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Inspired Ideas

A Principal’s Humbling Experience with COVID-19

By Dr. Gerald Paterson, Principal in New Jersey

On December 15, 2020, I was going to participate in a panel hosted by McGraw Hill on Twitter. I was extremely excited to share all the amazing work my staff has done thus far during the pandemic.

In addition to offering two learning platforms, 70 percent of students were able to return to school full time, five days a week, and 30 percent of students were able to learn from a full-time virtual teacher.

Shortly before the 15th, the District decided to move to full remote due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the surrounding area and the difficulty of filling teaching positions at school.

I had spoken to my staff that day and assured them that I was very proud of what we have done thus far and how we will look back on the 2020–2021 school year and realize that this was one of our greatest accomplishments in our careers.

Though we had to go full remote from December 10th to the Winter break; my staff’s resolve was second to none. Laptops and hot spots were deployed, as well as instructional materials so students can learn alongside their peers remotely.

But, on the morning of December 15th, I woke up with a fever of 101 and cold sweats. I reached out to my superintendent to inform her that I was going to schedule a Covid test. Shortly after, I was having difficulty breathing and realized that I need to get to the emergency room. I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital’s emergency room, and within a few hours it was confirmed that I had Pneumonia and Covid-19. They ended up admitting me due to my oxygen levels and high fever. I was extremely scared because I never had been sick like this before.

The doctors had asked me who was the executor of my will; would I allow them to put me on a ventilator if need be; and if I would allow them to revive me by massaging my heart if it stops.

It was very deafening to hear those things; however, deep down inside I knew this was not my final stop.

With the amazing care of the doctors, nurses, and staff at the University of Pennsylvania, and my determination to get better, I was out of the hospital on Friday, December 18th. The level of care that I received was second to none and I can’t thank the front line workers enough.

When I got home I reflected on how many lives have been lost to this dreaded virus. In May, I lost my uncle to Covid-19. This was absolutely horrible because he was not able to be with his family as he passed.

As I continued to reflect, I began to put things in perspective.

As of December 25th, 325,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. This is equivalent to losing the population of some of our major cities in America. Refer to Table 1. These numbers are sobering and truly sad.

On December 21st I addressed my staff to let them know what had happened to me. I explained to them how Covid-19 affected me and encouraged them to continue to stay safe, wear their masks, and socially distance themselves from others outside of their bubble. As I explained to them I also indicated that I did not know how I came into contact with Covid-19.

With this said, Covid-19 is like glitter — it gets everywhere and is always messy. My best advice is the advice that has been given to us by doctors such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, wear a mask, socially distance at least six feet from each other, and avoid mass gatherings. Even with the vaccine being released, the Pandemic is far from over.

We are close to the finish line and for schools to continue to operate whether in person or remotely it is critical that each person does their part to stay safe.

Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Paterson has been an educator for 24 years. He has taught elementary and middle grade, served as a curriculum supervisor, and is currently the building principal at Clarence B. Lamb Elementary School, in North Hanover Township School District. He is a college professor at Temple University and Holy Family University, both in Philadelphia, PA. He is an avid reader of American and World history, oil painter, and enjoys fishing with his teenage son. Connect with Jerry via Twitter @DrPatersonCBL.

To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.

You can view the McGraw Hill Privacy Policy here. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not reflect the values or positioning of McGraw Hill or its sales.

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