I am guilty of the occasional jump for joy when an unexpected snow day occurs, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine the closing of schools around America for an indefinite period of time because of a global pandemic. This is a unique situation that I could not have thought up at the beginning of my student teaching, but on Friday, March 13, 2020 at approximately 9:45 am it became a reality. Two days earlier I found out that March Madness was cancelled in the midst of teaching a whole group math lesson about comparing numbers. I remember thinking in that moment “wow this is history, I will never forget this moment.” My cooperating teacher and I even giggled one of those “what is happening” laughs when she shared the news to me. But I think the moment that I found out that our school was actually closing was a moment that will shape me as an educator forever. It was like a wave of information that I had been expecting but was not prepared for. The rest of the day, I could feel myself teaching in a haze of uncertainty and panic. In our classroom we kept our cool because you sure know that 5-year-olds will pick up on your stress and then just tell you how it is.
All I can describe the day as was different. You never wish to have different days, especially in the field of early childhood education where structure and routine are so incredibly important, but Friday, March 13, 2020 was different. Our routine that day did become a bit construed by the madness of trying to prepare our kids with weeks’ worth of at home learning experiences. I could tell that some of our kids were beginning to pick up on this, but truthfully I think it was forgotten when they got to paint with watercolors after finishing their writing for the day (special occasion that was planned weeks before COVID-19 panic aka the one thing that seemed to work out on our very different day). I still found myself reflecting throughout the day and feeling incredibly guilty that some kids were picking up on this panic because school should always serve as a safe and secure environment. I became so cognizant of this throughout the day that I forced myself to take deep breaths when I became overwhelmed so that I could be the best for my kids that I could be in this chaotic scramble.
Eventually, the end of the day came. Again, this was a different feeling. We all love the end to a day filled with chaos, but I did not want this day to end. I did not want to say goodbye to my kids knowing the impact that no school would have on the development that they have worked so hard for. I know that these precautions are appropriate, and I am so grateful that they are being taken for the safety of everyone; however, there is something really tough about saying an indefinite goodbye to your kids in conditions of uncertainty that they cannot wrap their 5 year-old brains around. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to individually tell each of my kids “I love you,” as they headed out the door.
I have only felt my heart break a few times in my 22 years of life. March 13, 2020 was one of those times. So many people in the world do not understand that a school is more than just academics. It is safety, it is social-emotional development, it is a support-system, it is a meal when you need one, it is by no means just academic. I think that is why my heart broke that day and why my hear breaks for every unexpected day that we are not in school because there are so many things that kids depend on within school other than just the academics. A principal that I have worked for back at home the past two summers always describes her school as the land of sunshine and rainbows; however, on the Monday following school shutdowns she posted a picture of an empty building and said a gloomy cloud had cast over the land of sunshine and rainbows. This added a lot more to my heartbreak, but it also provided me with some hope and relief that others had the same love for public education and their kids.
I will reiterate that I am extremely grateful that health and safety precautions are being taken during this situation. I think that from this, I have learned how incredibly grateful I am for public education and the benefits and resources that it provides. I have always been grateful, but my gratefulness has skyrocketed in the past couple of weeks. I hope that I will get the opportunity to teach my kids again, but if not, I cannot wait to do everything that I can to support this time of learning at home. I am so blessed to have an amazing cooperating teacher who is ready to advocate for our kids during this time. I am so blessed to have multiple means of communication with families. I am so blessed to work in a profession that cares and will do anything for their kids during this time.
Most people are sad that the end of college is being taken from them, but I am sad that many of my kids’ first experiences with education and school is being taken from them. In a sense my kindergartners and I are in a similar situation. Both of us have crucial aspects of our lives being disrupted by something unexpected. I know that together we will find a way to accomplish what we set out for. For now, I am ready to advocate for my kids and their education.