You have made it to the end of the year which I'm pretty sure is burned into your brain as the worst in your career. But I am hugely impressed.
You did a lot of above-and-beyond things this year. All that retooling of lessons and materials for zoomification. All the driving of paper packets out to BFE so that the kids living in a shack without indoor plumbing or wifi could still do the work (which they mostly didn't, but you still made that possible for them anyway). The time you spent going in to school so that you could hand out lunches which meant not only that the kids could eat but that they could get the food from a friendly teacher face. The many phone calls you made just to try to find all the students and their families.
Then the district opened the building after half-developing some policies which they then sort of followed, but you went in there and did the work and did your best to watch out for the kids, including the ones who were "challenging," in ways that I'm pretty sure would have been far more manageable in an ordinary year. The pandemic demanded both more instructional invention and emotional support for students and teachers alike. You stepped up.
You said that the end-of-year gifts from students were a little different this year. More heartfelt. I wonder if the zooming didn't make them more personally close to you, or if they simply appreciated how hard you worked at it this year.
That would make sense, because you were a beast this year. You worked so damn hard, even when you didn't know what was going to happen next, even when you didn't know if the students were even seeing or hearing what you were doing, even when the country and the state provided no leadership or guidance (like, for some reason, this is one time they don't want to micro-manage you).
It was a physically and emotionally taxing year, and you looked out for your colleagues, and you still took care of your family and managed something like a life beyond school.
I know that what looms large for you is all the times you fell short, the lessons you didn't get to teach, the students you didn't connect with, the things you always look at and say, "If I were a better teacher, this would have gone better." You got an email of appreciation from the parents of one of your challenge students, and instead of fist-pumping the air and yelling, "Yay me," you cried because you don't think you did enough for that child.
But I'm telling you that you were a damn hero this year (well, every year, but especially this year) and that you managed to make an omelet in the middle of a tornado and assemble an origami giraffe while on the back of a bucking bronco. You took care of your kids--and taught them--in the midst of chaos, with far less help than you deserved. Rest up. You've earned it.
It's possible that I have one particular teacher in mind here, but I figured I'd post this for all the other teachers to whom it applies.