It was 12:15 on Wednesday, March 12th. My students were in Art when I got word that Seattle Public Schools would close its doors due to the spread of the Coronavirus. We knew that this was a possibility but there was no way that I was prepared to say goodbye to my students for 2 weeks. I had time to run off some worksheets and gather their math workbooks before it was time to pick them up from Art. It was an early release day so I would only have about 45 minutes left with them. What would be the best use of this time? I know I wanted every one to leave with their favorite books and I also needed time to say goodbye. And that meant a classroom meeting. Usually that would start with complements but today it was just a chance for everyone of us to say something – a thought, a worry, a goodbye, a I will miss you because, school because…..
If I’m honest I don’t really know what was said. There were many of us who had tears in our eyes and there were many of us who said we would miss being here, in our school, in our classroom, the place which is home away from home for all of us. I assured them that we would be back and we would keep in touch on our class blog, and our class twitter account. And then they loaded up their book bags and it was time to go. Today I found a picture that I managed to snap as I wanted to document how classroom meetings build community in a way that I can’t really define.
My week ended similarly to Molly’s. We still had school until Friday but then the Governor declared all schools closed on Friday afternoon. There had been murmurings in the community that this may happen and there was an undercurrent of stress within my classroom. On Thursday, we had had to cancel our family writing celebration since it would have been over the recommended gathering size. My class decided they still wanted to have an in class celebration on Friday morning. Friday arrived and I could sense the nervous energy in the classroom so instead of pushing academics, I put a cozy fire youtube video on the projector and students created decorations for the class. Some made origami decorations, some made signs and many worked together to create a long paper chain that span all the way to the 4th grade classrooms. The energy in the classroom was calm and happy. My students weren’t stressed or worried about a strange, new virus but instead they got to act like normal third graders for an hour.
By the time we said goodbye and I got home, I saw homeschooling plans all over social media. These plans would that start Monday and were heavy with academics. And if those sorts of plans work for a family, great. But we should not be expecting or providing new learning at this moment.
At a Zoom meeting the other day, my administrator said something that really stuck out to me. If we had just experienced a natural disaster, we would not expect students to jump right back into learning so why are we doing that right now?
Personally, we’ve had many friends whose lives had shifted dramatically in the last week. Many have lost jobs. My husband is a firefighter and I’m faced with the reality that he is out there working on the front lines of this crisis and that’s stressful.
Our students are in similar stressful situations, the individual situation may look different but most families are experiencing some level of stress that is out of the norm right now. We believe our number one job as teachers is to make sure students feel loved, safe and seen. That belief does not change regardless of the situation. Right now, students need to feel loved, safe and seen before they can engage in any learning. And as a country, we need to understand that for many students and families, learning is not the top priority now nor should it be. As teachers, let’s make sure our students know we love them and continue to connect with them in any way we can.
Alicia and Molly