Some advice to help calm your nervous mind.
I was recently honored by a request to do an interview as a teacher representative of my district regarding school reopening. It was a surprise for many reasons: receiving the invitation the day before; receiving the invitation at all; having only an hour to get my disaster, otherwise known as my classroom, into shape before the reporter arrived; and having to demonstrate a lesson among them. Fortunately, it was a relatively painless process. During the interview, Alyssa Kratz asked me if I was nervous about coming back to school.
“I’m nervous, I am,” I said. “I would hate to think that anyone would get sick on my watch.” I have said this numerous times before. It’s just the first reason why waiting for the first day is so nerve-wracking.
1: We Don’t Know What Is Going to Happen
As I have been running through the scenarios in my mind, the only conclusion I can come to is: We don’t know what is going to happen. That said, I have also decided that I am going to have faith in the learning community. After the interview, I said I have faith in everyone.
“I’m going to believe that everybody is going to do their part and we’re going to get through it. Because we’re going to take care of each other, and we’re going to take care of ourselves,” added Edick.
To have that faith is the only way I know to quell the fears I have about something going horribly wrong.
Therefore, my advice is to have faith. Be kind and patient. Give grace. Additionally, you can be kind and patient while also being firm and consistent with rules that protect everyone’s health and safety.
2: Teachers Aren’t Counselors, So How Do We Address Our Students’ Trauma?
Over the summer – indeed, even before the last marking period of 2019–2020 ended – numerous members of the education community sounded the alarm about student trauma. We heard some terrible stories, including those about domestic violence increasing during the “stay-at-home” period. We heard stories about parents losing their jobs. We heard stories about older siblings caring for younger siblings, having to sacrifice their learning to support the younger children. We heard stories about students’ frustration with a new learning model thrust upon them.
Then, we heard about the inequities of education in this country. So many children and teachers did not have the tools to transition to virtual teaching and learning. They had to make do with what they had, and everyone suffered. I hope the education community will address these inequities, as they have been a problem in education for too long. Funding disparities should be eradicated. Everyone should have equal access to the excellent tools available, not just the fortunate districts who can afford them.
The most heartbreaking news focused on food insecurity. My district and many, many others provided lunches to families each day during the last marking period. They will continue to distribute lunches to those who chose virtual learning this fall. I am so proud to be part of a district that considers addressing food insecurity to be a priority.
When I told my son about the lunch program in our district, he said, “How is it that in this rich country we have so many hungry people and so much money in so few pockets?”
As Cassandra Fox said in her brilliant article: “You’ve got to Maslow before you Bloom.” A learning team cannot work on teaching and learning until all members feel physically and psychologically secure.
Teachers were traumatized too. Many teachers have young children they needed to teach while also teaching their students. Teachers struggled with the new instruction model. We were working with changes to policy daily. Some teachers, I think, also had to deal with domestic troubles, and may have partners who lost their jobs. It was difficult all around.
How do we deal with all the trauma then, while also staying in our lane? We are not licensed counselors. Before I was a teacher in traditional K-12, I taught at a residential facility for those in the juvenile justice system and with an alternative education program. One of the first things I learned was to report observable facts, not try to diagnose the person, and never dispense advice. As a teacher, it was my job to report what I could see to the appropriate personnel.
My advice on this is simple. Prepare the tools and develop the routines you will use to demonstrate compassion and caring. Ask the students every day how they are doing, but teach them not to share too much personal information. Deal in adverbs and adjectives, rather than details. For example, they can share they are feeling down, and request to see the guidance counselor (which should be arranged immediately). Alternatively, they could share they are feeling hopeful today, or they are feeling better than yesterday. Perhaps create a form with suggested “feeling words.” At the end of the form, ask them if they would like to get an appointment with the guidance counselor. Make sure the form is private, so other students cannot see the responses.
You can also integrate some Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) activities into your curriculum, but I advise that you are very careful and use activities from reputable sources. There are many such sources out there. Don’t try to create activities unless you are experienced with SEL. In fact, I would look to your district for guidance on SEL activities.
Show you care about them by being you. Teachers enter the profession to help others. You are a wonderful person: caring, kind, generous, thankful, and loving. Show them yourself, gain their trust, and develop solid relationships with your “kids.”
If you have these tools and routines in place for the first day of school, you will feel more secure.
I would like to thank everyone in the education community for their response to the crisis and their continued efforts to, essentially, reinvent education as we have known it. There are so many brilliant minds involved. We can make this work and we will if we take care of each other and ourselves.
Best wishes to everyone for the best school year ever.