I’ve seen so many positive posts about teachers going above and beyond for their students right now; caravans of teachers driving through neighborhoods waving and honking to their students, sending individual postcards in the mail with qr codes and fancy cricut cutouts. This is amazing and beautiful.
But let’s be real, I teach students with trauma. Trauma with a big T; domestic violence, sexual assault, abandonment, drug addiction. As a result, I don’t necessarily have any cute things to say right now, or fun ways to connect with students. What I do have are a few things I’ve been struggling with. Honestly, I’ve struggled with whether this should even be a blog post. Whether the feelings I am currently experiencing will resonate with others, and whether it even matters to put it out there. However, I’m holding myself accountable to dig deep into some of the feelings I’m experiencing right now and be as honest as I can about why this is a tricky time for me.The truths below are things I keep ruminating on and struggling with. My hope is that it helps you look at your own truths and find some common ground.
Truth #1: The gap widens
For students that have educated, stable parents, school shut down will mean nothing more than a blip on the radar. Sure, it might be tricky in the beginning, but a lot of families will pinterest their way to color-coded schedules and have plenty of kitchen table work space where students will be monitored throughout the day. I predict this would be an accurate portrayal of myself, when I have children. However, for the families with single parents, small apartments, lack of a support system, no internet, poor coping and executive skills, this is not a reality.
According to a recent article in the LA Times, 15,000 highschool students are currently AWOL in Los Angeles. It’s tragic. And what’s worse is the timing of this. Most likely, our students will not return to school this year. That means 5-6 months off of school; no new learning, no social time with friends, no targeted academic support. For students receiving special education and related services, this is going to hit hard. Digital learning can not replace direct instruction for a student with autism, ADHD, PTSD, dyslexia, etc. You cannot re-create social and emotional learning opportunities in google classroom. The gap will widen for children already disadvantaged and vulnerable. Will these students recover? Sure. When school is back in session, teachers will assess where students are and work from there. But the loss of instructional time is just that, a loss. It’s time that these students desperately needed and didn’t get.
Truth #2: I’m relieved to not be in the classroom.
You may think this truth contradicts truth #1, but let me explain. When I say my team and I have put blood, sweat and tears into our kids this year, I don’t mean that figuratively. We, quite literally, have put in hours upon hours of heart and soul into our students. A behavior program is not for the faint of heart. We’ve been beaten up, spit on, cussed out, blood drawn, clothes ripped to shreds, and watched our classroom being torn upside down on the regular. Don’t get me wrong. I signed up for this knowing what I was getting myself into. I’ve been doing it for years in middle school and truly love it. But let me tell you, elementary is no joke! It is so hard and it takes so much.
Elementary teachers are equal parts ringmaster and CEO. Add in unsafe behaviors and you’re drained, exhausted, and spent. This digital classroom thing is a blessing to my body and health. I feel such less stress within my body on a day to day basis. As teachers of trauma, we are hyper aware of the state our students are in; fight, flight, or freeze. But let me tell you, I feel these on the daily in my classroom. I know how to tackle the behaviors. I know where they come from. I know how to support my students through it. Yet, that does not stop me from having to tap out of my classroom sometimes, or walk away crying, or getting so damn mad that the materials I bought with my own money are being ruined, again. I don’t say this to complain, or to vent. Only to speak truth to the fact that there are a group of teachers that may be relieved right now and they don’t need to feel bad about it!
Truth #3: My expectations are out of control
Personally, COVID-19 has put my expectations on hard blast. You see, my boyfriend and I have been trying to buy a house and, with everything going on, those hopes have been put on hold. A hard hold! The spring housing market is not going to be what we thought, and mortgages might be on hold for people like us. Couple this with the stress of being ripped from the classroom suddenly, having to learn the intricacies of teaching digitally, and living life in this quarantined state...my expectations are running wild. Expectations for myself professionally; how I’m going to continue moving my students forward. How I can get the parents on-board. How I’m going to show up for my team. And don’t forget personal expectations. I need to use this extra time to work harder than ever. I have to work out every day, produce tons of content, keep the house perfectly clean, etc.
The comparison online, and within myself, is taking me to a whole new level of expectation. I want to be that teacher with students that are so sad not to be able to see me. I want families to reach out and tell me how much they appreciate all the hard work I’ve been putting in. But here’s the truth, this is all expectation, and none of it is rooted in fact. I can’t control this time in history just as much as I can’t control what my students do after I post a lesson online.
I have to stick to the facts of what I do know. This time will have lasting effects for my kids, and it is, indeed, lost. Yet, everyone will be okay. We will regroup, reconfigure, and get it all back together. I’m not going to be the best teacher through a screen, and that’s okay. I’m going to cry and scream when a parent decides to ignore my emails and calls. I’m going to feel relieved to not be hit, kicked, and spit on everyday. Yet, I’m going to grieve for the progress we’ve made and the fear of what’s next. I’m going to feel disjointed and out of sorts for a while. Yet, I’m going to find a new normal in the interim.
We have to sit in the suck of this and feel the entirety of what is happening. I’ll smile at the cute pictures on Instagram and the sweet videos of teachers waving to their students from their cars. What I will not do, though, is feel guilty that I’m enjoying being in a peaceful environment daily, or that I’m incredibly frustrated that some of my students are not doing anything during this time. This is all valid. I hope you can relate in some way to these truths. Undoubtedly, you and I will have wildly different experiences during this time, but there will always be common ground.