The last time I left the school where I’ve worked for the last 10 years, I gathered up all of my annotated copies of all the books I usually teach in the course of a year. It was a last-minute grab, and I was already out the door. I really thought we would be out for three weeks, tops. As I locked the door, I had a sudden gut feeling that maybe I should pop back inside and pack up my books, just in case.
I haven’t needed to dig out those battered copies, instead using the digital copies I am sharing with my students. But having them at home is strange. Those books are supposed to live on top of my messy desk in Room 147, underneath the reading check quizzes and the lunch I still haven’t gotten to. Suddenly work life and home life are tangled up in this complicated way.
There are joys from this situation, too, for sure. It’s nice to not have a 45-minute commute for the first time in my career. It’s nice to be able to simmer tomato sauce on the stove with my laptop on the counter, and know that both dinner and the grading will get done. I record my videos late at night or early in the morning, and it’s nice to sleep in a little later than I used to. I get outside and have a catch with my family every day, something I never thought I had time for before.
I also understand the immense privilege I have of being able to work from home. Our friends and relatives working out in the community or without a job do not have the luxury of the life I am leading right now.
I still feel out of sorts though at times. Here’s what I miss the most: the sound of kids coming into a classroom, talking with each other. I miss hearing you guys congratulate each other on a game or make plans for later in the day. I even miss you guys complaining about the homework I have given you! When I come into a classroom usually, there’s a bustle—I’m writing the do-now on the board, and six of you are asking me to go to the bathroom, and I am trying to remember which of my classrooms I left my Beowulf copy in, while the previous teacher scoops up his things and shuffles out, fielding questions and “thank yous” from his students. That hustle and bustle has been my normal for 10 years.
Now, it’s not. I thought it would be a good idea to mute my students as they enter Webex or Google Meet sessions. Yes, we are a little more organized, but it’s weird that people cannot just chat naturally. After all those years of quieting down chatty classes at the bell, I never realized what I’d miss most is what comes before the bell.
If you’re in my class next year, and I tell you to quiet down and get to the do-now, feel free to wave this article in my face.
If you’re in my class this year, know that I am still thinking about you and wish I could be there to talk about the movie that just came out or whether the chicken ciabatta line is insane today.
On the other hand, this new format has made me see how much students and teachers alike can face any challenge. My colleagues’ creativity always pushes me harder, and their practical solutions keep me going. The English teachers have a Google Hangout where we all help each other through technical difficulties and share resources. We are all communicating all the time with our co-teachers, supervisors and colleagues. I realize now more than ever how lucky I am to work here. Even if virtual learning occurred for weeks and weeks more, I’d never get through all of the good ideas that my teacher-friends are doing in their classes. They continue to do so much, despite the overwhelming pressure to perform better than they ever have in all new ways. I wish my colleagues peace, to know that they are doing so well in this new system.
And to all those students working so hard, I am so proud. Even to just get the motivation to go to classes is hard. You have all grown up so much. You have accepted disappointments, acted responsibly and helped your families. Your teachers are very, very proud of you.
Someday soon, you, me, and my scribbly copy of Macbeth will all be back at WHS. Until then, we will see each other online and keep learning together.