From a High School Teacher: Starting a new year during COVID-19.
As a high school Spanish teacher, the two questions that everyone has been asking me this summer are “Are you stressed out about going back to school?” and “Do you know what returning to school will look like?” The answer to both inquiries is no. My personal approach has been not to hyper plan or stress out, especially since I don’t know what school will look like come fall, and I don’t anticipate knowing until much closer to the start of the year. I have been spending my summer in a state of limbo. As I think many of my colleagues would agree, we’re learning all about limbo. For me, it is a state made up of equal parts waiting fornews from my school or state, wondering how my career will change this fall, missing my students and my teaching profession, and making peace with concerns Ihave no controlover. It is this last element of the mix I reflect on the most.
COVID-19 has turned the world of traditional schooling upside down. First, let’s think about the mask and teaching. My favorite part about my job is the daily human interaction with students and other staff members. Let’s face it. Teaching depends on facial expressions and all forms of communication. The thought of teaching Spanish in a mask saddens me. I know it is important for safety, and I will of course follow all guidelines faithfully. But I still can feel sad about that extra physical barrier the mask adds for my students trying to learn an already foreign language and for me trying to hear them. The idea that my students won’t be able to read my full facial expression makes me worried that building trust will take more time, and that effective teaching will take longer.
Another concern is dealing with the subtle havoc that has already been wrought by the virus on students’ preparedness and level. I already know I will be walking into a situation where students wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to complete the full curriculum of their courses last year, and I feel pressure to make up for this.
Concerns don’t stop there. The pandemic has highlighted inequities across the country in our school systems more than ever before. I am thinking about my coworkers who are also parents to young children, and how they might navigate returning to work while many daycares remain closed. I fear for younger students who will naturally need more guidance if school were to be online, and I wonder how they will be supported. What about students with special needs? What does returning to school look like for them? Not to mention the general health and safety concerns for anyone in a school building this fall.
These challenges don’t scare me or make me overly anxious, but they feel like a swirling number of interrelated concerns that I don’t have much or any control over. And in my state of limbo, they become motivations. They ignite a fire within me to show up for my students, parents of students, and fellow staff members even more than before. Amid all this apprehension, I also find immense hope. I have witnessed teachers make creative and hilarious videos at home as a means to connect with their students. I have watched fellow staff members commit to growing their computer skills in order to execute successful online classes. There have been countless online webinars and message boards of educators sharing any and all tools they have. Students have started checking in on each other while taking charge of their own learning. The most visible outcome from this past spring is that together we can navigate through anything.
If you are a student or parent who is feeling distressed, know that your teachers are ready to do everything in their power to help you have a successful school year. I am so eager to meet my students, and I am thrilled to start building community with them. I truly believe that school can offer a mental reprieve from all the uncertainty we have faced lately. My message to students, parents, and staff is that I am rested, I am ready, and I am excited! Let’s have an awesome year. The bottom line is this—I miss my students. I want to get back to doing what I love the most: teaching.