By now, I would have their names written on desk tags and locker tags.
By now, I would be assigning each student a number and labeling mailboxes and cubbies.
By now, I would be planning out my first week with students, filled with movement, collaboration and team building projects.
By now, I would be thinking of what work to hang up for Open School Night.
By now, I would have written my welcome back letter to students. The letters would be in envelopes, addressed with happy stickers, ready to be sent.
By now, I would be feeling my teacher brain click back into what I know about launching a school year.
But it's back to school 2020 and I don't have a final class list. I don't know if I am teaching the students who are remote alongside the students who are face to face.
If that is happening, I don't know how it works. I can't envision making it work.
I need my digital tools right away but students won't have their chrome books for weeks.
I am worried about it all.
I am worried about being able to hear children through their masks when I have a hearing problem, wear hearing aides, and struggle to hear kids accurately without their mouth being covered and muffled.
I am worried about how to make a classroom feel cozy and welcoming when students are separated and behind plastic shields.
I am worried about my 2nd floor classroom without air conditioning and hot September temperatures, now with masks thrown in.
I am worried about how my own children will deal with all these changes to school.
I think knowing more will help. Having the plan set, either way, will allow me to begin to prepare better. Everything so uncertain and up in the air is making me feel so utterly unprepared. Being unprepared is something I fear- it's what haunts my back to school anxiety dreams. Always some version or variation of being unprepared causes me the most anxiety.
Today I am going to do the things I can do. Organize my home life a bit more. Grocery shop. Prepare my welcome back letter for whenever I get a final class list. Breathe in air without a mask in my air conditioned house.
How are you handling all the unknowns?
Back to School 2020 is different from every back to school I've ever known. The only year I ever missed a "back to school" since I was five years old was 2010 when I was home on leave, about to have my son. I have 35 years of back to schools to draw on, but this one is quite unique. Masks? Temperature checks? Sneeze guards? These are the new words we associate with back to school.
If ever there was a time to teach children by example, it is now.
We tell them to be life-long learners. If we complain about all the new things we have to learn, what message are we sending. Instead, see the new digital tools and ways of teaching as something exciting to learn. Show them you are happy about what you are learning.
We tell them to be flexible. If we are rigid in thinking only of how it used to be, we cannot embrace the new possibilities. We will be stuck in old ways that don't work. Instead, model how to switch gears and try a new approach when one way doesn't work. Adapt to remote, hybrid or new methods of teaching in person. Share with students that you are working on being more flexible as a thinker and learner.
We tell them to be kind. If we are angry at everyone who thinks or votes differently than us, than we are not really living that value. The world is big with lots of opinions. There are shades of gray. Instead of adding to the hate, stand true in your integrity. Listen. Try to see a new perspective. Show students that educated people can listen to many different ideas and then learn to keep the ones that make the most sense to them.
We tell them to work hard.
We tell them to persist.
We tell them to dream big.
We tell them to work together.
Let's show the way. Let's use this moment to dream big of new ways school can be better for everyone. It will be very challenging, so let's show them that we can persist through hard things. Let's show them what happens when we work together and share our resources- including our ideas. Let's take the lemons that 2020 has continued to dole out and make the very best batch of lemonade.
Our kids- all our kids- deserve the very best we can offer.
Standing in front of the rocking chair, one of my favorite places to sit and read to my students, I tape a piece of paper: "Store for Sokolowski- Room 215". When will I get to sit in my rocking chair again, in front of a group of students, holding a beloved book? The rocking chair, flexible seating couch, fun ottomans, round table....they all have to go. I don't think too much about it- just tape my signs on each one.
When my third grade team member arrives, we begin to tackle the storage closet which has become somewhat of a dumping ground. With each of us needing space to store items from our classroom that need to be removed, this was a necessary yet exhausting task. We wore our masks, to honor the rules of health and safety. It was 90 degrees and we were working hard. My face was slick with sweat- a preview of what's to come when I begin teaching in a mask in the hot days of early September.
I click the link and see that many parents are already in the meeting. My children's principal begins talking, giving a quick presentation about how school will look and feel before taking the myriad of questions we have. Yes, masks are worn by everyone at all times- except for short mask breaks. Students will sit behind plastic guards at their desk. Specials are in the classroom. Lunch is in the classroom. Recess might involve masks. She will check about air purifying systems. Yes, social and emotional needs will be addressed. I think of my children who have loved school and how school will be different in every way. Will this new way of doing school become "normal" at some point?
The air today was thick and hot, but tonight, at the ball field, there is a lovely breeze as the summer sun slowly sinks in the sky. My nephew is playing his last regular game of the summer series- the one that decides if his team goes to the playoffs. My children are with me and my mom, too, as we sit with my sister. It's early in the game, and my nephew's team is losing by 4 runs. She says it will be a lesson in losing gracefully. We talk about the changes with school and my sister says, the secret in life is to be able to adapt, to roll with the punches. And then, suddenly, they are not losing anymore- gracefully or not. My nephew's team wins the game, 23-6. Celebration is in the air, along with uncertainty.
It's Summer 2020.
I am the thinker....I can choose my thoughts.
I've been reading Chasing Cupcakes by Elizabeth Benton and also listening to her podcast, Primal Potential. Elizabeth talks about real change coming when you change your thoughts about your situation. It is an idea that resonates with me as we prepare for a most unusual 20-21 school year.
I live on Long Island, New York. We are awaiting Governor Cuomo's decision about the plans the schools developed for reopening. The district where I live and the district where I teach (two separate districts) have both set forth a plan where elementary students come to school every day. I know there are many feelings about reopening and many educators are pushing for remote learning. I think it is a complicated issue, for sure. I also think that a community's level of outbreak should determine if schools reopen. Where I am, we are close to 1% infected. My own children really struggled with remote learning and desperately missed school. As a teacher, I felt we lost many students with remote learning. The truth is, I am glad that we are going to have the opportunity to be back in the building in September.
However....school will be unrecognizable in so many ways. Every simple routine and structure has to be rethought. Nothing will be as it was. Students will be spread out, socially distanced. They will not share supplies. They will not be able to physically sit near each other to collaborate on assignments or games. I won't be able to sit close to students. I won't be able to sit with my colleagues at lunch or in meetings. I am really not sure how all of this will work.
I heard a quote once that said something like ,"Just because you've been given a cactus doesn't mean you have sit on it." 2020 is certainly a great big cactus. There are so many stressful aspects of school reopening in the building.... with health and safety being the top priority. As the thinker of thoughts, I have the choices as to how I see this situation. Do I bemoan how awful it is for students to sit apart from each other and not share materials? Do I focus on all that is lost and different and not how I think kids learn best?
Or, if I do believe that kids need the structure of school....AND if the precautions and new rules and routines keep kids and teachers safe while at school, can I reframe my thoughts to see the possibilities? Can I think of ways to make school still feel fun for my students? Can I plan ways to help us feel like a community? Can I focus my time and energy on what I can do to make teaching and learning the best it can be in the current reality?
I am the thinker of thoughts and I think I will not be sitting on the cactus.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski