First Week Back from Covid: What it was Like

What effect has Covid had on secondary teaching in America?

Here in Tennessee, at least, it has made learning/teaching time more precious, and it has opened up to all teachers and learners technical tools that only a few of us had used regularly in the past.

It has shifted more of the burden of learning onto students and families, while creating enormous shifts in teaching that must be matched with new pedagogical and technological tools.

Monday, August 7, the night after my first day teaching in Room 953 since the Ides of March, I returned home physically and emotionally exhausted. 

I had done it. After 5 ½ months away, I had taught lessons, I had interacted with students, I had shared what I know from a lifetime of learning.

But I was spent. Returning to Room 953, I realized a little of what a refugee feels, returning to her city after months or years away: while the place is the same, and many of the people have returned, something fundamental is still awry*.

At SCHS we begin every semester with “home room,” and my the classrooms in my hall host the seniors. I like to begin that short period each semester by blasting “Pomp and Circumstances” and telling students: “This is the goal, this is where your year will end.”

But as I played the music this year, I couldn’t help but think of the class I had serenaded last year during home room. There had been no graduation in mid-May (it took place the last weekend in June). Prom, field trips, foreign travel (a key motivational tool for my German classes) had been aborted, and we couldn’t say if or when they would return.

As with the refugee, there was a strong sense of the past--of tradition, of shared values, of home--but the foreboding was also there as well. A ‘bright future’ seems more abstract in 2020 than it should be, thanks to the pandemic, and that sad fact weighed heavily on my heart.

A Final Note

Even now, as I write about new strategies I have tried--new tools I have found--new insights into teaching & learning, I know that this school year is a matchstick house that could be set aflame if a significant number of my students, my colleagues--or if I--get sick

It is a huge risk we are taking, beginning a school year during a pandemic. The hybrid schedule implemented by my district reduces that risk significantly but not entirely. Masks help. Disinfectant. Distancing. But they do not equal certainty.

For me, personally, the reward of learning is still far greater than the risks. That’s why I show up to teach--in person, online, at the bottom of a swimming pool if I have to--every day. And it’s why I chose to have my 12th-grade son learn in this hybrid setting, too.

* I have worked with hundreds of refugees over the course of my career, and I emphasize here my connection in returning (as many of my refugee friends and clients did, returning to Kosove after the NATO-Serb War) not in the overall refugee experience of loss and exile that is far worse than anyone with even my exposure could every really understand.