your willingness to try again. The other thing I want you to remember is something I pointed out to you the very first day of school, and it hung on the board in front of our classroom every day for the rest of the year as a reminder. No matter where you go in life, and no matter what you do, always remember this – You Are Loved.