Yearning for my pre-pandemic classroom with all its challenges

Courtesy: Liz Sandoval LuerasOne of Ms. Leuras’ classrooms in the days before the pandemic, which she longs for now. Courtesy: Liz Sandoval LuerasOne of Ms. Leuras’ classrooms in the days before the pandemic, which she longs for now. Liz Sandoval LuerasJuly 23, 2020I’m not gonna lie: Sometime at the beginning of March as I began to hear about school closures in some districts around the country — as I trudged along in my still-open seventh-grade classroom, negotiating the Common Core curriculum, field-trip permission slips and the occasional student meltdown — I was envious.
Our spring break was a few weeks away and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to get an extra week off from school? Maybe two extra weeks in addition to spring break?”
My mind drifted to the possibilities: Extra time to watch HGTV. Drives to the beach. Sleeping in until 6 a.m.
One day, as we discussed coronavirus during a reading unit in class, a sassy student joked, “Come on, somebody! Take one for the team!”
The kids laughed and agreed, some of them chiming in along with this student’s sentiment that extra time off of school would be great.
I assured the kids that even if we did get an extra week or two off of school as a pandemic precaution, we’d most likely have to make up the weeks of instruction before summer break (because, you know, there are 180 days in a school year). But even I secretly hoped.
Instead, from March through June, I was on the front lines. Yes, I was safely tucked away at home, yet still on the front lines — as always, losing sleep over other people’s children.
And while I did manage to sleep in a number of days (and watch some HGTV in between the distance teaching), there were no escapes to the beach. Literally or figuratively.
No one could have expected this kind of stress:
Feeling more like a truancy officer than a teacher (i.e., trying to track kids down as well as trying to get getting them to pay attention to your carefully crafted lessons).
Hoping your students have not forgotten all the lessons you worked so hard to ingrain: “You need specific evidence from the text to support your claim.” “Be aware of loaded language in the text that you read!” “Life during Medieval times was hard, but there were still incredible achievements.”
Dreading the fourth R. We’ve all heard of the three R’s of education but teachers know a fourth R: regression. I don’t think a single teacher hasn’t regularly contemplated the fear of regression throughout the past 12 weeks.
If I could describe it in dream (or maybe a nightmare) form, then it would look like an athlete training for a special competition only to realize the night before the meet that he has lost most of his strength and coordination and can’t run or swim a single lap. Aside from any physical or emotional harm coming to a child, regression is what a teacher fears most for her students during a long break.
In a few weeks for many of us, our new (if temporary) classrooms will be virtual ones — at least until the virus numbers get better. Beyond that? Well, by all accounts, it will be one sort of mishmash or another.
Each kid gets his own ball at recess time? Middle schoolers stay in one classroom the entire day instead of changing classes? Fourteen kids to a class instead of 24? Lunch at your desk? Your guess is as good as mine.
I always have butterflies in my stomach the night before the first day of school. I don’t sleep well. The anticipation is high because the stakes are high. You’re about to meet a big group of clients — and “pitch” to them for the first time in what will be a series of Big Meetings over the next 10 months. The account is already yours. But they’re counting on you to deliver the goods. Daily.
Now, in this pandemic environment, the stakes seem even higher. Do all that you can to ensure that you don’t lose contact with a client. Don’t lose momentum with the client. As often as possible, do a daily live presentation to ensure engagement with the client. The list goes on.
Yes, by mid-March, my colleagues and I were very tired. We already were counting down the days until summer break as well as to spring break. (I hope you don’t judge me (us) for this.)
Now, we’d go back to the mid-March tiredness in a heartbeat if it meant that the world could get back to what it was before. Common Core, field-trip permission slips, student meltdowns and all.
Be careful what you wish for.
•••
Liz Sandoval Lueras teaches seventh grade English at Andrews K-8 in the Whittier City School District, the same school she attended as a child.
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