This has been a tough semester for teachers across the country, and Adam Shrager is no exception. But a very sweet gesture from his students made it so much better.
Shrager, 54, teaches in New Jersey at Hopewell Valley Central High School by day, then at the College of New Jersey in the evening. On Wednesday, he taught his last statistics class of the semester at the college, and it's one he'll never forget.
"I logged into the class and I’m faced with a sea of blank screens, and this is absolutely not status quo, my students turn their videos on for every class," he told BuzzFeed News.
At first, he thought he was having internet connectivity issues, but then all at once each student's camera turned on and each one was holding up a sign thanking Shrager for being such an awesome teacher.
The moment was captured in a TikTok recorded by student Veronica McClosky.
The signs have messages like, "You are in the 99th percentile of my all-time favorite professors" and "Thanks for being the GOAT." Many others just had a simple but sincere "thank you."
For Shrager, it was a total surprise and one that he found very touching after what he said has been the toughest semester of his career.
"I was so moved, and it was so beautiful. My response was so genuine," he said. "I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but it was genuine message acknowledging this Herculean effort that it took to teach this class in this environment."
He shared why it so meaningful in a Facebook post.
"I literally sit and I stare at the computer all day to talk to people. And everything I do now — grading papers, meeting kids, having office hours — everything is on the computer, and that’s not why you teach. It’s not what this job is," he said.
Unlike last semester, he has never gotten to meet any of this semester's students in person. The student who organized the surprise, Katherine De Oliveira, told BuzzFeed News that Shrager has done his best to overcome the difficulties of Zoom classes.
"From the beginning of the semester, he was always so positive, so caring for his students. He’s very observant as well, and if, like, a stranger would pass by, he’d want to know who it was," she said.
"Throughout the semester, we’ve talked to people’s little siblings. We’ve seen pets. We’ve watched sunsets together. Things like that that just extended beyond the material."
De Oliveira said she got the idea for the surprise after their second-to-last class, and proposed it in her and her classmates' group chat. She wasn't sure how many people would actually do it and was happy to see that pretty much everyone had a message for Shrager.
What no one expected was just how viral the surprise would go. The TikTok of the reveal now has nearly 5 million views, and the video reached the very top of the Reddit homepage. It even spawned a new subreddit, r/MadeMeWantToTeach.
"I’m just grateful and humbled, but I think the best part was seeing how it helped people just have a little more light to their day," said De Oliveira.
Shrager said he's surprised and humbled by the internet fame and that he's received positive messages from all over the world, especially from teachers.
"I’m so flattered that it was captured, and it was made into this beautiful little video," he said.