I Wasn't Meant To Teach Behind A Screen

by Kristen Thiele
Originally Published: 
I Wasn't Meant To Teach Behind A Screen
Watchara Piriyaputtanapun/Getty

As we left our building on March 12, 2020, my students and I had a plan. We’d all have a three-day weekend, with the exception of us teachers coming back Monday to assist in cleaning efforts. Then, Tuesday, bam! we’d be finishing the third act of Romeo and Juliet.

None of us could have predicted that schools, our school — for some of them, their favorite and only safe space — would shut down for the remainder of the year.

I’m the teacher who knows which kids need the granola bars in my drawer, who packs yogurt and fruit I don’t need, or can at least go without, so they can eat those nutritious things when my stock of chewy bars runs low midday, unexpectedly.

What are those kids eating now?

I tried an exercise yesterday. I asked my ninth graders on Google Classroom to answer a single question. Being in a crowded urban area, and knowing the poverty many of our students face, it occurred to me that these kids are in survival mode. In our county, three of the top six hardest hit zip codes fall within our district lines. It’s a crippling figure as everyone tries to battle COVID-19.

So my thought was: if these kids are already overwhelmed thinking about their next meal or immediate safety, why would they read my Newsela or Common Lit assignments?

I asked: How are you? If you don’t feel like writing too much, answer me with an emoji. Just, please, answer.

Then my quiet Google Classroom gained traffic.

I posted a video message saying how much I miss and worry about them. (A constant reality for me).

The first reply was “miss you making me cry.”

Me too. Me too. This… whatever this “new normal” is… will never feel normal.

I kept saying this will be my newest blog topic, but the truth is, I haven’t had the motivation to write. Until now.

I encourage my students to find their voice even in times of great stress, and I always promise I wouldn’t ask more of them than I would ask of myself.

So here it goes: I’m not meant to teach behind a screen.

I miss our jokes. Like my nearly six-foot-tall student, a sweet and funny girl who loves to put her “hand visor” to her forehead and pretend she can’t see 5’9” me above the crowd. Have you seen Miss? Oh! There you are!”

I miss the smiles. Just knowing they were happy to see me, and I them. Like after my daughter’s tonsillectomy. I’d taken several days off from work, and once I was back, their hearts seemed full. Mine was too.

How can I say goodbye to kids I should have had three more months with? It’s hard to sleep knowing I’ll never teach the same group of students again.

My teacher heart hurts for my school kids, who never leave my mind. My mom heart hurts for my own kids, who miss their teachers and the normalcy of life.

This routine, if you can call it that, works for no one.

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