Yesterday I masked up and went into a store. And right there by the entrance stood a display that gets me excited each summer – bright, colorful teacher supplies. I’d normally load up my cart with bins and pencils and materials for my incoming Pre-K students, imagining the names I’d be writing on the nameplates, eager to see their little faces and welcome them to my classroom. There is nothing I love more about my job than open houses and new supplies and sweet, little, shy kids that are on the cusp of discovering who they are this year. I love being a teacher.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has walked into the store and has seen the school supplies and had it hit them all over again – this won’t be a normal year. I didn’t load my cart up. I wanted to. I wanted to as a display of my love for my students, whether they’d physically be in my classroom this fall or not. I mostly wanted to as a sign of hope – a sign of hope that even if they aren’t in my room this fall, I am still ready for them when they do come back.
Everyone is talking about what will happen in the fall with our children’s schools.
Students are worried.
Parents are worried.
Teachers are worried.
I am a parent and a teacher, so I am worried times a bazillion, because the weight of everyone’s fears is mine. Sometimes the anxiety of what’s ahead consumes me a little more than I’d like to admit.
In the spring we quickly jumped into survival distance learning mode without any warning. We did what needed to happen for our families in a situation we had never been in before. Would it be two weeks? Would it be a month? Would it be the rest of the school year? We followed orders and obeyed new rules and did everything we could to keep our families safe and healthy by staying home and pushing through a difficult end of the school year.
Many of us had both jobs and parenting to tackle at once and it pushed us to our limits.
But, we did it.
Before summer started I was deeply saddened that we wouldn’t have the normal summer we usually look forward to. Lost trips to visit family spread around the country and time at the pool were some of my greatest grievances. We weren’t sure how we’d do this summer in a way that made us happy, but we are doing it and we’re doing it pretty well. We are finding new ways of giving our children some semblance of normalcy and fun. I am adapting, the kids are adapting.
Have you noticed how anytime you think about the unknowns of school in the fall there’s a creeping sensation that we won’t be able to do this? And how it instantly sucks up your current joy and pride in all we’ve accomplished thus far in a pandemic? We suddenly only remember the struggle of the spring. We remember the anxiety and the pain and sadness we felt in our unsatisfactory jobs and our children’s school experience and everyone’s mental and physical health. The thoughts are intrusive and scary.
But, those thoughts and feelings are an important part of moving forward. I’m learning to acknowledge them and talk through them. In the spring the best part of teaching was taken away from me – time with my students. However, we discovered some pretty great ways of keeping in touch. It wasn’t perfect, but we did it.
In the spring the changes were sprung on us quickly and we acted quickly. Now, we are slowly creeping forward with a number of scenarios being thrown at us, none of which we are comfortable with. This is our current problem and this is the scariest part – we are afraid we can’t do do it again. Some of us know we can’t. I know that many can’t. And the lack of control can be paralyzing. We are being thrown into new situations without much agency to control change.
As a teacher, I look at the fall and don’t see any good options. They all trouble me and they all steal my usual start of the school year joy. This is where my mind goes when I think about the fall – that it’s just too much to try to do.
I’m not here to tell you you can do it and it’ll be fine. But I am here to tell you that you’ve been doing it so far and if we have to keep doing things in a new way this year, we don’t need to do it alone. We can do it.
We can pool together our mental health resources.
We can pool together our academic resources for our children.
We can get creative when it comes to socialization and combating isolation.
We can support our teachers and school staff and make sure they feel safe and appreciated.
We can encourage our children as they embark on a new adventure and surprise us with their resiliency.
We can help each other out with finding childcare resources and we can definitely encourage each other when we feel overwhelmed. And please, remember if this is to be done as a community, we must include most vulnerable families amongst us.
We’ve never done whatever it is that’s going to be asked of us this fall, but we’ve done hard things this year and I believe we can do it again. Some days I feel we can because I know we are stronger than we realize, but some days I mostly believe we can because we have no other option.
I am afraid and concerned for my family and my students, but my plan is to take my fears and concerns and know that they will be moved to action just as they were before. Because quite honestly, the thought of not going into this fall with a positive mindset scares me even more. I am a weary and tired teacher who doesn’t want to lose the most amazing part of my job this year – time with your children in a safe setting. So, I, like you, will take baby steps as we move forward and I promise I will be ready for them this fall in whatever way I need to be.
It may be hard, but we can make this good.