The week of Friday the 13th,2020- teacher social media was filled with humorous memes that made light of the fact that March is the longest teaching month, and in that particular wee0 we had a full moon and a Friday the 13th! Little did anyone know then- how the events would turn.
For many schools, that Friday the 13th was the last sau that traditional school (the same system that had been in pace for well over one hundred years came to a complete stop.
Not in one or two districts, but throughout the entire world.
The Coronavirus, Covid 19- literally brought the world to its knees and the educational system along with it ! The entire nation along with most of Europe imposed the unthinkable- quarantine. Life as we knew it became a strange combination of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day combined with every Science Fiction novel one could read.
In a day, teachers all over the world, young and old, novice and veteran- were not only expected but also required to turn a career that prides itself on relationships, nurturing, and love- to go completely virtual. Remote learning, Distance learning-you choose the name- that is what happened.
As an educator, I am in awe and filled with pride at what the teachers of the world have been able to accomplish. As an educational leader, I am amazed at how quickly schools were able to make this tremendous academic change while even managing to provide breakfast and lunches to our many students who receive free and reduced lunch. Our staff have not only come through- they have done what many might have thought impossible a just a week before.
Seeing everyone come together, Guidance counselors, deans, teachers, support staff, nurses, and the janitorial and facilities departments- has been both humbling and inspiring.
As a mother, I am impressed with my own children’s teachers and so grateful for the check ins, letters, and even drive bys that many have done.
So, now what? A month in and there is just as much, if not more uncertainty and confusion as there was a month ago. Politicians are arguing, debating over the next steps, districts are doing a plethora of different things, and anxiety has begun to set in.
It is still undecided if and when we will be going back this year as the numbers, on the East coast at least, sadly continue to rise. Seniors have now realized that their hopes and dreams for proms, graduations, and senior trips are most likely not going to happen- and teachers are wondering what is next?
How will we be able to go back? What will it look like? How will we make up for the lost education? Perhaps, most importantly, when will we go back?
All of these questions are ones that teachers, leaders, and all in education- and the world are pondering right now.
There is no answer to any of these questions…this pandemic is unprecedented, we are seriously in uncharted waters and not only in education!
Unlike the tragic events of 9/11 or the violent school shootings we have endured, the Coronavirus, unlike the others, affects everyone! And I mean everyone…on the planet! (As a former English teacher I would use a sentence such as that to explain a hyperbole). Unfortunately, for the first time – my statement is literal.
So, when considering the fact that that every inhabitant of this planet is affected, be it socially, economically, or in health, we must truly now pay attention to the effects of this pandemic – outside of the virus itself.
- How many students got the Coronavirus?
- How many lost a family member or friend?
- How many parents lost their jobs> Their homes?
- How many had no food to eat?
- How many did not have the technology to get through this crisis?
- How many abused children (and adults) are now confined to quarters with their perpetrator?
- How many addicts and alcoholics relapsed or worse yet overdosed?
- How many became alcoholics or addicts to deal with the stress?
- How are our already strained budgets going to be able to fund the additional measures, procedures, and regulations we undoubtedly will have to put into place?
- What happens when the companies providing free services such as the internet, no longer do so?
These are just a few of the effects that we must consider now!
I say this with urgency because it is crucial that we not only get the students and their families help to cope, but we must also make sure that our staff is okay. When I say okay- have they experienced any of the above? What self care measures have they taken? How can we make sure that our teachers are mentally, financially, and physically cared for so they will be prepared to handle the immens influx of issues they are facing and will face as we get closer to some sort of reopening.
Is our staff trained in trauma informed practices? Are they able to recognize the signs and when they do- know where, how, and whom to contact for help?
What exactly can we provide to make sure our staff are informed and prepared in the best way possible.
What are we doing to help teachers now?
We can not go back as abruptly as we left. Thinking of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I think of the many psychological needs not being met in experiencing something as life altering as Coronavirus.
Governors of several states in the nation have formed alliances or coalitions in order to collectively brainstorm the what, when, and how of the states opening up. I think it is in the best interest of education and educational leaders to do the same.
Though these questions have no definitive answers as of now, there are some things we can do for and with our schools and staff.
We need to come together and brainstorm this transition.
We need to share best practices.
We need to define what and how social distance will look in school.
We can not allow the transition to be as abrupt and as unstructured as our exit from tradition.
We must educate ourselves and our staff on trauma and self care.
We must find resources on mental health for all.
We need to find or create professional learning communities
We need to develop our trauma skills.
John Mc Carthy wrote a terrific article on Teacher Wellness in the April 10, 2020 edition of Edutopia. The article “Prioritizing Self-Care While Working From Home”, gives some simple ways for eduaators to begin to think about their own physical, mental, and social care- so that we will all be the best equipped we can be when we do transition back to the classroom.
Another great resource is Greater Good Magazine published by The Greater Good at UC Berkeley . The articles are free, there are podcasts and newsletters you can sign up for and resources to use that will help all on their path to well being during this most uncertain time.
All in all, there are no answers as of now. We are taking this pandemic day by day. We are living together in isolation. We are uncertain about the present and even more uncertain about the future. We will hopefully one day look back on this experience, much in the same way people view The Great Depression; a dark time in history that yielded immense opportunity and growth. Today it is difficult to look that far ahead . As humans, we often can not see the forest through the trees. What we can do however, what we can do right now is work together , brainstorm, and try to come up with a working plan. A plan that helps our staff, our students, and the educational system as a whole. One that recognizes that caring for those who care for our children is priority number one if we wish to be successful. Change is difficult for most- if there is a way we can work together to make this transition as soon smooth as possible, isn’t it our duty?