Come Monday* I’ll be back in in the classroom with my 21 third graders (at the moment – there’ll be more soon, I’m sure, as I teach on a military post). I’ve got some plans for the week for what we’ll do in our reading workshop and our writing workshop and our math workshop. I’m figuring out how our ancient China inquiry work will look for the next few weeks. I’m trying, really, really trying, to think about individual support and small groups that I need to meet with to help kids with their social, emotional, and academic skills. I am.
But I’m failing. A seriously hard fail.
Because my brain can’t get past how I’m going to manage 21 third graders in one classroom and keep them as safe from COVID as possible. Any other thoughts, any other plans for our time together, get interrupted by these concerns and, to be totally honest, fears.
I’d started to feel better by mid-October and into November. We’d moved to completely flexible seating and we gathered on the carpet for morning meeting and read alouds. The numbers in our school and in the other schools around us had stayed pretty low and, even when cases were happening, I truly believed the infections were coming from other places. It didn’t seem to be spreading AT school. We had lots of talk about proper mask wearing and about hand washing and that all seemed to be working pretty well.
Until the week before break. Then we had multiple cases (myself included). And in the two weeks since then it just seems to be spinning out of control. I don’t feel like I can have my kiddos return on Monday in the way that we’d been working.
I am going to have to go back to having them stay in the same seat all day. I’m going to have to go back to activities, lessons, and games all done at distances from one another. I need to be able to know who has been in close contact with who so that if, really I think when, someone tests positive for COVID, it isn’t all of us who need to pause and stay home.
I hate this for so many different reasons.
- I hate it because it is scary. None of us have been untouched by this disease in the last year and a half and seeing it spread so quickly is scary. While my 8 and 9 year olds might not be aware of exactly what’s happening, they will know something is up when our routines change. The steps I feel I have to take to keep my students safe are going to make them, at least some of them, feel worried and anxious because they’ll know the risk is greater.
- I hate it because it means I have to take away some choice and ownership from my students. I have to tell them where to sit (or at least tell them they have to keep sitting wherever they sit). I have to control their behavior in ways that I would prefer not to do. The classroom will, again, feel more like it is mine rather than ours.
- I hate it because I have to give some of my brain’s focus, at least, to safety precautions. I have to make choices based on safety instead of on learning or community or joy.
- I hate it because it causes me anxiety. I am back to feeling seriously stressed about how to do my job.
- I hate it because it impacts my ability to do other things. I don’t have the brain bandwidth to support my teammates, to communicate with families, to read and write professionally, and to enjoy time spent with my family. The thinking-about-how-to-change-our-daily-routines-to-keep-us-safe thing is front and center and shoving everything else out.
I know I’m not alone and my heart goes out to every educator and every family member who is facing this with children.
I do feel like I should point out that this is my 24th year of elementary school teaching. I’m good at this (I could be better, but I’m definitely good). I’ve spent more than two decades learning how to teach and work with children and their families. I’m not the average teacher (if only because I’ve been at this for nearly a quarter century).
AND I’M STILL DROWING THIS YEAR.
I am working super hard and not teaching anywhere near as well as I was doing a few years ago. Take a second and really let that sink in.
Teachers are working super hard.
Teachers are not able to perform in their jobs as well as they have in the past.
It’s not our fault. It’s not the kids’ fault. It’s not the families’ fault. Mostly, I’ll go out on limb and say, it’s not the administrators’ fault. We are, ALL of us, in a terrible place. And there is not an end in sight.
*That link has nothing to do with this post but as soon as I thought “Come Monday” it was stuck in my head so I thought I’d share it. For the record, I could do that a LOT more frequently as random thoughts often trigger song lyrics for me. Like, ALL the time. So count your blessings.