A year ago, I was saying goodbye to my students for what we thought would be a couple of weeks before returning. A fourteen-day break right before Spring Break didn’t sound too bad for most of us, though I was dreading trying to catch up on my Social Studies lessons. We had just finished learning about the Silk Road and were going to start learning about India.
I said bye to my students, some of them with genuine worry about what the virus would do. If you believe some people, the virus would be worse than the 1918 pandemic and would wipe us all out. Of course, then some thought it was all some hoax. But I was confident that we would be back by Spring Break.
I coach my school’s archery team, and the State Tournament was that weekend. We were unsure as we had our last practice before that weekend if the tournament would be held. Friday, we were told that the Tournament would be canceled. There would be no more archery shoots that year. And we just found out officially that our school sports are canceled for the rest of this year.
We never got to India. Instead, we were told that we would be going to a virtual after Spring Break. I spent two weeks twiddling my thumbs as we were told not to make any new assignments for the kids. I felt helpless and useless and often needed reassurance that I was not ignoring my job.
The return was rough in April. Several students, I did not see or hear from for the rest of the year. I ended up having to upgrade my internet just so that my live meetings didn’t crash constantly. The stress was exhausting, and I could see how it affected my kids as well.
One day in May, I checked in with my students to see how they were doing as we got started on our lesson. One of my girls asked, “Mr. H, how are you doing?”
I wanted to tell them I was tired and stressed. That I felt several times like I was on the verge of a meltdown. They didn’t need to hear that. They needed the reassurance of their trusted teacher. Instead, I said, “I’m doing okay, everything considered. Thank you so much for asking.”
I tried to focus on the positives. My dogs loved the fact that I was constantly home. I got around to a few home projects I had been meaning to get to when I wasn’t making lesson plans, grading, or teaching my students.
As summer rolled into fall, we were informed that we would still be virtual until October. It was disheartening, but with the high Covid numbers in my county, I was not shocked. Again, we were hopeful that we would be back soon.
A strange thing happened at the time that we were a virtual drug on. Parents that once called us heroes now accused us of being lazy, sitting at home collecting a paycheck instead of going back to work. Not all parents said so but cast us as the villains who didn’t want to go back to work and stay home.
I try to block out the negativity because I know we have a lot of back-ups. We have those people that support us. Our friends, family, colleagues. But it is hard when you have people that think we have the answers when it is up to the district and the union on what they think is best for our students.
The stress had been constant. I get headaches from staring at my screen constantly. My wife bought me some BlueBlockers, which help. I responded to student emails and questions at all hours of the day, seven days a week. I finally had to set boundaries, and tell students and parents that after a certain hour of the day I would not be available and unavailable on weekends. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but I know that I have to take care of myself and not be constantly stressed.
I finally get to go back to my classroom next month. I’m glad to go back to my classroom and see my students but still filled with anxiety. I know these kids will want to hug their friends that they haven’t seen in person before, and some may even want to hug their teachers, but we have to tell them to know. And we still have some kids whose parents have chose to stay virtual for the rest of the year (which is totally their choice).
Two months isn’t a lot of time to be back in person. But it will give us at least some sense of normalcy. So, I’m staying hopeful and hope we are somewhat back to normal during the fall.
At least we got to India this year!