A new school year is only weeks away, and I’m sure many would agree this may be the strangest one yet. These are unprecedented times as districts decide the safest way to resume learning in the fall after an early school closing and summer vacation amidst a pandemic. This is my fifth year teaching special education and my third year teaching in central Alabama. I’m at a new school this year with a new group of kiddos, and despite the challenges that we’re facing as we prepare for the new year, I’m still so excited to do what I love. But it’s bittersweet. My district will be learning virtually for the first nine weeks of school and then periodically re-assessing the threat for in-person learning. When the decision was announced, a few people asked me what I thought. And honestly, I’m so conflicted — not just as a teacher, but as a mom too.
I’ve Embraced Our “New Normal”
My twins, Alexander and Nathan, are three years old. For the first two years of their lives, they stayed home with me while I worked on my Master’s degree online in elementary special education. Eventually, though, we enrolled them in daycare full-time as I made my return to teaching. They’ve done well there! We found a great facility close to home and to my school. They’ve learned a lot (academically, functionally, and socially), made friends, and their teachers and staff genuinely love and care about our family. But as soon as COVID-19 became a major threat and our schools switched to remote learning, we pulled them out and kept them home, even though their daycare remained open. It put our minds at ease, knowing we were doing the best we could to keep our boys safe and healthy. My husband works at the University of Alabama, so he was working remotely too, and we were on a pretty firm lockdown.
The Mother in Me
As summer came to a close, I felt a steadily increasing pressure to find safe childcare for them, and every situation seemed like a lose-lose. We could send them back to their regular daycare, but risk them being exposed to coronavirus, even when taking precautions. We could hire a private nanny to care for them and work with them at home, but it would double our childcare bill, which already feels astronomical, especially for our budget. A trusted family member offered to keep them for us for free — 200 miles away. Nothing felt right, and I knew in my heart I would only be truly at peace if they were at home with me. Having the four of us at home in the spring worked. We were happy, enjoying each other, and most importantly — safe. So when it came down the pipeline that we’d be doing virtual learning, the mom in me felt a wave of relief.
At that same moment, though, the teacher in me felt a rush of panic.
The Teacher in Me
Going to virtual learning in the spring wasn’t that bad for me — I had already established relationships and routines with the kids on my caseload and their families. We were wrapping up the end of the year, getting special ed paperwork done, and doing the best we could supporting our kiddos’ at-home learning those last couple of months. But this will be different. I’m going to a brand new school, with new co-workers, students, and parents that don’t know me yet. And I so badly want the traditional back-to-school experience — seeing my new students’ faces in-person for the first time as we meet, getting to know each other, and establish our classroom culture. I want to learn their quirks, mannerisms, and favorite things. I want to sing, play, and dance in my new classroom, decorated wall-to-wall in our theme for this year — outer space. I want to sit around the table for circle time. I want to sit in my rocking chair and read to them for whole group. I want to circulate the room as they learn and work, checking in immediately, witnessing the light bulb moments. I do not want to learn and love my new teammates and students through Bitmojis and choppy video calls and virtual classrooms, but here we are.
A Bag of Mixed Emotions
When people ask me how I feel about school beginning virtually, it’s hard to pin down the right response. Relieved for the safety of my family and for the break we get financially by keeping them home. Happy that we get to continue the quality time we’ve had together. Anxious about how I’ll make the necessary connections with my students virtually. Sad that we will miss that unmatched back-to-school electricity that can only be felt in those halls and classrooms. But, at the end of it all, optimistic and hopeful that one day soon, we’ll be able to return to some sense of normalcy, and even if we don’t, that my students and sons thrive nonetheless.