Continuing our Teaching Through the Pandemic series…
In March 2020, America’s teachers realized exactly how big of a deal the pandemic would become, the Friday before virtual learning started.
It was hard. It was confusing. At the time, I lived alone and took advantage of online offerings galore. I found myself living for the daily Facebook lives hosted by our local zoo, along with some not-so-local zoos. I supported my library’s curbside pickup efforts. I put a teddy bear in my window as part of a neighborhood “bear hunt” for kids (okay, and for grownups).
I made the best of the utter folly of teaching music via weak WiFi. Unlike my colleagues, I encouraged pet participation and showed my own. Most were eager to meet my three snakes after seeing weekly pictures of them on my class agenda slides for the past year. Under the prevailing spirit of “making the best of it,” both my schools built community with small, fun things: a nightly video featuring a staff member reading a chapter of Sideways Stories from Wayside School with a required illustration whether you taught art or not (I spent more time than I’d like to admit practicing these before recording my entry) and a “destination staycation” contest with the winning family earning a gift card to a local business.
Those, as it turned out, were the days.
Then came the hybrid teaching year, a monstrous combination of teaching online and in-person students at the same time that did little but make most teachers I know feel like utter failures at both endeavors.
A secret, reader? I would still take that over what came next.
The year of returning to completely in-person learning and the prevailing spirit was less “making the best of it” and more “pretending it never happened.”
Both of my schools were obliged to abide by the CDC guidelines, but both did so grudgingly. I felt for my principals, and still do because I’m aware that their hands are tied.
My heroes all through this, though, have been the students. They have adapted to each change with far less fuss than most adults give them credit for.
Attempting to shield them from some of the chaos and arguing, I followed suit with some colleagues’ efforts to normalize masking. Thinking of the surgical-masked stuffed unicorn in the first-grade room, I fashioned a tiny one out of Kleenex for my teacher nutcracker (who has guarded my desk since day one). I changed my email signatures to a quote from John 13: “Love one another,” each O a masked smiley face. I hurt for the students who have come to me worrying about bringing germs- plain old ones along with COVID- home to someone sick or baby siblings too young to be vaccinated, and I mask for them.
Among the staff, there wasn’t much discussion about it other than frustration about the limits we still had due to COVID protocols. There was a strong push for “normalcy.” I understand the desire, but often feel we are collectively spending more time wishing for what was rather than working to build a more equitable future.
This year will be my last for a while. This fall, I will return to my alma mater for a second bachelor’s degree, this time in music education. The teaching world is already different than when I graduated in 2016, and surely will be when I graduate again in 2025.
It’s no secret the pandemic has highlighted problems in education that were there all along, or that the whole American education system is due for a massive overhaul. Nobody can do that alone, but we can help: we can make sure every child sees themselves in our classrooms, in our libraries, and in our discussions. We can demonstrate a culture of respect for them.
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