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As I sit here to write this piece, it’s 5:09 pm on the east coast and I have just made it in after a long day of preparing to be out of school for at least two weeks due to the Coronavirus pandemic occurring around the world. While the world has seemingly broken into a panic- buying groceries, stocking up on medicine, stockpiling supplies, and acting as pseudo-scientists on social media, I have been the calmest I’ve been in at least five years. Even after staying up almost all night to create digital lessons for all 150+ of my students, I have been calm knowing that starting Monday, I will have some room to breathe and just teach.
That’s right, the impending health scare has just saved my mental health.
Before the Coronavirus, I was on the edge. I was overworked with all of the increasing demands with state testing approaching and my administrators worried about meeting adequate yearly progress. Parents seemed to be getting more demanding by asking me to spend hours after school to help their child pass the class and increasingly getting annoyed as I attempted to put some barriers in place. All the meanwhile, students were checked out with all of the testings they endure on a weekly basis. We were all weary and frustrated with what learning/school had become.
However, right when I was thinking about giving up, a ‘Hail Mary’ came from out of nowhere and saved me, my students, and my school community. On last Thursday, my school district announced an immediate closing to help combat/contain new cases of Coronavirus.
Starting Monday, I will have a new reality. Instead of waking at the crack of dawn to get dressed, sit in traffic for forty-five minutes, navigate the politics inside a building that’s focused on more high stakes testing and appeasing parents, I will be able to open my laptop and actually teach. Yes, there are sure to be technology setbacks, but those I can anticipate.
Starting Monday, instead of having to hide my disdain for high stakes testing, I can essentially ignore it and just teach. The reality is that school is out for at least another two weeks, but if we look at what’s happening in Italy and China, we could easily be out of school for months. There’s even been guidance given that school districts should shut down for eight weeks and relax testing mandates. For many of my teaching mates, this is a miracle that not only helps students but is drastically needed for teachers to ten to their mental health. Our school usually tests in April and May- even though our district has not said this, it’s likely that school testing will take a ‘back seat’ to actual student learning during these difficult times. For once, we will not have to sit in faculty meetings and hear the endless banter of how we will be graded by how well students do on tests that they see once a year. By this unprecedented move, the mental health of teachers has been saved-even if temporarily, to make school less about a test and more about learning.
As I have prepared learning packets, updated my classroom website with online resources, and counseled anxious children, I’ve realized that there’s an eery calm in my communication with parents. No longer are they demanding hourly updates on student’s grades and wanting conferences to ask for additional points, but there’s a sense of calm and community that I honestly I have not seen in a while. Parents are allowing us to meet the needs of students and are giving us space to ‘figure things out’ all while supporting us. Maybe it’s the realization that for the next two to eight weeks (depending on who you ask) parents are realizing that while teachers will be delivering online lessons, they will be sharing the responsibility of educating their children. This realization for them (and I) has been one that has given me relief and confidence as an educator and has helped lift the stress of being the sole educator of my students.
As I relish in our new normal, I have spoken to some of my friends in administration and they also are relieved-not because they’ll be able to sit at home and ‘relax’ but because once they’ve figured out the logistics of this new digital world, they’ll no longer have to spend 12 hour days at school waiting until the last student is picked up. They will not have to worry about how to navigate the angry parent or district official waiting in their office first thing in the morning nor will they have to worry about how to mass test all of our students with a limited amount of computers in the building. Through this move to move to a digital curriculum will help save the mental health of our administrators.
Right now my district is scrambling to set up mobile cafeterias to feed students, pass out 1:1 technology for students, and figure out how online grading/teaching is done. This is a welcome change from just sending directives to schools and now attempting to solve problems. Yes, we are early in the process, but right now I feel good about returning to my (virtual) classroom tomorrow and actually being able to teach my students. We’re early in these strange times and I wonder how did we get to the point that a pandemic helped save the mental health of teachers like me.