(Mental Health Fireside Chats) “Dozens of Unanswered Questions as a Teacher/Blogger”

(Mental Health Fireside Chats) “Dozens of Unanswered Questions as a Teacher/Blogger”

I was looking for a fresh start this next school year.  Recently, I felt a much lighter load lifted off of me as I do what I always do, contact my dear friend who teaches in special education.  She said, “You know what, you can look at it two ways, you can either wallow in your self-pity or being the beacon of light that you are in this new role”.  I decided after that text message that she sent me, “you know what, I’m going to shine like diamonds in the sky, and make the best of the situation”.  Then, Covid-19 happened.

This caused my anxiety to kick in.  First of all, I felt terribly for the seniors.  They were missing out on their little rites of passage.  Overspending for senior prom, dressing to the 9’s to where the Royal Family of England would take notice, and having those lasting memories knowing that no matter what you did, you couldn’t get in trouble and that graduation rehearsal, to taking that symbolic moving of the tassel and walking across the stage to get that sheepskin in order to open the door to adulthood.

Then, anxiety kicked in.  Cases were continuing to spike.  People protesting over not wanting to wear a mask while our country is coming apart like worn fabric at a secondhand store.  Then, the potential announcement came.  The president was threatening to withhold education funds if we didn’t open up schools.  This sounds like blackmail, this sounds like extortion, how can they do this to our kiddos, all of these thoughts left my mind racing into overdrive as the panic button started flashing like an emergency siren in my head.  How can they do this?  How can I protect my students?  How can I protect myself?  Then, I started playing a typical day of school in my head in an attempt to make sense of all of this.  I am playing out a school day scenario in my head as your resident teacher/blogger while trying to come to grips with the questions that I have.  I’m pouring my heart out to you, the reader and concerned citizen about this.

At about 7:55, kids are gathered in the hall, whether in a huddle or sitting on a bench, or if you’re a senior, sitting in their sacred lounge on couches and pillows that haven’t been disinfected in awhile.  I’ve seen seniors sleep there when they have an open block.  Now, along with my lesson plans, the constant reel in my head of ensuring social distancing in my classroom is played and making sure I have my infrared thermometer, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, Lysol spray, so on and so forth is playing in my head, much less how I’m going to deliver my content and deliver my lessons.

First block comes along, I have to spend my time correcting students to make sure they’re keeping proper social distancing and make sure that they have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes and I have to build in ten minutes into that block to make sure that they have time to wash their hands.  Do I make sure that the sinks and toilets are sanitized after each use because the budget is already cut and we run a skeleton crew of custodial staff?  What about the students I work with that don’t practice good hygiene or if they have a cough?  We have one school nurse for 220 students in our building?  What if there’s an outbreak?  THIS IS JUST FIRST BLOCK and these thoughts are running through my head.

Do I spend time instead of conducting the lesson to check for signs of Covid-19?  How do I help my special needs students when THESE are the students that are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, generational poverty, poor hygiene, much less the extreme cases when they don’t have the ability to take care of themselves.  What if they have compromised immune systems?  I haven’t thought about how to teach a lesson on literal vs figurative language or computing fractions with unlike denominators.  First block goes by, I have to tend to a crisis.

A student needs to be restrained.  That’s my job on working with behaviorally challenged students.  They tend to not know boundaries like the rest of the kids, due to their mental health disorders.  Now, I have to take extra time to locate personal protective equipment, and somehow restrain a kid while wearing a mask and my PPE and then teach that student corrective teaching strategies on how to respect boundaries, and I have to really stress that because of this virus, we have to keep social distancing in mind.  What if the student has autism?  That student might really depend on touch as their main sense.  How do we help them if they have autism?  Do they learn from home?  What if their routine is shut down?  They depend on us having a routine and that is taking away from them.  We might adjust but to them it can equate to the world going in a tail spin.

It’s not even 10 AM yet!  When does the learning and teaching start is what I’m thinking.  I have another student that is feeling a fever, the school nurse is already backed up.  Do we have a protocol if we only have ONE SCHOOL NURSE on staff for 220 students plus numerous faculty and teachers?  Are parents going to be on-call in case a student has to come home?  Now the student is exposed, that student is going to expose the virus to their parents because quarantining is HORRIBLE for their mental health, now do the parents have to miss work and get tested and isolate themselves?

Lunch time has hit, students have less time to eat because they’re waiting to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer, the lunch experience isn’t the same because they have to sit at least 6 feet apart from one another and some are relegated to sitting in homerooms to eat.  Not as nutritious of meals are planned because everything is in boxes and prepackaged.  How do we properly dispose of the garbage?  Did I tell you we only have three custodial staff running this school?

When does the learning take place?  I surely can’t be the only one running these scenarios in my head.  From a deeper standpoint, how do I help my students with their mental health when I’m about ready to break as a teacher?  I’m worried.  I’m worried sick.  I know that routine and structure is absolutely wonderful for our mental health but I can’t help but worry about our kiddos, and their families and their communities.

Now, kids could be faking symptoms or be asymptomatic.  Surely, we will have the class clown that coughs on another student as a joke.  How do we handle that?  That’s never been in our medical or discipline policies in our handbook.

What if I’m exposed to this virus?  Do I use up my sick time?  Do I make lesson plans for 14 days for special education students that depend on me for routine and structure in their day?  Do we have enough substitutes to cover us?  What about the new teachers?  If they have to quarantine more than once, they use up their sick pay and then some.

I’m also worried about our administration.  I have full empathy for them as I’m sure they didn’t learn how to run a district under a pandemic in their studies.  They share the same emotions and the same worries that we do.  They are sitting through meetings, crafting and scrapping plans, and expected to change the flight plan while the cockpit is malfunctioning.

Our faculty too.  Not just teachers, but teacher’s aides, cafeteria attendants, custodians, school nurses, they’re on the frontlines with me in the classroom.  I feel like we need to be the Gorilla Glue to keep this together but we’re given scotch tape to keep this together.  Not a fresh roll of scotch tape, that kind that’s already been used but you use it again in an effort to conserve the limited supplies that we already have because we spent our budget on supplies to fight this virus.

I’m trying to breathe, while I miss my students terribly and it will be so good to see them back, I’m also scared, I can’t be the only one.  I just can’t be.  My heart is filled with joy seeing my students again yet it’s fragile like glass that they’re going to miss out on amazing school experiences.

Community, parents, and taxpayers, we’re doing the best we can to teach and love on your children, please be patient, we have a common goal and that’s we want what’s best for your child, please support us.  I promise as a teacher not to bog you or the students down with online resources.  I promise to also be flexible and understanding if a specially designed instruction appointment is missed or if we need to reschedule.  I’m here for you.

Lastly, please please please wear a mask when you’re out in public and practice social distancing.  These are such minute sacrifices that we need to make.  I’m masking up because I miss the side hustles I have in life along with my main hustle.

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