Every day I walk into work feeling like a wounded soldier. I report to my classroom visualizing myself returning to war, day after day, with mounting injuries. I drag myself in, and muster the strength to summon the teacher inside of me who committed herself to rooting her classroom and students in joy this year. And I do it, day after day. Our classroom is a beautiful, magical place despite the devastation caused by masks, distance, continual absences and a vicious enemy we cannot see.
By the end of the day, that teacher who held the smile behind her mask, laughed with the kids and employed a million new tricks to teach in a pandemic, is exhausted. I survey the room and restore order, making sure the seats are nudged into their proper placements for social distancing. I set up for the next day. Eventually I leave, contemplating if crawling is an option. I wonder where I will find the strength for the following day, and the next.
What keeps me grounded and capable of moving forward each day, are the students, and their families who have entrusted me to teach them during this crisis. I know everything I am feeling is also felt by my students and their families. Each of us has been impacted by the pandemic in a multitude of ways. My students leave just as drained as I do. I see it in my own children, whom I often find asleep when I arrive home at four or five in the afternoon.
On the bright side, Covid-19 has eliminated homework in our class. Just getting ourselves to school, masked up and spaced apart, is a huge accomplishment. The fact that we are able to maintain these practices and continue teaching and learning throughout the day is no small miracle. It is exhausting, for all parties involved. Next, we are operating in a dynamic, fluid environment. Students flow in and out. Instruction has to be crafted in ways that make it amenable to both school and home. With no distinguishable lines between home and school, additionally assigned “homework” lacks a place in instruction. But the final reason is this – just getting through the day is a monumental undertaking. By the time I get home, the very last thing I am capable of doing is more school. While I have a home and family to tend to, my students have families they need time to just be with right now. Without the pressures of more school at home.
At this point, coming home from work, after being away from my children all day, and having to wrangle them into doing more school work is yet another disaster. No child should be doing well in school, and be penalized for work assigned to be completed solely at home, in addition to work completed during school hours. Never before have the disparities among our students’ homes been more apparent. It is guaranteed many of our students are suffering at home more than we have ever seen before. To add to this suffering is not in my job description.
I cannot control where the virus travels, who will get it, how sick people will become, who will live or die, when and how people will be vaccinated, nor when this will all end. But I can control the experiences my students have during this time. I can choose to teach with joy. I can craft experiences that fit within the health and safety guidelines I am required to adhere to. Best of all, I can send students home at the end of the day free, with the understanding that their time is their time. I can support my students’ families by refusing to burden them with my job. It is a weight I have no desire to cast upon anyone else, let alone parents, who are struggling like I am, to stay afloat.