Yesterday, after the announcement that school buildings in Virginia would be closed for the rest of the year, my 13 year old asked, “Do you think I can delete the tree observation tab from my bookmarks?” The ongoing observations of a tree are not a highlight for my kid’s seventh grade year. Deleting that from the bookmarks clearly felt good. We laughed at the unexpected idea that there were things we would like about school buildings being closed. We’ve thought so much about all we’re missing and the things we are not liking, that it felt good to find something positive. Even something as small as deleting a bookmark.
In what was, even before this virus and even before being out on administrative leave, the hardest year in my teaching career (and it’s my 22nd year in an elementary classroom so there’s plenty of competition), there have been unexpected highlights. There have been hidden gifts of joy, of validation, of appreciation, of love.
Administrative leave was hard for different reasons than this current reality. I was isolated. I could not be in contact with my students. I didn’t feel I could explain to families what was going on (as I didn’t want to put the student in the center of it all in any kind of tough situation with friends or neighbors). Even communication with my colleagues was challenging. It was an emotional roller coaster and most of the emotions weren’t positive. But in that time some of my students’ families reached out and the way they did so was generous and thoughtful and kind. I know Child Protective Services interviewed many of my students and families were contacted so that was not a secret. (Especially as the school where I teach is on a military base and is very much like a small town in many ways.) When families reached out they simply asked how I was doing, hoped things were okay, and shared that I was missed. It was the kindest thing they could have done and it meant so much.
My administrative leave began just before the winter holidays. So I didn’t see my students from mid-December until mid-February. Coming back from two weeks of winter break is always challenging but coming back without your teacher and with no sense of what is going on or when or even if she’ll be back, is even tougher. My principal put an amazing substitute in my classroom and that made a huge difference for which I will always be grateful. Several weeks in to January, after I’d been out two or three weeks, the reading teacher began supporting during our language arts block. She was impressed by our reading and writing workshops.Under normal circumstances that would be lovely but I also know how much support I’ve had over the years in building our workshops so they better be pretty good by now. But in this moment, when I hadn’t seen the kids in weeks and hadn’t been there to help reestablish our routines after the winter holiday, it was a precious gift. The fact that my third graders had such solid reading and writing routines in place that they continued in my absence was amazing to me. (I hope they keep reading and writing now!)
Right now my district is taking this process slowly and I’m grateful. We’re in our second week of being home and I have time and space to think through how best to support my kiddos and their families. We use a Google Classroom and I’ve been sharing things there. I’ve shared pictures of nature taken on walks with my family. I’ve shared picture book read alouds. I’ve shared links to fun activities they might enjoy. It’s become a place where kids are talking to each other and to me. It’s not the same, but I’m grateful for it.
Each week I’m emailing families all together with reminders about places they can find resources or their kids can find activities and learning. In the past 24 hours I’ve heard from multiple parents about how sad their children are to be home and how much they miss each other and me. I think that’s likely true for the great majority of kids and teachers but it is still nice to hear. Hearing from parents about the joy their children have about learning this year is even better though.
I had barely half a year with my students, between the administrative leave and now this. I counted the days and I think I was with them for 94 days out of a 180 day school year. It is amazing to think these little folks have imprinted themselves so firmly on my heart in that little bit of time.
That’s our classroom now and how it will remain for the rest of the year. Ready for kids, but lacking them.