My friend and fellow educator Sharri Conklin recently posted this on Facebook and I invited her to post it here as a guest blogger.
One year ago, I was going to school each day, worry growing as the news updated us each day with what was coming. One year ago this Friday, our school sent us home. I held it together all day to support my students, but the pit in my stomach knew this was different than anything we had ever experienced before. I have held my students through the death of a beloved staff member, 9/11, school shootings and the daily crises that come with living. This felt different. This felt heavy in a way I had never experienced.
As I walked my students to the buses, carrying everything we could think to send home, I began to lose it. I smiled and waved to them as they drove off. When I turned around to head back in the building, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I went into a room and couldn’t stop crying.
Since then, I, along with my colleagues, have learned how to teach through the computer. We took everything we knew about how to teach and adapted it, with no training, to engage students, to keep learning moving forward and to hold social emotional lives during a global pandemic in our hands.
Each time we needed to, we recreated what we do to adapt to this new situation, all while trying to run our own households, keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy and moving forward. We bought monitors and computers and upgraded our WIFI and watched videos on how to take everything we did in person and make it accessible through the computer. We connected with families to make sure they were fed and had access to technology and WIFI. We taught students and families how to access learning without being in person with them to do so.
Some of our colleagues have since returned to their in person classrooms, some have stayed remote and some have done a combination. Some of us have been heralded, some of us vilified and all of us have felt a combination of all those feelings for ourselves at one time or another.
Good teaching is adapting. It’s what we do. Adapt to the unique learners, the new standards, the new methods, the new rules that change overnight. And we do this because we love our kids and our community.
We really don’t ask for a lot. We spend our own money, spend our own time and lose our own sleep over our jobs. We are, at once, not important enough because families can teach their own kids at home without us and so important that families can’t function if their children aren’t in school.
We get it. Life is messy and hard and changes on a dime. We get it. It’s what happens in a day, in an instant, in schools all the time when there’s a shooting or a death or a job loss of a parent or a deportation or a jailing or DCF report of abuse or systemic racism or a global pandemic. It’s emotional and it’s draining.
We are sorry this school year has been unlike any other. We are anguished that students and families are suffering. But it’s not all on us. We are fighting to keep ourselves and our families safe and sane and healthy, too.
We are sorry we can’t ignore everything in our own lives to come in person to help your family who is also suffering. Just like you, we have personal experiences and unique family situations that force us to make hard decisions. But none of us have not been working. None of us are lazy. None of us are looking for the easy way out. We are all just trying to make it through this global pandemic the best we can.
So as things in our communities change in the next months as the state forces all schools to open buildings no matter what to any families who want their children to come back, please remember we are all doing the best we can. We will remember you are, too.
Sharri Conklin has been an educator for more than 25 years. She is currently a 5th grade teacher in Amherst, MA.