I want to start this post by acknowledging that any perceived complaint in this post does not negate the fact that I continue to be most concerned about so many others in our world. I consider myself one of the luckiest- to be in my home safely.
On Wednesday, March 11th, I checked my email while my students were in Art class. The question on everyone’s minds seemed to be the same, “Are we going to shut the school system down? How long would it last?” We had all watched the news in shock. A supposed ‘community-based cluster’ was just ten miles down the road in New York. It is just a matter of time. I thought to myself as I got a strange knot in my stomach. The writing was on the wall- it was incredibly likely that we would be shutting down. Our school district was asking us to prepare e-learning packets of work for each student to go home by the end of the day. I think my teammates and I probably made more copies in that day than we had all year. We tried to remain calm, but we wanted to make sure every child would have everything they needed in the event of shutdown. Our district-level administrators were making sure that every child would have access to a computer and internet in the event we had to shut down. It was nothing short of miraculous to see how quickly everyone came together.
As I walked to get my students from art, I felt so many things. Panic, stress, worry. I’m not the kind of person who deals well with uncertainty. I kept walking as I rehearsed my math lesson in my head. Okay, we need to practice these Penny Jar Story Problems a little bit more. We need to finish Number Corner. I need to progress monitor a few students on their individualized math goals. I greeted my students at the door of the art room with a big smile on my face. A smile tends to be my go-to facial expression no matter how I’m really feeling inside. As we walked back to our classroom, I made a decision.
“Once we finish our math work, we are going to stop and take 15 minutes to play.”
“What are we going to play?” an excited voice shouted out.
“Anything you want.”
“Can we use the art supplies?” another voice chirped in.
“Sure!” I said.
“Can we use the legos?”
“You can use anything you’d like in the classroom so long as you promise to enjoy this time with your friends.”
So that is what we did on March 11- the day that ended up being our last day in first grade. I am getting increasingly emotional the older I get. As I scrounged for all the copies I needed to complete the e-learning packets, I looked out and saw my classroom filled with happy first-graders. They were laughing, creating, playing, and enjoying time being together. Even as I re-read this post, I get teary-eyed thinking about it.
It makes me feel so sad to know that millions of children in our country as missing out on these opportunities to learn, laugh, create, and grow alongside their peers. Seeing the children on a computer screen just isn’t the same thing. I miss the noisiness of our classroom. I miss the exhausted feeling at the end of the day. I miss listening to a child struggle through a math problem and cheer when he finally gets it. I miss the fist bumps, high-fives, and hugs that make me realize my life is filled with so much joy because of these first-graders. People often ask “how” I do it. How do you teach first graders? It must be so hard! While it is never easy, I assure you- spend a day in my classroom and you would feel like the lucky one to be surrounded by these children each day.
So here we are with our “new normal”, and there is so much I don’t like about it; faces behind computer screens, excessive screen time, the feeling of burdening parents with school work. I will say that I have learned the incredible power of teamwork during online learning. I am creating lessons alongside my colleagues and growing in my craft and creativity. I am forced to think outside the box and ‘go with the flow’. What I do know is this; children are resilient. Teachers will come back from this, too. We will be stronger, more compassionate, and better teachers. We will ‘fist-bump’, high-five, and hug again. Until then, we’ve got to just keep on swimming upstream.