Sixteen months ago, for those of you who need reminding, everything in the country stopped as a pandemic of almost unbelievable proportions exploded. I do say "also unbelievable" because there were and still are some people who claim not to believe in it. But let us put them aside for now.
Our students, my students, went home. How long would they be home? No one knew. Three weeks? Five? The rest of the school year was taught online, with myself and teachers like me struggling to find ways to reach kids and deliver instruction. While those in leadership positions did...I'm still not sure what.
But they assured us that next year they would be ready. They spent all summer making plans for the coming school year. What were those plans, exactly? No one will ever know. Unless the plans were, "Head to the Winchester. Have a pint. Wait for this to all blow over." Because we started the 2020-2021 school year with "safe return" on our lips. Every leader wanted to be ready to get kids back to school. All they would talk about his how crap a job teachers did handling the previous year and how much better teachers were going to do this year. Programs were purchased and launched without any testing, vetting, or teacher input. Schedules were made and remade. And always "safe return" was the word of the day.
Eventually kids did go back. In my district they went back quarter time. Teachers went to school and taught in the morning online. And in the afternoon A or B cohorts would come to school on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday for...stuff. Socially distanced stuff. Because they needed the contact, even though the contact should have been masked and six feet apart and not sharing anything. Nothing made sense.
I did not go back for this. I got a doctor's note for none of your business that said I wouldn't be exposed to the virus and at first my district agreed to that. Until, all at once and for no reason they wished to explain, they didn't agree with it (for more detail watch this video). Myself and many other teachers were given a choice- Come in to school against your medical advice or take leave and hope that you've got paid leave saved up. In layman's terms, "Screw you and your doctor and your family." I was lucky and had plenty of leave saved up. So I stopped teaching three quarters of the way through the year last year. Let us not get into the guilt that comes with abandoning your class before the year is out. And let us not talk about the multiple COVID cases that spread through my school and others, causing cohorts to quarantine. Everything was fine and dandy because the kids were back.
My own children did not go back. We kept them home because we did not think it was safe. This was the correct choice for my family. We were lucky to be able to make it, I know many could not. My second grader did all of second grade on the computer and hated every second of it, which is not a reflection on his teacher who was doing her best. He's a social child. He saw that his friends got to go back. He understood us, but he won't really understand for years yet. My kindergartener did all of kinder online, doing his best. He had the best kinder teacher in the world, and she did amazing things with her class online. He wanted to go in. But he did what he could.
And I struggled. I wasn't teaching. I wasn't sleeping. I would get up with the boys so my wife and the baby could sleep in and I'd help them do school mornings. We'd fill the days somehow.
During this whole time I was reaching out to anyone who would listen to me in my district to ask to help plan. To be in meetings and on committees. To make things better for teachers and students. I am not a sit around and complain person, I had ideas. And not one person in any leadership position wanted to hear me. You know that person who complains in staff meetings? I've never been that person. Not ever. I'm not. I will get up and try and if it's bad I'll break it when I'm alone in my room and make it work. I will run my mouth to make things better. But no one wanted to hear me. My district was tired of me by the time school let out a year ago. Because why would you want teacher input when planning how teachers will deal with pandemic teaching? And once I left for the year, once I stepped away, I stopped feeling like I had any voice at all.
Now it's summer break once again. The virus is still happening, despite what you might see on social media or out your window. Not everyone is vaccinated who can be, for some reason. The Delta variant doesn't seem to care if you're vaccinated. Though if you are, at least it won't kill you.
And once again schools are getting ready to open. But this time everyone is getting ready to open full on, like everything is back to normal and safe. And I honestly feel like I'm losing my mind because I do not understand why anyone is acting like this.
Not one child who goes to my school will be vaccinated when my school year starts because the vaccine isn't ready for kids yet. Will we be social distancing? Will masks be mandated? Will class sizes be smaller? All signs point to No. When the vaccine is available for kids, will it be mandatory to come to school? If not, why not? Why should my kids get punished because you don't believe in science?
What do I do? Do I send my unvaccinated kids and hope? Because here's the other thing- I have a daughter too. A daughter who was born with a heart condition she still has. Her cardiologist has told us, in so many words, that getting COVID would be "very bad". So should I send my boys to school and hope they don't accidentally kill their sister?
Putting it like that sound overblown and hysterical. Except it's not. It's fact.
Friends and readers, this is all I can think about. I am burning and consumed with it- Why are we acting like schools should open as normal? Why risk it?
Because we're all tired of it? I get it. I'm tired of it. I want everything to be back to normal. I want to go to concerts and meet with friends and restaurants and go to the mall and on vacation. Things people are doing. But we're not because we can't take the risk until everyone in our family is vaccinated.
So maybe it's just us. Maybe we're now in the minority and everyone else feels rightly safe. Maybe...are we being overly-cautious? Wouldn't you rather be overly-cautious? Who am I to judge.
Here's what I know- If you ask me how I am, I am not smart or subtle enough to lie and say I'm fine. If you ask me about next year I am incapable of not going on and on about my questions and concerns and fears and anger.
And I feel like it's costing me friends.
I want to be very clear here- I am 99% sure I am wrong about this feeling. But that does not stop me from feeling it. It's summer break which means I'm already going to feel disconnected from my school friends. I chat with some, but when you're used to lunch every day it's not the same. I always feel disconnected from people over the summer.
I didn't even finish the year, so even when people were back in the building I wasn't. So there's that too. Will my friends judge me for taking leave when they didn't? (No! Of course not, I have good friends.) I mean...probably not, but maybe?
And most importantly, is everyone I know exhausted by me constantly talking about my concerns about coming back? Am I exhausting? I must be, Jesus how much can one person go on? We get it. I'm not who I was, I know that. I used to be intense, but focused and moving forward and looking for solutions and aggressive but not in a bad way. And now...I'm not.
Now I feel like every conversation with me is like having a conversation with Chicken Little, when everyone else has begun moving past the fallen sky or just straight denies that the fall was all that bad to begin with. I feel like I'm looking for validation, looking for someone to say, "Yes, exactly, I agree with you." BUT THEN BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. And no one who can do anything about it...does.
I am so angry, friends and readers. All the time. And if you've talked to me and I haven't brought these things up, I just haven't brought them up out loud. Is the sky falling? Is everything actually better and I've just been so consumed with the problems that I haven't noticed an improvement? Does data matter, because my district says it does. But at the same time the entire state has been regularly ignoring numbers and moving benchmarks to get what they want. Is it raining or is someone still pissing down my back?
I can't tell anymore. I have no perspective. I am thankful and lucky that my wife and I are on the same page with this and we haven't once disagreed about what to do with the kids through all of this. Neither of us know what to do next year.
I want so badly to step into my classroom next year, greet my students, and start group projects. I want so badly to see my own children go to third and first grade happy and healthy and excited. I don't think anyone who isn't a teacher understands just how badly I want these things.
We also need to talk about how this whole thing has impacted our kids. Because they are going to look resilient and we're going to get a million stories about how strong the kids are and how they got right back into it and what were we worried about. Those will all ignore and brush over the trauma these kids have faced and will pretend everything is ok. Because all we want, I guess, is for everything to be status quo. Teachers will be happy to be back. Students will be happy to be back. Shut up and smile. For the kids.
But I'm pretty sure the sky is still falling. And until all three of my kids are vaccinated, I have no choice but to trust that I'm right about that.
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher. And I'm on Instagram at TheWeirdTeacher too where there are a million pictures of the baby being uploaded every day.