I have been teaching for 21 years in North Carolina. I’m currently in Wake County at Carroll Magnet Middle School where we focus on community-based problem solving. Every day at our school, students practice building characteristics such as empathy and leadership. This current situation of COVID-19 is an opportunity to put those skills into play.
I am also a parent of two amazing students who continue to receive a stellar academic experience in Wake County public schools. The crisis has affected my life just as it has yours, personally as well as professionally. Family members have fallen fatally ill. My brother works at a local grocery store and is finally recognized as an essential employee. My aunt and two cousins are in the medical field, while others are educators or their businesses have been temporarily closed and they’ve had to let staff go. Our everyday activities such as playdates, going to the movies, and even talking with neighbors have all been put on hold. Travel plans for spring break and even my daughter’s volleyball tournaments have been cancelled. My youngest daughter lives with Autism and thrives with her normal structure.
As an educator, I haven’t seen or hugged my students in over three weeks. I miss those morning conversations that start off with, “You gonna put the cell phone away?” I am having withdrawals from them asking for pencils or help with a math problem. The last collaborative conversation I had with my coworkers was this morning, virtually. We see each other via computer cameras and stay professional, but you can see in our eyes how much we miss the high fives and planning at the same table. Field trips were cancelled. Graduations are at stake. Oh, how this hurts the hearts of those of us who were meant to be in a school building.
Educators have always been able to take lemons and perform science experiments or create an equation math problem about mass weight. Digital learning is here and it is how we will continue assuring our students don’t lose faith in themselves as scholars. We are currently multitasking as we always have. Conducting special education meetings, planning and delivering experiences of communication, and facilitating knowledge through the use of technology. We definitely have some kinks to work out. It’s common knowledge that reliable technology and internet services are not readily available for every student in North Carolina. We worry about our students who don’t have enough food or always feel loved and cared for.
This is a heavy burden to put life-as-we-know-it on hold. But we have no choice. We have to do all that is necessary to stop the spread of this disease and make sure the health and safety of our loved ones is protected. While we endure this trial together, let me encourage you all: students, educators, and parents, have faith and be patient.
Students, you will see your friends again. The educators and school staff who care so deeply about you will welcome you with open arms and fist bumps. In the meantime, stay focused. Your educational journey has not stopped or paused. This is what your teachers were talking about when they said “I won’t always be around to help you make the right decision.” Right now, that decision is to continue your education with the activities and lessons we as teachers are working so hard to deliver.
Teachers, you will be able to witness those light bulb moments in person again. You will rush to the bathroom and make copies while eating lunch. Just remember, you are still doing the work of these honorable callings. For now, let’s continue to do what we do best and make sure our students are receiving the best of us. Look for encouragement and support from everywhere around you. Our students need us. That will never change. Virtual education can NEVER replace an in-person conversation or lesson. But it’s all we have at the moment.
And to the parents, this is quite an experience, isn’t it? You are now truly your child’s teacher. In a sense, you always have been. Right now, take this time to be a direct part of your child’s education. It won’t always be easy. The math is confusing, yes, but remember this is a unique life lesson for your kids you have a chance to be a part of. I am very familiar with the challenges of working from home and helping my own children. But we can do it. Talk to your child about what they are working on and show them you are willing to learn right along with them. You will see your child excel in a classroom again. It’s also important that you continue to be patient as we develop how to best continue the education to ALL of our students.
At this time, we can all do a few things together. Appreciate this opportunity to be with the ones we normally have little time to actually be with. Rediscover why you are family. Have a movie night. Make dinner. Play a board game, remember those? Follow all the precautions and steps we have been given. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Only go out if necessary. Practice social distancing at all times. Check on your family members and friends (especially those who are vulnerable) through phone calls.
Last, but certainly not least, take care of yourself. Don’t forget to stop and think about what you need for your own mental, spiritual, and physical health. Please reach out for support. Find moments to give thanks and become stronger. Meditate. Pray. Sing. Dance. Whatever makes you happy in the moments that call for mental strength. And let’s also remember those who aren’t so fortunate. We can continue to be the strong village we are and overcome this.
NaShonda just recently finished her 20th year teaching in North Carolina Public Schools. Arriving by way of Pennsylvania, she enjoys working with students of all ages and abilities. She’s been featured in TIME magazine for her continued advocacy to improve public education. She lives in Wake County.