By Melissa Byrd
The week of March 9th started out as a typical week teaching at a Virginia Beach middle school. A week that started with a ‘spring forward’ time change and a bunch of sleepy 11-12 year olds rolling into my classroom. Oh, and it was also a full moon, and not just any full moon, but a super, super full moon. And let’s throw a Friday the 13th in to boot. If all this wasn’t enough, add one more ingredient to this pre-adolescent chaos, Coronavirus and the likelihood of a school shutdown and boom! Just a typical week in the life of a middle school teacher – NOT!
This week ended so abruptly, that even teachers were left wondering what was happening. This is new territory for all of us. With weather shutdowns, we know we’ll be back in a few days. Our greatest concern is whether we will have to make up the missed days. In this situation, the uncertainty of when and if we’re coming back has left us all at a loss. However, we moved through that last day and last week assuring our kids that we would see them soon, that we would be in contact, still teaching them, still loving them, even if it was through their Chromebook screens!
I was sad! I didn’t get to give a proper goodbye to all 122 of my kids. An administrator came to my door on Friday afternoon and told the students to go to their lockers and pack EVERYTHING up “just in case we don’t comeback next week or for a while.” The bell rang. I said goodbye to as many kids as I could. I shouted or waved goodbye to others and tried to reassure whoever needed reassuring! The halls were emptied of students, and the teachers were all left dazed, questioning how this was going to work, when would we see our kids or each other again?
I packed up my plants, grabbed my binder for the next unit, wiped my boards, said goodbye to my colleagues, and headed home to wait for the next instructions. They came on Sunday night via email, and we were also told that teachers would not be reporting to school on Monday and to make sure we had our first lesson ready to go for Tuesday morning. I was ready, but my heart was heavy. I worry about my kids who need extra help and extra encouragement. I worry about the kids who just need to see the face of someone they trust each morning.
I feel that the greatest needs of many kids at this age are are more emotional – and I always aim to ensure I provide a safe and loving learning environment for them. I believe God has put me there to reflect His love to an age group who needs to see it so much, an age group that thinks it has all the answers, with exposure to so much more “stuff” than you could even imagine. My prayer each year is that His love is reflected through how I love them. They become my kids and remain my kids for life.
If I could offer you, the parent who has just been thrust into life as a Home School teacher, one piece of advice it would be to make sure the kids are staying engaged in learning throughout this shutdown. Keep that part of the daily routine. Check what the lesson is each day. See what the teachers are scheduling for your kids. Help them not fall behind. Ask them to show what they’re supposed to do each day, and then to show you the actual completed assignment. Keep a routine as if school was still in session. They don’t need to sit at the table all day. Remember, what we do in a seven-hour day with 25-30 students can be accomplished much quicker at home. I have my students for 105 minutes per block. I don’t teach for 105 minutes. We chat, we teach, we work, and we laugh. There is time for stories, laughing, and getting to know each other.
If you don’t understand how to help your child, email their teacher. We’re available. We all have office hours, when we’re live and waiting to hear from parents and students. Email when you have questions. Many of us have our email on our phone and will respond ASAP.
The bottom line is, go easy on yourselves. Just make sure you’re keeping them engaged in learning and that you stay engaged in what they are doing. Don’t make it a battle. The kids are anxious about what’s going on right now and school is their normal. If you or they are getting frustrated, take a break. Do something fun! Just pick it back up, and get it done. Remember, one positive from this whole situation is your home is now the school. Prayer is allowed back in your school. You’ve got this!
*We’ve just gotten news from the governor that we’re closed for the rest of the year. I started crying as soon as he announced it. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach! We don’t get to see the kids through to the end of the year, to send them off to the next year with encouragement and love. It’s like getting to the best part of the movie, where it’s really getting good, and the screen goes gablooey! What happens to your favorite character, do they stay in love and get married, does the bad guy get caught, do the children get rescued…you get it. How does it end? Even the kids have started missing school and are sad they don’t get to say goodbye to us! As of this writing, we still don’t know what the rest of the year will look like, but on behalf of all my fellow teachers please know that we will do everything in our power to make sure that for the rest of the year we will still be there for them – through technology, email, phone calls, video-chats – whatever it takes. We love them now and always.
Father, I pray for the moms out there who never dreamed they would someday have to become their children’s academic teacher. I pray you give them wisdom and patience as they put on this teacher hat. Remind them that even the professionals don’t get it perfect. Help them to simply be present for their children and to do the best they can. Keep them safe and in your care always. AMEN