**I wrote this piece on Saturday, September 12th at a Long Island Writing Workshop I facilitated on "Writing the Moments."
Yesterday, the ice cream truck came back to the Wantagh Elementary School. The ice cream truck was a fixture of the end of the school day for so long. Kids would be scampering around the field, swinging on the swings, sliding down the slides, and there he would be- parked out front. Now, the first Friday of the first week back at school, I stood on the line, facing the school, seeing students and parents milling about on the lawn. Kids laughing. Chasing each other while still wearing masks. The school felt alive again. For so many months, it stood silent and alone. Schools are meant to be full of laughter and chatter and movement and children. For so long, it was quiet and barren.
I believe students need school. I believe they need other grown-ups, besides their families, who know them and invest in them. They need interaction and a community. Children weren’t meant to be so isolated.
Without school, my own family struggled. Bedtime was gone. Mornings rolled into ipad time. Sedentary couch sitting. I struggled to get my lessons online for my 26 third graders while still being mom to my two children at home. Worlds colliding and lines blurring between the professional and the personal. I moved so much less. I longed for my drive to work, to message friends, to listen to podcasts. To dress in professional clothes. To be in my classroom. The days were full of Google Meets and texts with my grade level team and messages from parents. My own children did not want to do their online school work. We were endlessly home. How could you complain with the first responders were out there? When the doctors and nurses were working around the clock? When so many in our community were sick or dying?
But there was so much loss. There was the loss of routine. The loss of normalcy. The loss of having school be the constant- the thing you could always count on to happen. Suddenly school the way we knew it was gone. March 13th was the last day I taught in the time before Covid 19. Will there ever be a time where I will teach without a mask? Without a sneeze guard? Without virtual open school nights? Will children ever gather by my rocking chair again? These questions are painful to consider. The thought of it never going back is too hard to fathom.
9/11 was a reminder of how life can forever change in a moment. How the whole world can change and not go back to what was. 9/11 happened on my fifth day of teaching. Now, 19 years later, I am not a new teacher anymore, but facing another time in the classroom where life has changed and isn’t going back to what was.
I want my students to be adaptable and resilient. Lord knows we need to be. We don’t know what is coming round the corner. How can we survive and thrive in such uncertainty? My grandfather, who died 21 years ago today, used to always say “Don’t look back.” He said it so often. He was very wise. So, I keep my eyes forward and keep going.
May your coffee be strong and your wi-fi connection-stronger.
May your mask be breathable and your face not too sweaty.
May your plastic sneeze guards stay standing
May your Google Meet attendance not be glitchy.
May your Bitmoji at least sort of resemble you.
May your students walk six feet apart in the halls.
May your mask breaks feel rejuvenating.
May the asynchronous learning be meaningful.
May the synchronous time feel like a community.
May the children be excited to learn
No matter if through a screen
or a mask
or a plastic sneeze guard.
May you be happy to teach
Through a screen
or with a mask.
May you have patience, grace, flexibility.
May you be resilient.
May you be healthy.
May they say years from now
that the teachers never gave up
and our children were better for
the lessons that were learned.
We've got this. Happy Back to School 2020!
Which lens do you look through when examining a situation? When there are many things that are true about a situation, which corner of the truth do you focus on and develop in your mind?
My mind keeps going to the moment my face hit the concrete, Sunday night. Walking home from a lovely dinner, after a lovely day, my flip flop caught on raised cement. It was dark out. I had enjoyed drinks at dinner. So you get where this is going.....I didn't even know I was falling until I was down. Then the blood. And the feeling that something wasn't right inside my mouth.
My front tooth cut in half, with the bottom half being wedged in my lower lip. There were other scrapes and cuts but the tooth was really the biggest concern. So, now, do I focus on how 2020 totally sucks and bad things keep happening? Do I continue to relive face hitting pavement in my mind?
Or can I tell you about the kind, empathetic dentist who received my panicked phone call at 9pm on a Sunday. He was reassuring and said "I can help you." He called me early the next morning and by noon on Monday, the tooth fragment was gone from my lip and my front tooth was bonded.
While I lay in the chair and he fixed my injuries, I thought about his third grade teacher. Did she know that the little boy she taught would grow to be a dentist who could change someone's life by being able to fix a smile? Maybe that sounds dramatic, but his help utterly made all the difference to me. I can not fix a broken tooth. Seeing my smile without a main part of it felt devastating. And the tooth stuck in my lip made me feel panicked. In the span of an hour, he made it right. And I wondered about all his teachers along the way, who not only helped him hone his skills but also encouraged him to be a person who is reassuring, reliable and kind?
Today I start back to work for four days of professional development before the children come in. What lens will I look through? Will I focus on all the restrictions and what I can't do? Will I focus on all the things that have changed? Can I choose to look through the lens of potential and possibility, and remember that each one of my students will touch the lives of many people in whatever field they choose. What can I do to help them become not only skilled thinkers but compassionate people?
When I picture myself hitting the concrete, I tell my brain to focus on the dentist who helped me. And then I think about his teachers and how so many people contribute to the making of a person. And how we can help each other and make life easier for each other. So I'll look through the lens of possibility and gratitude and with my newly bonded tooth, I'll smile under my mask.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski