My mom was diagnosed with cancer in September. She was dead by the end of November. Not too many days after that, my biological father was found dead, too. In just a little over three months, my entire world changed. The world where me, mom, my pop (who put the DAD in stepdad), and my daughter were having family meal nights and plotting trips just stopped.
At that point, I thought the school year couldn't get worse, but to play it safe I made sure the few remaining members of my family that I am close to knew I was NOT allowing any more death this school year.
Yet, the bad infomercial line, "but, wait there's more," popped in my head when in early March I read the word pandemic in a news article while my students were quietly working on their photography. I even said it out loud to my smallest Photo II class. I wonder if they even remember that day?
"The coronavirus is now a pandemic, guys. You get what that means, don't you?"
Most didn't. So we had a brief chat about what a pandemic was and then went back to business as usual.
Then, I noticed the mass graves and the astounding death tolls in places like Italy and Iran, but just like with the passing of my parents in the fall, I just kept going. The show always goes on, right? That's what my mom, Susan, always preached!
I had no idea that the Thursday night when Megan Duncan and Allison Meyer hosted Show #6 of BJJTV after school and we hugged goodbye, it would be so final. I really thought we'd be off a bit, but maybe we'd be back in late April.
It's true, unlike a lot of people, I suspected we would shut down. I felt that COVID-19 would reach our safe haven of Franklin County. Why? Not necessarily because of science or news or facts, but because it's the WORST school year I have ever had.
Call me Eeyore with the little rainy black cloud over my head because THAT is how I felt most of this school year.
Yet, continuing my mother's teachings, the show went on!
Environmental Club even met that first Sunday of Spring Break just days before we were told we couldn't meet in large groups any more. We did a great beautification job on our campus. Thank God I took photos because none of the students have been back to school to see it.
I remember standing in a circle with those kids after the work was done. As we chatted, I felt that little Eeyore dark cloud of rain over my head when I started to think, "What if this is the last time I see them this school year?"
So, at this point, perhaps you are thinking, "WAIT A SECOND!? She said it was the BEST worst school year in the title?!"
Be patient, I am getting to that point very soon. As a matter of fact, I will get to that point NOW.
How was this the BEST worst school year ever?
All of those WORST things that happened weren't necessarily school-related, but they sure impacted me as a teacher. Yet, I was blessed with the BEST students who have empathy and kindness. I know they helped me get through it all.
The list of kind deeds is so long that I know I cannot mention every single one of them, but here are just a few examples of why my students this year are the BEST.
When my 6th hour Art Appreciation class heard my mom's cancer was bad enough she was being sent to BJC for a lot of testing, one student bought a card, and they all signed it for me. It was so kind. The student who really pushed for this was Abby Riegel. Months later, I realized she actually knew of my mom and had met her because she worked at one of the banks my mom trusted with her finances. It is such a small world!
Vivien, my favorite German, was often worried for me and hated to see what we were going through. She feared the large medical bills that America is notorious for, but when we didn't have those serious conversations, her bubbly personality was something I loved coming to school for during my darkest days. I asked her once if she thought her host family would notice if I switched her out for my daughter for a day or two. She said they would, so that never happened.
The day that Vivien got the message she had to leave America due to the pandemic, thus ending her time with us so soon, we cried together. I hustled and pulled some strings to get her a quick gift.
Her telling me, "Ohhh Ms. Turner, I love you and I never tell a teacher that I love them!" touched me so much. I am so thankful Vivien was one of the BEST parts of my WORST school year ever.
Near the end of my mom's life, I know the days I went to work that I was not my best. One of my photography students, Jadyn Whittall, stayed after school on a Friday with her friend, Mackenzie Lawyer (who is also my photography student).
Jadyn spoke to me as she held a glass jar filled with colorful strips of paper. She'd lost her grandma to cancer. A friend had given her Grandma the jar that held inspirational quotes and messages to read daily. That jar was a source of comfort to all of them. She said that she and her family decided it was time to pass the jar on to me. I cried. We hugged.
I was informed to keep that jar as long as I need it and when it is time for me to pass it on, I will know who to give it to.
Jadyn gave me that jar on a Friday. My mom died a few days later on Sunday. As I sat in my classroom making sub plans just a few hours after she passed away, I grabbed that jar. I took it home and it is still a source of comfort. I am not ready to pass it on just yet.
BJJTV Staff Members
Then, there are my BJJTV kids.
The ones who gave me hugs.
The ones who wrote me notes.
The ones who didn't know what to say, but just kept working and doing their best, so I had one less thing to worry about.
The ones who knew I was in no shape to travel or do high-level competitions with them.
The ones who just randomly would give me a hug.
I actually got emails from teachers saying, "You know you can skip a week of the Friday Show. People will understand." I ignored them. My mom wouldn't have that. She'd want the show to go on! Maybe that's why now, even with a pandemic, the Friday Show continues. Susan wouldn't have it any other way. BUT, the biggest factor is that I have the BEST BJJTV staff members during the WORST school year ever.
I know it's not easy to see the BEST in the WORST, but I cannot believe how kind my students have been. These examples aren't even the end of it. Let me toss in one more!
My former photography student from years past, Cole Nahlik, is a gem! The day I realized that photos of Jason Momoa as a teenager look eerily like Cole was groundbreaking!
Cole's kindness floored me twice during this school year. At Homecoming I was joking around with him about how his date (Mackenzie Lawyer jumps into the blog again!) was way too beautiful for him. He got serious and told me he knew how bad things were for me. "We are ALL here for you," he said, and I even got a hug! I almost ugly cried right there.
Then, when Student Council was selling carnations around Valentine's Day, he popped in my room with one just for me. We visited a bit and before he left, he said to remember, "We are ALL here for you."
I will end with this short note:
Dear Cole, Jadyn, Vivien, Abby, Mackenzie by proxy (ha!), BJJTV staffers, Environmental Club students, and the ALL of you Cole mentioned, I cannot thank you ALL enough for being the BEST during my WORST school year ever.
Love, ~ MT
Starting year 25 as a Journalism educator. Photographer. Mom. Nature-Junkie. Super Fan of Missouri State Parks and Conservation Lands. As a wise BJJTV alumni says, "Treat People Like People."