Every start of August, teachers everywhere — admittedly or not — turn their thoughts from slower days and flip-flops toward a fresh, new school year filled with eagerness, expectations and opportunities, along with just a little bit of nervousness.
Classroom themes have been planned, new technology practiced and lessons enhanced. A million ideas are swirling around even the most cynical among us. No matter that August is just in its early days, these thoughts seep into the teachers’ minds, as we subconsciously prepare for the inevitable.
This year, however, this teacher brain doesn’t know what to think or what to do. Honestly, I might add, I am not even sure where to begin to prepare.
Many of us never expected to teach in an environment such as COVID-19. My extensive training and practice never prepared me for the past months. There are school supplies that have been in dark closets for a long time, along with rooms barren of creative bulletin boards and piles of unused textbooks. Most of my “school clothes” have dust on their shoulders from lack of wear. Gone are the million tiny pencils all over my floor, as they’ve been quietly replaced by used sanitizing wipes.
All of what I know — of what I do — has morphed into a teaching experience that changes minute by minute, hour by hour, with little to remind me of pre-pandemic life. It is no surprise to anyone that schools have not been anything near “normal” since that fateful day a year ago March. Online teaching and speaking to half-faced students behind masks hardly qualifies as an ideal learning experience for anyone. Attendance was low, academic rigor minimal and achievement suffering simply due to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. It is no one’s fault. My own morale has been tested.
Ironically, there is no right or wrong way to survive this experience. Yet, the positivity of communities coming together, the teamwork of school employees and the resilience of all is not without note.
My students would disagree, but I am not ancient by any means — yet, I yearn for the old days. I yearn for the success I see in kids’ eyes, the smiles I haven’t seen in months and the dynamics of my established instruction. I miss the pictures kids draw and leave on my desk and the “dad’ jokes that make students groan. Suffering is the comforting routine of my lessons and the safe, caring environment I so desperately try to develop in my classroom. A teacher’s role is to aid in development and maturity, and coach students as they grow from little kids to young adults, all the while reminding them to put away their phones and use complete sentences.
I miss the little family that grows like a seed planted in September to when I begrudgingly have to say goodbye in June.
As September approaches, I don’t know what to think. Are we wearing masks to school? Are my incoming eighth graders up to snuff on last year’s curriculum? Has the classroom dynamic changed yet again? What unprecedented demands will be placed on my colleagues this year? On parents? On the students themselves? No instructional manual exists on how to teach kids after what we all have been through. Will I be allowed to give students a pencil without fear of hurting them? Can I go home to my family without fear of exposing them? All these questions and more plague me.
However, regardless of my worry, complaints or confusion, this is what I do know: I am a teacher, and I am going back to school! I will have a fresh batch of eager, smiling and anxious kids entering my door very soon. My classroom will have been spruced up, shirts laundered and lessons prepared. There is no doubt that my colleagues and I are going to do what we do best — make this year a success. Here is what I need to believe: Sure, the dynamics have changed, but the goal has not. We are all doing the best we can!
So I guess what my subconscious is subtly saying is that, sure, there are worries. Yes, there are concerns. But regardless, the people I work with — teachers, paraeducators, custodians, secretaries — all want to do the best job possible for their students, parents and self. We will rise to the challenge. It’s a new school year with little time to think!
Dr. Brian Comroe teaches eighth grade social studies in the Cape Henlopen School District. He was Beacon Middle School’s Teacher of the Year for 2020.