Please allow me to write an open letter to you. We face the possibility that March 13, 2020 (or earlier) was the last time we will see our students during the 2019-2020 school year. I walked out of school on Monday, March 16, 2020, with a fellow teacher who told me: “Laura, this is not how I want to leave.” Her words have remained in my head like a thought bubble.
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We do not want any of this. Teachers live by the seasons, the ebb and flow of marking periods and holidays are our mile markers. A particularly lousy school day can last forever, but our school years often fly by. This year, everything that we plan for has halted. The school year has been postponed, possibly canceled.
There will be no more faculty meetings or student referrals. Many things just do not matter right now. Some of these things, like our need for a teacher wardrobe and our early alarm clocks, are liberating. Other things, like our fifteen minutes of coffee time with our teacher friends, we will miss. However, coffee does not matter either. Standardized tests, report cards, and dare I say, even grades do not matter.
The first area of our concern is health. We must keep ourselves and our loved ones well. Many teachers’ spouses and children will continue to work outside of the home. We will need to be vigilant for their safety. Many of us will worry about our baby boomer parents, convincing them that they, too, are mortal. Horribly, many teachers are sandwiched between teenagers and the elderly, in a mad attempt to keep both groups contained—our health matters.
A teacher friend of mine gave me advice when I was on maternity leave with my first child. She told me to take a shower and put on a little make-up. Until I took her advice amid a week of a colicky baby, did I understand how brilliant her information was, it was a lifeline. During chaos and crisis, we look for what we can control.
So, my dear colleagues begin each day with a shower. Treat each weekday like a teaching day. Give yourself a sense of accomplishment—a sense of purpose matters.
Our students need us to model our intention to carry on during this time. I challenge every teacher to connect with their students as much as possible. Many students lack internet connectivity but virtually reach out to those that you can. Show them videos of your pets, your home, your family. The classroom is not the only environment where we can be authentic with our students–connection and authenticity matters.
If you are attempting virtual learning with your students, now is the time to teach what you have always recognized are the crucial topics in your curriculum. Throw out the state requirements and embrace your professional decision-making skills. The state requirements do not matter. There will be no formal observations. No one will give you some annual professional performance review (APPR). We have known all along that those measures are bullshit. I am continuing to cover the most important content, but I am also asking my students to act as historians through recording a daily diary of this extraordinary time. This time will shape them forever, and we are their guardians.
The bottom line is that now is our time to be there for our students in ways we have never imagined and for reasons unfathomable just weeks ago.
I wish you all health, peace, and professional power.
Laura D. Brown
Social Studies Teacher
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