I wake up to email #8, the district sharing the Governor's message that schools are closed for 3 weeks. This goes into our spring break, so we will not return until April 13th. I'm not sure how I feel, if I feel...
I drive to school in silence. I make no effort to change lanes when the person in front of me is driving abnormally slow. I just drive slow too.
Upon arriving the secretaries open the door for me and ask if I am in the right building. They are very welcoming, but they did not know instrumental music was there, and they are concerned I might be in the wrong place. We might have forgotten to tell them we were coming to their school.
In that moment I had so much respect for the secretaries. They are the life and blood of the schools. They were in no doubt fielding endless questions from the community of varying degrees of panic and absurdity and they were still welcoming me in with a smile. One of the downsides to working in 12 schools is that I do not feel like I have enough time in each school to really get to know the staff. I wonder if they have their own kids at home and if they themselves are not sure what their child care is about to look like, if they are about to have to homeschool their kids on top of their job. Yet here they are, smiling.
I find my team, quiet with sullen expressions. Matt shares that he was up late with his young daughter who was crying and shaking because she was scared of getting the Coronavirus. When him and his wife calmed her down enough to sleep, his wife started crying uncontrollably. I feel the reality of that story seep into my heart. Kids are scared. We are scared.
We start talking about what Matt put together in his meeting with the other heads of departments yesterday. The goal is for parents to click as few links as possible during online learning, so all the specials teachers created one website for the district. On this website you click the special you want to see, then your teacher's face. Then it redirects you to your teachers page. It looks great and makes total sense to me as for why we created it, but I already use the school's online learning platform Schoology and do not want my students to have to learn a new website if they already know Schoology. Matt reassures me that I will still be able to use Schoology. I trust him, although I do not quite see how the puzzle pieces fit together yet.
The announcement rings through the PA that all staff are to report to the LGI for our staff meeting. We walk into a room to find bagels and donuts and all the elementary teachers for the building. There are about 66 kids per grade at this school, so 3 classroom teachers a grade, K-5, plus other building staff, including the building sub, resource room teachers and all the physical education teachers for the district. There are probably 35 people in the large classroom.
Principal #11 welcomes us in and outlines the day. This part is going to last about two hours, then we have the rest of the day for whatever planning we need, he says. The powerpoint opens with a quote from one of the inspirational articles that has been circulating, THIS CAN BE OUR FINEST HOUR- BUT WE NEED ALL OF YOU. I feel the reality sink a little deeper into my chest. Then we see the "Flatten the curve" graph that has been wildly circulating on social media. Principal #11 artfully explains that we are shutting down schools to keep hospital capacity under control and help limit the spread of the disease. I feel comfort knowing we are doing the right thing and fear that while in this room surrounded by other people, we are not doing enough.
Then there is a video from the superintendent. There are murmurs throughout the room, "He looks tired." His face looks worn down, the bags under his eyes hang in dark shadows, and his body looks as though it takes effort to sit tall. I cannot imagine what his life has been like as of late. Principal #11 echoes this sentiment by explaining how central offices have been working nonstop in this uncharted territory. He explains that our superintendent had actually recorded another message after the long day planning with the heads of departments yesterday, but it had been recorded before the Governor closed all schools and therefore had inaccurate information. So he got to school at five this morning to record a new message. Principal #11 says he himself is running on zero. He is a tall, red haired man that you rarely see without a smile in the hall. I am amazed that he has managed to muster up some energy and keep the smile in his eyes.
Principal #11 makes his inspirational spiel about how online learning will never replace what we do every day in this school because, here at this school, we know that the face-to-face interactions are the most important part of education. We know that for many of our kids, coming to school is the best part of their day. He's right. And for some kids, it is how they eat, I think to myself.
One teacher asks if now is a good to time to ask a question. The room laughs, because we all have a million questions, and there is something comical about acknowledging the need for questions. Principal #11 says he will absolutely answer all the questions we have to the best of his ability and we can stop and ask him questions at any point, so long as it relates to the slide we are on. Otherwise, please be patient and write your question down for later because we will get there. The teacher writes her question down. I get ready to write my own notes.
The next twoslides are the most helpful in making our weekly expectations clear. However, these slides are directed towards the classroom teachers, not me. They have to offer a certain number of reading, writing, math, social studies, and science "mini lessons" every week. No new content. All review. The classroom teachers also must have daily class communication on school days and weekly individual student communication. Teachers start asking a lot of questions about what that means. The answer is basically that it means whatever you want it to mean. For us specials teachers, we are expected to provide one weekly lesson plan, and are not expected to have any contact with students. Connecting with students is "not our job".
Principal #11 says that he will email all parents today and tell them all their teachers will make their first contact with students on Monday and asks us teachers to please respect that and not say anything to parents until Monday. This makes it so that some teachers don't email out before others are ready, which would result in some parents asking why one child knows what will happen with their learning when another child does not. I think this a great decision and it relieves me that I do not have to have "talking to parents" brain power today. As teachers (maybe especially young teachers) know, it can take some real brain power to talk to parents. But then I remember this is only one of twelve of my bosses. I ask if all the elementary schools have this policy. The answer is no.
If you have ever been in a large meeting of teachers, you know that teachers are terrible at listening. You would think that, dealing with the daily annoyance of having to quiet students down while we are giving instruction, we would be good listeners and not talk during instruction. This is not the case. Teachers just whisper to each other during the entire meeting. I won't pretend it is not annoying. I am pretty good at tuning it out, but I do get a little annoyed when teachers start raising their hands to ask questions that have already been answered. We are such hypocrites.
At some point the room starts exploding with questions and concerns. One teacher wants to know what the point of all of this is supposed to be. "Is it just to keep from having to go to school longer? If we are halting all curriculum and not teaching new material is that really the point of education? To get out of teaching?" Another teacher chimes in, "What if the students have two working parents? Who is supposed to do these lessons with them? I'm a teacher and I don't know how I am going to have time to do this with my three kids!"
If I were to type out every question and concern that was laid out by these teachers and every response that came the length of this post would be rivaling a Naomi Klein book. The basic motto that answered every question was, "Doable, attainable, and not too much." Kids do not have to follow the learning schedule, we are not holding them accountable to this. The district is working on a plan to get WiFi to homes that do not have it as well as a plan to get kids food that need it.
We eventually disperse from the LGI to go meet with our teams. Some groups walk out with cheers like "WOOO THIRD GRADE WE GOT THIS" while others wobble slowly like they just got off a roller coaster. My team does not say much but we share a side smile or two when a 5th-grade teacher jogs by saying, "GET PUMPED."
I am worried about this next part because, just like any team, we do not always agree on things. But the nature of the moment seems to have sparked a new current between us. Three of the four of us are in rapid back and forth, organizing what to do. It's too many words that I can't wrap my head around. I need to see what needs to happen. I start a shared file where we list everything that needs to be done. Joe has not said anything yet. His eyes look like he's starring at a brick wall and his face is paler than normal. I ask if he's okay. He shakes life back into face and joins in the conversation.
The next few hours are spent deciding on lesson plans, calling rental shops to see if they will be open to fix kids instruments as needed, and navigating technology. Email #9 comes in, saying teachers do not have to report Monday or Tuesday.... Secretaries do.... Building will be open to grab materials... Online learning is to begin WEDNESDAY. These are good updates. Now I do not have to worry about some principals telling me one thing and other principals another. But my heart does sink a little knowing I really will be losing any routine I might have had for getting out of the house. I was actually looking forward to just being at one school all the time and actually getting to know my colleagues. This could have really bonded people together.
By lunch we have a plan for the first week. We talk about going out for lunch. Everyone slowly agrees we can just eat the lunches we brought... no need to go out there...
At one point in our conversation, I tell my team that my parents were supposed to visit this weekend. "I don't know when I am going to see them again," I say casually. As the words come out my body seems to realize how that statement is anything but casual. I feel tears come to my eyes but they do not escape.
After lunch, Joe and I record backing tracks to all our pieces. There's still more we can do, but I can tell Joe is just done. He heads home for the day. I do a few more things and then pack up to go.
As I am walking out, a 5th-grade gives me a big smile and says, "See you in a month!" I give a weak smile back. Now I can feel the tears more aggressively moving to my eyes. I hand sanitize and walk right out the door. Just make it to the car before you cry. Just get to the car. Don't cry yet.
Before I started my first-year teaching, several people told me that there would be days where you cry in your car. They told me it would be okay. I don't think this is the situation they were talking about.