Friday, March 13th, 1:45 p.m, Trinity School. 70-something 5th graders gather in the hall to have a dance party, but dammit, the speaker won’t work. The speaker won’t work. You can’t have a dance party without a speaker! Try telling that to a group of 5th grade boys so connected that they come up with almost identical writing topics when given a surprise free write assignment.
“Play ‘Single Ladies’! Play ‘Single Ladies’!!!!”
‘Single Ladies’ plays and the boys sing and dance, dance and sing.
The girls roll their eyes.
“It is now time for 2:00 o’clock carpool. Teachers, please log onto School Pass.”
And just like that everything we knew about school was over.
Flashback March 4th The faculty meeting where we hear the Head of School tell us that we might be looking at some days away from school. Nothing solid, nothing definite, but it’s a possibility.
Flash forward March 9th. Morning Meeting with our students.
“It’s possible that we’re going to have to stay home for a few days. Maybe a little longer, two weeks tops.”
We tell the kids, “This is something you’re going to always remember. This is the thing that when you’re an adult people will ask you where you were when the Corona Shutdown happened, and you’ll say that you were a 5th Grader at Trinity School.”
Flashback March 11th. 8 teachers sit together putting together a week’s worth of assignments. Laughing, but taking it seriously. We are putting together assignments for our students that they can do at home that will be similar to what we’d be doing at school. ‘A week, two weeks tops.’ floats through our minds, but there are some quiet, sinister voices that say different.
Monday, March 16th Distance Learning begins. Our Google Drives are in use as they never have been before. Students use this to do turn in the work they’re doing that we assigned. Checking over each assignment, making comments, checking off on Google Spreadsheets which students have completed what.
I meet with Jill Gough and Bridget Billups on Google Meet, a new-to-us platform on Monday, March 16th. Isn’t it fun! Look! There they are! It’s the future the Jetsons promised us, minus the flying cars. This is what we will be using to see our students because we are staying home two weeks, and the second week we will start seeing our students in our virtual classrooms.
We Meet and make plans. We Meet more and plan more. We fill in schedules on Google Docs. We make hyperlinks to Google Docs and Loom video presentations (another new platform!) We meet more. Nervous laughter. Frustrated grumbles over Internet blips; frozen screens, echoey voices, connections that don’t connect.
Week 2 we see our students for the first time on screen. We laugh, we talk, we tell them they’re doing great and assure them that we’ll be back together soon. Little do we know.
Weeks 3, 4, 5, 6. Meeting, planning, emailing, texting, Face Timing holding onto the thinning thread of hope that we will go back and we will be with our students and EACH OTHER again. We spend hours and hours with each other 5 days a week. We are a support system for each other.
We hear we will not be coming back.
We will not be coming back.
Not coming back.
Weeks 7 and 8 continue as the others have, and here’s the thing. Here’s the thing:
Our students are doing awesome work, and they have been this whole time! All the foundations laid before the Corona Shutdown are fully evident. We are proud. We are amazed. These digital natives have taken this new format and said, “Okay, yeah. We got this.” And they do!
Don’t get me wrong. They want to come back. Videos shared with us showing a 5th grader wailing/whining, “I WANT TO GO BACK TO SCHOOOOOOL!” But they are doing great work. Not busy work. Not just reviewing what they’ve learned already this year. New material. New skills and strategies.
These teachers I work with. Holy cow, these teachers! These co-workers. These friends of mine. I can’t sing their praises enough. Mothers of young children also in school and too young for school. Single adults at home by themselves with just their sweet pup for company. Wives of husbands whose jobs are as uncertain as the time we’re living in. Wives and moms away from home to be with family while other family members are away from them. Wives and moms with high schoolers in their homes who are surly and bored and snarky and even sweet at times. These teachers I work with!
Day after day, week after week we bring our all to this task – Teach our students. At various times we crack. Tears of frustration, fear, disappointment, exhaustion, anger. But we laugh and we make each other laugh. These teachers I work with!
Week 9, it’s our last week with our students. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We’ve missed so much. They’ve missed so much. 30 minute video meetings in the morning where the seams are starting to show a little. A little less interest. A little less participation. Can we blame them for this? No! We are as exhausted by this as they are.
They’re still doing great work. They’re still trying their best. They’re asking questions, they’re sharing thoughts and insights, but they’re done and nobody blames them. We’re close ourselves, but then it hits me.
When this is over I have summer ahead of me. Usually that fills me with excitement. Summer! I’ve said before that any teacher that claims the time off in summer has nothing to do with why they teach, even just a little, is a liar. This summer is full of uncertainty and lack of structure for me. Summer means I don’t see my students’ smiling little faces on my screen every morning. Summer means I don’t see my co-workers in our now weekly Meet. We did get it down to once a week after a couple of weeks. I was going to coach swim team again this summer and I love that, but it’s been snatched away like so many other things.
I’ve told my students that I will see them again. I wish it would be in room 2261 getting ready for a regular day of 5th grade, but that’s not possible. That regularity seems to be out of reach. That doesn’t matter though. I have poured 7 1/2 months into them. I have learned about them. I have learned from them. I hope they have learned from me. They are part of Team Benefield, and that’s a lifetime membership. I will see them again. Whether individually, a partial group, or the whole 18 of them together in one place, I will see their smiles face-to-face. If we get to a place where we can high-five or give hugs I will do that. If we aren’t at that place yet I will do like I’ve been doing with friends I’ve seen from 6 feet away; smile, give ourselves a hug and acknowledge that it’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing.
This school year is nothing at all like anyone thought it would be. It is one that I hope no one ever, ever has to go through again because it has been hard. Hard, but not impossible. Hard, but not without hope and joy and expectation and success. If we have to do this again, we can. We’ve learned new skills. We pivoted. We took this situation and did the best we could, and we can do it again if we have to. We don’t want to. At all. Ever again. But we can because this is what we do; we teach our students.