On March 13th, I left my classroom not knowing that I would not return until two months later. On March 12th, I wished my students a good weekend, thinking that I would see them on March 17th when I returned to school after a doctor’s appointment on the 16th. On March 11th, my students worked on a presentation project, anxiously talking about the coronavirus while I tried to encourage them that it wouldn’t affect us. On March 10th, my students took a test, wrapping up their studies of the English Renaissance. We didn’t know that these four days of busyness would be our last days together.
From March 16th until May 8th, I posted material for my students to stay busy. I answered their varied emails about upcoming school events. I encouraged them to stay positive, to try a new hobby, to practice a skill, to get outside, to enjoy time with family, to reach out to others. As the days went on, I heard less and less from my students, all seniors who had been looking forward to prom, their senior trip, and to their graduation.
From April 1st to May 8th, I was available every Monday through Friday, for office hours. No one showed up. Not once. Every Monday I recorded a weekly lecture, wondering if any of my students would even watch. Wondering how they were doing. Concerned that they were depressed, anxious, alone, hurt, sick.
Every Monday through Friday in April, I posted a special video of a poem because April is National Poetry Month. I didn’t want to lose this annual celebration that we observe in my classes. I chose poems from the time period we were “studying,” poems that would make my students laugh, poems that would make my students think, and poems that would encourage them. I don’t know what their reactions were. Not a word.
On Monday, May 4th, I recorded my final lecture for the senior class of 2020. I walked them through the weekly assignments, including their final exam. A handful completed some assignments, but no personal contact from anyone.
On Friday, May 8th, I recorded my final video for my seniors and said good-bye. Then, I wrote a good-bye letter to all of my seniors, wishing them well and hoping that they will have great success in their lives outside of high school. Two students responded; I was hurt there were not more.
I have seen several posts on social media that suggest that teachers have been given extra vacation time because of the shutdowns. That we are lucky because we don’t have to work. That’s not surprising because some people think that our jobs are a joke anyway. They say that being a teacher is just a glorified babysitter. They say that we only teach because we can’t do anything else. They say that we teach so that we get summers off.
I have never experienced a vacation when I was honestly worried about anyone. I have never experienced a vacation when I was expected to work, virtually, from my dining room table. I have never experienced a vacation when I had to stay at home because of a global pandemic. I have never experienced a vacation when I felt cut off from the people that I love.
Losing the last two months with the graduating class of 2020 will always haunt me. There are words that are left unsaid. There are hugs that never happened. There are pictures that will never be taken. There are good-byes that will never be spoken.
This has not been a vacation. This has not been fun.
This has been heartache, this has been worry, this has been depression, this has been disappointment, this has been disconnection and isolation and anxiety.
Teaching does not just pay my bills. Teaching does not give me any type of power. Teaching does not make me feel better about myself.
Teaching requires that every year I split up my heart into about 130 different pieces. And today, my heart is broken as there are faces that I may never see again.
Teaching refreshes my spirit. Teaching renews my creativity. Teaching challenges my biases. Teaching is my life.