For nearly twenty years, the last weeks of July and first weeks of August are a jumbled mess of frantic cleaning, lesson planning, school shopping, and several irrational outbursts from yours truly. I really do love the excitement of every new school year, but we have been in a very weird space for the last five months, and the discussion about the beginning of a new school year has had nearly every teacher in the country scrambling to understand what teaching and sending our own children to school looks like in the middle of a global pandemic.
It seems so ridiculous to talk about life in February as it if was a simpler time. When I sat down to finally finish the last pages of our school yearbook at the end of May, I looked back at all of the months leading up to March and was reminded that 2020 started rearing its ugly head from day one. Soleimani had been assassinated, Puerto Rico was ravaged by earthquakes, the Senate started the removal trial of President Trump, and Kobe Bryant died with eight other people in a freak helicopter crash. And that was just in January.
My husband and I have come to call everything before March 2020 “the before time.” So much has changed since the start of the last school year. I have changed so much since the start of the last school year.
This was me a year ago.
I was excited. I had moved across the hall to a classroom that had windows. While I was going to miss so many things about teaching sophomore English, I was back in Junior English teaching American literature and rhetoric and composition, the focus of my master’s degree. I would be teaching dual credit for the first time ever and brushing off the cobwebs from my experience as a graduate teaching assistant instructing first-year college students nearly a decade before.
I was comfortable. I was in my fifth year at the same school. I had my favorite subjects. I knew the material. And I had created a classroom that totally reflected my personality.
I was confident. Why wouldn’t I be? I was clearly doing everything I was meant to be doing.
I was hopeful. My students gave me reason to hope for the impact that we would make on each other. I was optimistic about the year that I would have and the year my own children would have. There was no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be a great year full of promise. After all, I had been asked to travel to Costa Rica for spring break with a group of students. There was no reason to believe the school year wouldn’t be amazing.
How am I feeling now in August 2020?
I’m scared. I’m scared to get sick. I’m scared that my children will get sick. I’m scared that I will inadvertently make someone I love and care about sick. I’m working tirelessly to not let fear drive my every decision, but it constantly lingers in the background. Three of the four of us are leaving the house every morning taking every precaution: masks, hand sanitizer, distancing. I know people who have still gotten sick even with those precautions but here we are, doing our best to protect our household while still being out in the world.
I’m apprehensive, but I’m refusing to see this as a weakness. As one of my friends recently said, being apprehensive is helping to keep us vigilant. Once we let our guard down the house of cards will come tumbling down. While we can’t guarantee that the precarious structures we’ve put into place won’t blow over, apprehension helps us to carefully work with a fragile system as opposed to against it.
I’m overwhelmed. Zoom, course management systems, emails, my classes being live and online, students in and out of my classroom, and the same for my children. Add to that an additional college class that I picked up at the last minute and my head is spinning. But our family survived through me attending grad school, teaching part-time in two locations, and having a toddler and newborn at home. If we can survive that, we can survive anything, even going to school during a pandemic.
I’m exhausted. Many would think that I was well-rested. After all, I’ve had five months to sleep in past 6:30, go for morning runs, get housework done, do home renovations, and even take a vacation. But I’m exhausted. I’m tired of current politics. I’m sad when I see how little life really matters to my fellow human beings. I feel distanced from friends and family who appear to seek power over humility. I want a better world for my children. I want a better world for my students. I want a better world for me and my peers, but we just keep getting in our own way. COVID didn’t break us, it showed us what was broken, and I desperately want to be a part of fixing it. I just have to keep digging for the emotional reserves to be a part of the solution.
I’m hopeful. 2020 has been rough in so many ways. It has been easy to slip into a feeling of hopelessness about the world that we are living in. But at the same time, there is a lot to be hopeful about. I’ve seen what the upcoming generation is capable of. I’ve seen their desire for change and relentless pursuit to bring about change. I’ve seen activism driven by a belief that change is not only possible, but necessary. It’s easy to turn on the news or open up social media and lose all hope in the future, but I really do believe that young people are leading the way in exciting and powerful ways.
I have no idea what this coming school year holds. I don’t know how long I will be teaching in person, if or when we will be forced online, and I don’t know what school is going to look like for my own kids. I’m scared and apprehensive and exhausted and hopeful all at the same time.
But I do believe this much: We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. I believe in a God who is bigger than a pandemic or economic crisis or political unrest. I believe he is bigger than my exhaustion and occasional hopelessness. I believe that, even when it is more than we can handle, he will help us pick up the pieces, heal the hurt, and reshape us into something new.