By Gretchen Wehmhoff

As a teacher, I’ve spent the last few weeks getting kids to the finish line.

The move to online class wasn’t a big modification to my school. We are part home school, part face-to-face, so much of our out-of-class communication with our students is via online sources such as Canvas and Google Classroom.

While the rest of the Anchorage School District took a few weeks to train, we were able restart school right after the extended spring break.

Different kids had different reactions. Some loved the Zoom meetings, but really didn’t care to do the classwork. Others were able to stay on task.

Towards the last few weeks, kids were tired. They had lost their sense of routine, often sleeping late and missing the online class. They missed the structure and separation of school and home. One student had four brothers and wished she had a door to her room. Quiet time to read was a commodity. Parents were at a loss, trying to get their own work completed. Eventually, everyone was mentally exhausted.  Classwork had piled up and time was getting short. So each student needed a plan.

It was no longer a matter of reaching out to parents or trying to track down the missing, it was all about getting each kid through this time that not only seemed overwhelming, but resembled the last bite when you are full. Or, for you teachers, the last few papers to grade when you are spent from grading all day. Sometimes it was just a nod of encouragement, and other times I felt like I was herding kittens through a mud bog. Occasionally, I shared the story of my persistent turtle.

Buddy, a terrapin I’d picked up at a pet store while in college in Denver, lived with me for about 12 years. He had free reign of my small apartment. In the winter he would poke his nose in a particular corner and stay there for two months of hibernation. When he came out, he maneuvered himself into my path so I would know he was ready for me to provide lettuce, chickweed and soft dog food.

I recall one evening when I blew off a suitor by telling him I had plans to watch my turtle walk across the floor. It was just a snarky remark, but I ended up doing that anyway.

Buddy had decided to head to the wall to get warm by the register. I watched him make a left turn and march across the living room. Turtles can pick up some good speed when they get their rhythm. He moved steadily toward the wall until he ran into my guitar case. Normally, during such an exciting moment with my pet, I would have moved the guitar, but I decided to watch him. He didn’t stop. By moving his left front leg forward and lifting himself up, he was forced to follow the edge of the case.  He never stopped moving. It was slow, but eventually his persistence took him around the neck of the obstacle and back on his path to the wall.

I shared this story with my students. Buddy didn’t get to the wall by quitting, and he didn’t get there quickly, but he got there. He kept his momentum in the direction he had planned.

So assignment-by-assignment, the kids would move forward. My colleagues in the school were doing the same thing, coaching kids to the end of the semester. No matter how slowly, they just need to keep moving. A good number of kids learned to compartmentalize. They learned how to focus their time and keep the end in sight. They learned that a little bit at a time, they could get the job done.

So while I hope some picked up the love in Romeo and Juliet and the drama of Macbeth, or they became more fluent writers by finishing their weekly writing prompts, I know they learned to survive and move forward. They are learning a new reality and most are adapting.

Kids are tenacious, and so was Buddy. When I get overwhelmed at work or running a newspaper, I take a step back and remember Buddy, heading for the heater and persevering when he came upon a mountain – or a guitar case – to get there. He made it. We all can.