This is the first official week that school is not in session.
“What?! You have been out of school since the middle of March? You have been in summer mode since school has been out! You get to just sit at home. The parents are the ones that are doing all of the teaching!“
Not only is this what a lot of society has been saying to me, but family even. The ignorance of people never fails to surprise me. But not only does it make me angry and irritated that people have the decency to say these things, it hurts. Plain and simple.. it hurts.
Just like the rest of the country, education has been effected by Covid. It came in hot and fast, and actions had to be taken quickly. I, along with many other educators, knew that change was coming, but no one really knew what that was going to look like. There was a lot of speculation going around about what we thought would happen, but no one (at least that I knew) thought that we were not going to ever be able to be in our physical classrooms, see our students in person, give hugs, have in-person laughter, eat lunch with colleagues or students, the list could go on and on.
My school district was going right into spring break preceding the official closure of schools by the governor. There were a few surrounding districts that had already made the decision to close school for ‘xyz’ amount of time, but nothing was an official declaration by a government branch. We were warned by our administration that a closure may happen, so try to send students home with a few more materials. That Friday after school was let out, the governor made the announcement that school would no longer be able to be held in person. This was not a decision that extended to the end of the school year, but it eventually was announced that the closure would last until the end of this 2019-2020 school year.
Not only did my colleagues, my district, my state, but teachers around the country stepped up. The teachers in my district spent countless hours during our spring break, making contact with families, making plans of actions to continue education, etc. Essentially, we went into survival mode.
This is something that Big D has always noted about me.. that when it comes down to getting something done in a crisis, I always know what to do, and I act before most have time to think. Maybe that is something that makes me a decent educator?
I saw this not only in myself, but colleagues across the country. We just acted. We had the students, their education, their families, their social and emotional needs all in the forefront of our mind. We didn’t receive any kind of direction from the government (even though we are a direct branch of the government). I believe that if we had to be stuck waiting for direction from the government, we would still be waiting.
Before curriculum even came to our minds, things like food and meals, technology, homelessness, social and emotional needs, and other services the schools provide besides the ‘teaching’ came to the minds of educators. Now this in itself really says a lot about what we, as educators, go through on a daily basis. I work in a district where we serve many homeless families, families that are not able to provide food for their children – and school is the one place those children rely on for a secure meal. Many low income families are served in our district, so the amount of services outside of ‘teaching’ is a never-ending list.
School is the one place some students rely on for a safe place, where adults smile at them, give them hugs, and love.
School provides technology to students that are not able to have that ‘basic luxury’ at home.
School is a place where some students receive counseling sessions for various reasons.
School is a place where children come to learn to break the cycle of violence in their families.
School is a place where children come to learn to control their emotions, and express themselves in a healthy way.
School is more than just ‘teaching’.
Now, all of those things are gone from students. I realize that many children are fortunate enough to receive those things at home too, but there are also many students who consider school a safe-haven. There will always be cases where something is worse, or something is better, but that does not take away from the experiences of anyone.
If we still wanted to have our students have as many of their needs met as we were able to provide, we had to act, and quick.
I had to set up a digital platform for students and families to connect and communicate. That meant that I had to create a place where we (my class) could feel as connected as possible. I did just that. One thing to remember though, is that not all of my families have access to technology. I also had to reach out to those families individually (usually on the phone) but for some, I was writing hand written letters and information to them, on an (at least) weekly basis.
Our district, along with many others, were able to provide meals to all families at different sites in the city. We were able to give some families access to a device for technology, and sometimes even a device that provided internet. This was not possible for all of the students because we do not have that amount of resources within our school or district. The school counselors and social workers stepped up to help families in any way they were able to.
All of this planning happened in minimal time. We worked together, we collaborated, we persevered. Teaching in and of itself is a very rewarding career, but teaching during Covid, reflecting on everything we went through, brings my pride of the profession to a whole new level.
Although we put in all this work on the forefront, I had to continue to have meetings with my district, my colleagues, and my families. The public doesn’t see that though, because most is done behind the scenes.
From my observations, educators are never one to brag about their successes, but you can be sure that the public is always the first one to point out their ‘failures’ (and never solutions). *eyeroll
Not only was I having meetings multiple times a day, but I also had to work on the lesson plans that my students needed to do during this time. School wasn’t declared shut down, the building was declared closed. We still had to teach and the students still had to learn.
Now, this looks different for every school, every teacher, every family, and every student. No where during this time am I discrediting the families.. the students, the siblings, the parents, and anyone else that the students worked with during this building closure. I realize that I had to create the activities and lessons for the students to do while at home, but it was put on the parents, siblings, or other care givers, to provide guidance for the students while at home. These people are not people that have had the same training on the curriculum like educators have, so I had to make sure that I was able to ‘translate’ this curriculum for families to understand. This is not to be confused with the idea that I had to ‘dumb-down’ the material, but it is written in an ‘academic language’ meant for educators. But, I commend these people that help their children. This was not something they signed up for, but they also rose to the occasion. Hats off to them! I sincerely mean that. They had a hard task at hand, and they now see a glimpse of what teachers and educators have to go through on a daily basis.
One of the obstacles that was very hard for me to overcome during this time, was some of the families that I had limited contact with. Now, this didn’t mean that they were not completing the work that I asked, but I was just not able to have consistent contact with them to help or guide in the ‘normal’ way I could as if we were in school.
But the hardest thing that I had to go through in all of this, were the adjustments.
Not only did I have to maintain my full-time job at home (which is overwhelming in itself), I had the witch baby with me all the time. Big D has a job in which is considered ‘essential’. I still split the nights and weekends with him, but it wouldn’t make sense to send the witch baby to the sitter, and pay for it, when I am at home. This is not to be confused for me not being grateful for my time with the witch baby. I absolutely love my time with him, but taking care of an infant, and trying to maintain your work flow was a task that required a lot of patience and trial and error. This was especially hard when I was in the middle of a meeting, and the witch baby wanted or needed immediate attention… let’s just say that the witch baby became a valued member of different staff or student meetings.
Another kind of adjustment that I had to make was with my mentality. I was very overwhelmed in the beginning, with not only the work aspect, but the being around the witch baby all the time, and the balance. But, when I actually sat back and reflected on the struggles I was having, I became grateful. Now, as some may know (and I will get into more during my next post) I was not able to take a maternity leave, and I went back to work only 4 1/2 weeks after having the witch baby. So this time that I got have with the witch baby, was like a maternity leave, and I got paid. And let’s face it, I would have been bored on a maternity leave and not be able to do something related to work. For those that know me, my life is never really that still.
This time at home also made me take a step back and bring a little stillness in my life, because I was not able to go anywhere. I was able to see my son every single day, watch him grow, bond more with him (this will also be brought up more during my future post), and basically create memories that he may not remember, but that I will, and wouldn’t have been able to do if it wasn’t for the building closure.
My mentality also had to take a big change because I was still a face the students were looking to for safety and security. This is nothing new, but safety and security is something these students, and families even, craved during the Covid closures. But if they saw that their teacher was frazzled and distraught, it would only reinforce the panic that they feel everywhere else in the world.
I am never one to shield information to my students. I don’t avoid topics because they are ‘tough’ or ‘hard to teach’, I think those things are the most important. I also am not one to hide feelings, theirs or mine. I believe in acknowledging all of their feelings, so they know it is ok to not feel happy all of the time. Emotions are heathy things, and deserved to be acknowledged. When they would ask me about how I was feeling, I would tell them that I had a hard time adjusting, just like I am sure that they are, but that I also have to be grateful because I am home safe with my little family and we are healthy.
Acknowledging the bad, but also looking at the positives is something that I have always taught in my class, but this year, it would be brought to a whole new level. I think we often try to brush over topics with younger kids, because we think they don’t know anything about it, or they won’t understand. In reality, those are some of the best lessons I have ever taught, and had some of the most pure and honest conversations with little minds. They are sponges. They hear and see everything that is going on in our world, and they are allowed to have feelings about situations too. During these times and conversations is when I am often brought back to reality, and realize that I am in the right career path, because these little minds are filled with so much love and understanding for the world. I believe that we should have more heart to heart conversations with children. We, as adults, can really learn something from them.
During all of this Covid lockdown, and even now, moving forward out of lockdown with Covid still present, I think it is important to not only check in with our peers, our family, our friends, but our children too. They are going through the same hardships and struggles as we are. This effects them too. They are trying to manage their life, that was also brought to shambles, and continue on, in their innocent childhood.
During this Covid closure, some parents got a glimpse of what it is like to be an educator. We obviously don’t chose this profession for the pay, we do this because we love what we do. We love the smiles in the morning, the innocent laughter of joking around, the honesty of young minds, the special handshakes, the random hugs throughout the day, the ah-ha moments when a student finally catches on to something they were working so hard on, we do it because we love these students.
So the next time you want to talk about discrediting educators, and what they do, remember it isn’t only about ‘teaching’. We spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week with your children.. the minds of the future. We are helping you raise respectable young men and women. I believe that there is a reason that students often call their teacher mom or dad.. we are ad hoc parents during the school days. I will forever call my students, ‘my kids’ because they all hold such a special place in my heart, like they were my own. I have even considered getting my foster license or adopting students to help them get a life they deserve.
This closure was not something we wanted.
We did not have an ‘extended break’.
We still had to work, and for most educators, this entailed more work and time than if we were in person.
So now that it is the first week of summer, it is hard. It doesn’t feel like summer. The end of the school year, there is always some kind of closure. There are good bye speeches given to the students, there are hugs, hand written letters and drawings from students, and faces to say goodbye to. This time, it was saying goodbye to a screen. So even though it is now summer, and this is usually what teachers look forward to, I can’t wait to get back to school. I miss my students, my classroom, my colleagues, my friends.