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It’s OK to Not be OK

Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic, things are happening so fast, sometimes I wonder, “How did we get here, how are we doing, how have we all been impacted, where are we now?”

Perspectives

Never in a million years did we think we would be added to the history books due to a global pandemic. Technological advances…yes. But this? Absolutely not.

Yet here we are.

COVID-19.

A new strain of coronavirus has wreaked worldwide havoc taking the lives of hundreds of thousands across the globe.

Wimbeldon, the longest running, most prestigious tennis tournament in the world announced its cancellation. The first cancellation since 1945’s World War II, Wimbledon joins an unending list of cancelled major national and international sporting events. To help us understand the impact of COVID-19, ESPN has compiled this painful list of major sport cancellations world wide.

It is safe to say that nearly every part of the world is taking its own form of precautions. The most common precaution has become sheltering in place to aid in stopping the spread of the virus. We are watching  history unfold in real-time.

Perhaps what hits home the most for educators is the never before seen district-wide indefinite shut downs of schools and colleges. Education as we once know it has changed forever.  We will not return to normal. We will approach a new normal. Here’s why:

Superintendents and state governing agencies have worked in tandem to provide governance and guidance to lead us in navigating the swift move from in-school education to remote learning. As this unfolds before our eyes, I would only hope numerous entities are logging lessons learned. I am certainly trying to do that from the classroom teacher’s perspective.

We have flipped the classroom in a matter of minutes. Even the most timid of teachers when it comes to technology have had to jump in from the deep end to create a virtual classroom with no training. Parents have been empowered in ways neither parents or teachers have ever experienced. Parents are full partners in their children’s education. Rightfully so, parents will continue to have this expectation once we return to school. Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic, things are happening so fast, sometimes I wonder, “How did we get here, how are we doing, how have we all been impacted, where are we now?”

Reality Hits Home – My Personal Story

The first week was a week filled with allowing everyone to get adjusted. The weeks following have been filled with learning as we go and the rules of the playbook changing daily.

Most of the closures were announced during a time that schools were going on spring break or already on spring break.

I am a parent. My son is a freshman in high school and he can no longer go to school to be with his friends.  He can’t play in his spring football game. He can’t practice with his teammates and coaches. This has been the best year of his pre-teenaged schooling and it’s gone. He won’t get it back.

My oldest son is a freshman at a university in Oklahoma. We live in Texas. In the earliest stages, I had a son in another state during this global pandemic. At this point, teaching was the last thing on my mind.

Two weeks leading up to our college son’s spring break, we began having conversations with him that there would be a serious possibility that he may not return to school. We advised him to pack whatever he would need for the long haul. At the same time, he was hearing from his school that students should take home all learning devices and textbooks in anticipation of an extended break. I can only imagine his emotions when hearing and trying to process all of this. That extended break turned into indefinite remote learning.

Once he was home, he wanted to visit or work out with his friends. Each time he would ask this question, my body would fill with anxiety, nervousness, and frustration. My son plays college football so he didn’t get to come home as often as his friends did during the year. Constantly, I was torn between understanding his feelings and the reality that this virus is fierce and often fatal.

My husband and I held several family meetings. We watched news segments about the impact, spread, and resulting fatalities of COVID-19 in order to help our children understand the reality and extreme seriousness of this disease.

My duty is to protect my family and keep them safe. My 81 year old mother lives with us and is at high-risk for serious complications if she were to contract coronavirus. My mom was scheduled for a senior citizens trip to Arizona the first week in March. In the last two weeks in February, the media communicated that the elderly population is at the highest risk of fatality if they contract coronavirus.

The company sponsoring the trip continued to make plans to move forward even though the CDC was not advising for the elderly. Continuing to hear the same information in the news while also continuing to hear plans move forward with the company, I had to contact our local city governing representatives to step in on behalf of the elderly going on this trip. Things became even more complicated and unbelievable when the staff coordinating the trip were advised not to go but the trip would still occur with the travel agency. You can understand my frustration.

All of this was happening while I was still supposed to be preparing to teach remotely.

Teacher Emotions

My emotions were all over the place in the beginning. I’m a forward thinker, so I immediately began to think about my students at home: how they must be feeling, and how overwhelmed parents were with managing children, and still having to work. I dove in and began sharing an excellent You Tube resource, Operation Teacher Relief, a Storehouse for Digital Learning in Crisis and Natural Disaster on social media.

I shared it on social media and provided a resource for parents who need something for children right away. I was thinking of those parents who have to keep working and would love to have something in their hands. But, was it too soon? The learning guide, the communication, the work-load…too much? Not enough? I didn’t want parents to think they’re doing all the work and I’m not doing anything. How do I support them and give them space at the same time? I wondered all of this often and it quickly turned into lots of restless and sleepless nights. I began to realize…

Some teachers have very young children who require all of their attention. What about teachers who just returned to work from maternity or medical leave before disaster struck? They haven’t fully developed a relationship with their class. Other teachers have shared on social media that they are young and single and teaching is all they know. They’ve posted desperate pleas saying, “What am I supposed to do now. All I know is teaching my kids.”

Most teachers are often struggling to sleep at night. There is a painful truth of child abuse rates increasing as reported by several children’s hospitals. Will the kids be ok? How are they handling being away from their friends? Does this completely new way of learning cause them stress? What about kids who thrive with routine? Routine has been ripped from under their feet. How are they doing? Those who are on free or reduced lunch programs…how are these families affording food? Where are the kids staying whose parents still have to work – grocery store employees, medical personnel and law enforcement? Students with special needs, what kind of resources and support are we able to provide parents when we can’t get close to them? None of these questions address learning. These are larger issues that weigh on educators.

I shared intimate details of my family’s transition into COVID-19 SIP and a glimpse into what teachers are experiencing only to show that there are millions of stories just like mine  from other teachers.

There are just as many of those stories from parents.

Parent Emotions

What about parents in the medical field – on the front lines? They worry about not having enough personal protective equipment. Nurses are driving across multiple states to help in New York. They come home fearful of keeping their family safe.

Some parents don’t come home.

Countless hotels have opened their doors to medical professionals. RV companies are generously allowing medical professionals to self-quarantine in their RVs so they won’t place their families at risk while they are working on the front lines.

Let this soak in. Some medical professionals are in the battlefield, on the front lines, and protecting their families, by not being with their families.

A husband and wife – one is a dispatcher, the other a police officer. A husband is a manager at Walmart and the wife, a manager at a restaurant. Both parents are employees of nonessential businesses and are no longer working. A single parent is an essential employee and still has to work. A single parent is no longer receiving a paycheck.

What are these families going through? Imagine their burdens, fear, anxiety, and sleeplessness while trying to keep their families safe and protected.

You can imagine the stress caused by all of these scenarios. The emotional trauma that weighs on each family member – the fear, anxiety, and worry, are likely unbearable.

We often wonder, “How do I show parents I care?” Be real in our emails to parents. Without being lengthy, let them know you feel their pain, you are struggling, too. Parents appreciate when we are real with them just as we often say we want our administrators to keep it real with us.

My sons decided to have a military-style Nerf battle that ended with four stitches. I had to move one of our class-family meet-ups to get the stitches removed. When we got back and I checked my email, I was touched by how many parents took time to reach out. One parent was moved to share a mishap with his own child as a result of sharing my story.

We’ve spent all this time talking about teachers and parents.

Let’s talk about the segment of the population whose lives will never be the same.

The world’s youth.

The kindergartners

This is their very first year of elementary school. This is the year of their very first night before the first day of school. This is the year the foundation is laid to fall in love with learning, to unlock the mystery of letters and sounds, to demystify the secrets of reading, to begin building relations that could last for years to come. They were supposed to have their first awards program. This is the year of firsts.

Think about the students in preschool who were soaking in the building blocks to begin not only their journey of learning, they are also learning to function in a social environment and realizing others students have needs, too. What does support look like for these students coming into kindergarten?

In the middle

Millions of children were preparing to transition to a new school. Most elementary schools end at 4th, 5th, or 6th grade. These students were spending their last year in a school they called home for several years. Some students were spending their last year in middle school before going to high school. Others were in their first year of high school just beginning to get into the groove of the next three years of their lives.

High school seniors

High school seniors are heart broken. Their senior year was to be full of fun and making memories. Homecoming, shopping for the prom, and the ultimate prom night itself. Spending time with friends before they all graduate and start the next chapter of their lives is the highlight for every senior. Recruitment, college visits, scholarships, signing day. So many memories are not being made.

College Freshmen

That little taste of freedom and independence – gone. The beginning of adulthood has temporarily paused for college students. The experience they looked forward to for so many years has been disrupted.

Have you ever stopped to think about the effects on students that are far beyond learning?  Their social emotional health has been greatly impacted. Their relationships, development of new friendships, and an entire year of their lives has been changed drastically and immediately. What is their world view right now? How insecure are they feeling? This is our next generation. How do we best support and meet their needs?

We are adults, we have our friendships, we’ve had our school experiences. Our kids are in the midst of the best time of their lives, developing those friendships that could very well last a lifetime, and everything has stopped with little warning to no warning. Students are having to adjust and balance on far more levels than adults when it comes to sheltering in place at home.

As educators, how can we support students at home?

  1. Extend grace
  2. Establish due windows, not due dates
  3. Re-read emails before sending ensuring sensitivity and compassion
  4. Remote learning should look different that simple textbook learning
  5. Streamline technology
  6. Take connectivity challenges into consideration
  7. Connect students to special memories, experiences
  8. Have fun
  9. Check in solely to see how families are doing – not to push out or follow up on assignments I couldn’t get this to tab over
  10. Develop a weekly connection: Host a face to face session, or an online game in real time such as Goosechase (relevant for all grade levels).

The end of the school year is on the horizon for most of us. This begins the second phase of the grieving process. I believe in my heart that this is the very reason this article took so long to write. It was difficult, painful, and many times I had to walk away from it. It felt heavy, but it is necessary. Necessary for who? Perhaps the new teacher? Is it meant for administrators to have a new perspective? Counselors? Will they have new ideas on how to meet the needs of students and educators?

I didn’t know the answers to these questions when this article came to me in the early days of COVID-19. There were so many unanswered questions as I lived with this article. I pushed through. I didn’t give up. I kept fighting. Finally, at the end of the article, I have the answers to all of these questions.

This article is for us. For educators across the globe. We need to know it’s ok to not be ok. Extend yourself a large dose of grace. Lift your head. Believe that you are enough. Find those small moments of joy and bask in those moments. Don’t rush, stay there for a while. Give a shoulder and be a shoulder. Ask yourself, what gives you peace in this storm? Experience peace.

How are you feeling as we prepare to close the school year? I’d love to hear you thoughts on how this article provided more insight or perspective. It was certainly a painful work of the heart, but I feel empowered that I saw it through to completion. It reminds me that I am resilient. That I can climb a mountain. That I can persevere. You can, too. We have all climbed  mountains together, persevered, and we are coming off the mountain more resilient and stronger than ever with a bounty of new ways to teach and learn.

I hope we are inspired to help each other and continue the conversation. Let’s connect on Twitter (@TraciBrowder). Stay safe. Stay encouraged. Be inspired. We will come out of this better, stronger, together.

Howdy, Edufriends! I am a lover of people and relationships. I’ve been teaching for more than 16 years. My happy places have been reading specialist, instructional coach, mentor, and a 3rd grade and Kindergarten teacher. My classroom is a live learning lab hosting student teachers, teachers who want to learn how to have more engagement in their classrooms, and administrators for other schools often pop in. I am most passionate about igniting the spark in adults and helping children believe in themselves. Perhaps oddly interesting, I have a unique love for animals that includes previously having owned a boa constrictor and having shown pure-bred wolves at wolf shows. I should have said unique love for exotic animals!

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