Controlling Fear

When I was pregnant with my children I didn’t drink any alcohol (aside from one glass of bubbly at my husband’s PhD graduation luncheon). Intellectually I knew that a drink every once in a while wasn’t a concern, that the danger to the fetus comes from regular, heavy drinking, it didn’t matter. Knowing something intellectually wouldn’t have stopped me from feeling shattering guilt if there had been any health issues with either baby. I would have blamed myself. I could control not drinking alcohol. There were so many factors that could impact my babies’ health that I couldn’t control. I was going to hold on to the ones I could. I’ve been feeling similarly for nearly a year now. We went back to school in person in March of 2021. Since then, for the past ten months, I have struggled with how best to do multiple things all at the same time:
  • teach third graders (I’ve done that for a few years so it seems like it shouldn’t be that big a deal)
  • keep third graders (and myself and my colleagues and the other students in my building and my third graders’ families) physically safe from COVID
  • support third graders in dealing with whatever emotions, and possible trauma, have impacted them throughout this pandemic
  • help third graders ‘make up learning loss’ from the beginning of the pandemic
  • and all the other hats elementary school teachers wear on a normal basis
I feel like I did when pregnant, grasping at ways to keep my students safe, even when so much of it is out of my control. They could get hurt anywhere. They could catch COVID anywhere. In fact, given where I teach, I think they are more likely to catch it elsewhere as at school we require masks, have done a good job distancing when kids are eating, and are a highly vaccinated population. None of that matters. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to keep my students safe while they are in my care, whether I truly have control over things or not. Right now, just like back in March 2021 and again in September, everything I think about for school is through the lens of COVID.
  • Flexible seating is out (again) because we can’t contact trace if the kids change their seats all throughout the day.
  • What should I do about breakfast? Should I assign seats when kids arrive so that the ones eating are spread out around the room?
  • Can we gather on the carpet at all? Can we do a small part of our morning meeting there together, keeping it under 15 minutes? Or should we stay at tables all the time?
  • Can kids get beanbags and pillows for reading if they are more than 6 feet away from classmates? Do we have enough space to do that?
  • Can they take their masks off at recess?
  • Can I meet with small groups? Should we meet on the carpet to spread out rather than at my table? If we meet on the carpet, will it be so loud other kids can’t focus?
  • Do I need to turn my picture book read alouds into slides so the students can see the pictures from their seats all around the room?
  • And on and on and on and on…
It’s overwhelming and exhausting. We were virtual in 2020-2021 for six or seven months. It was far from ideal. I could spend all day listing the ways my students didn’t get what they needed academically and socially and emotionally. I saw it with my own teenagers. So I get the urge to keep kids in schools. I love teaching kids in person. Normally, anyway. Right now, feeling the love is a bit tougher. Right now, in school doesn’t look like it did two years ago. At all. That was true when we went back in person in March 2021 and it’s even more true right now. With the current rates of infection, we’re going to have kids and adults out A LOT.

I’ve been tracking positive cases in my health district since March 2020. You can see, in the last three weeks or so, how cases have skyrocketed.

What happens when kids have to stay home because they test positive? We stream to them but we aren’t moving virtual so we’ll just be live streaming our classrooms. We aren’t modifying for virtual kids the way we did last year. It’s hard to imagine that being super meaningful to a kid sitting at home. What happens when we don’t have enough adult staff to have a functioning building? We can put kids in with other classes, but only to a certain point. It sounds like a possible plan is to have kids in large spaces (cafeteria, gym, auditorium, library) doing asynchronous work, if it comes to that. It’s hard to see that being super meaningful. The goal to keep kids in school seems to be simply to be sure they are in school. It won’t be that in school is actually participating in learning and socializing in the normal ways. But they’ll be in schools so families won’t have to worry about what to do with them. All of the arguments being stated for being in school won’t actually apply to what school is likely to look like for the moment. When I am able to give the #OpenSchools folks the benefit of the doubt, I think that they really don’t understand what open schools are really going to look like for a period. When I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt, I just get angry.

This is one (of many) example. I want to believe that UNICEF sees the choice as virtual learning or in person learning the way it has always looked. That’s not the choice.

One reply

  1. Jen, we are very much on the same page. As I follow developments across the US and see teachers being asked, once again, to bridge impossible divides and put their own safety and that of students and others aside, I’m drawing a blank. I don’t have any new brilliant ideas or solutions. Instead, what I see are power plays and posturing that are beyond our individual control. Politicians, citizens, corporations… all clamoring for and demanding the things we can’t actually have: an end of the pandemic. And since we can’t have that, they insist on greater and greater sacrifices from those with the least power to say no.
    The UNICEF tweet really sent me over the edge. As a global organization, to assert that claim with no attention to context and highly variable conditions, is simply irresponsible and yet it holds so much weight. It’s a hammer being brought to bear on those who have fought all the way through to continue schooling in whatever way it was deemed safe and possible. I hardly know where to go with my frustration, although my own context seems less dire atm.
    Thank you for writing out exactly what it takes (out of us, from kids) to be the last-thought-of foot soldiers in a battle we’re told to fight but can never win. I’m sorry we’re in this fix. Sending you strength and also many warm thoughts,
    Sherri

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