Last week I walked into my classroom for the first time since December. December 20th was my due date and as I waddled into my room that morning, I felt a wave of emotions come over me. I sat in the middle of our carpet (yes I was still somehow able to sit criss-cross at nine months pregnant) prior to the students arrival and took a moment to just be in that space; a space I called home for so long. A space full of laughter and hugs. A space full of curiosity and teamwork. A space that I was not quite ready to leave. I’m happy I took that moment, because little did I know it would be the last for quite some time. I purposefully made time that day to tell each child how much I loved them and why. Taking maternity leave was extremely difficult for me. Giving up my classroom, my students who I had grown to adore, my safety net, to turn to an entire new adventure was frightening.
You see, I have never done well with change. I thrive on routine and I become easily attached. To put things into perspective, I am the girl who bought the Dawson’s Creek DVD set and watched all 6 seasons 4 times through prior to being able to watch the finale because Jen dies (sorry for the spoiler, but I’m going to guess that if you haven’t yet become a fan, it’s safe to assume you aren’t dying to watch). I didn’t want to relive letting go. Now you can only imagine how I felt having to say goodbye to 19 incredible humans who I spent each day with for the first half of the school year. As the bell rang, I hugged them each tightly and told them I’d be back to visit soon. That visit never came….
4 days later my world completely changed. After a long, high-stress delivery, the most perfect miracle was placed into my arms and my life has not been the same in the absolute best of ways ever since. As a new mom no one tells you all that you are going to feel. You can never prepare yourself for the immense love you have toward a human that you created and now have the privilege to care for. No one explains the all-encompassing need mothers have to take away their baby’s pain. One piece of advice we continuously hear is to trust your intuition.
In many ways, I feel like a bit of Kenzie’s early months were taken from us. Between doctor’s visits and the pandemic, things were hard. Really hard. After a trip to the hospital to have some testing done (she is completely healthy now), in the height of Florida becoming the new epicenter of COVID, I reluctantly called my principal. I knew I had to be a mom. I had to protect my family and my baby. I could not step foot back in my classroom for the upcoming year. As the tears rolled off my cheeks, soaking my shirt, my principal told me I had made my decision and it was the right one, be happy. She was right. I am grateful that I have this year to be with my daughter. I can’t quite put into words the joy I feel each time I hear her giggle or watch her as she sleeps. Many elements of me are thrilled about this new chapter; however, a piece of me is still in that classroom, sitting on the floor, soaking up all that it means to be a teacher.
Since I made the decision to take the year off A LOT has happened in our state. I recognize the privilege I have in being able to take this time. Many of my colleagues and friends are fearing for not only their safety, but their life right now and rightfully so. Hospitals near us are full. A teacher in our district has already lost their life due to COVID and a principal was in ICU. This isn’t a time for us to nod our heads as we always do because we love our students and simply agree to put our lives on the line. The time is now to ensure that not only teachers are safe, but children are too. Communities need to be safe. My guess is that most of you reading this have never spent any significant time in a Kindergarten classroom even if you are a teacher. It is pretty much known throughout education that it takes an awfully specific person to love and want to teach Kindergarten. I am that person. There is no other grade I would want to teach. The constant hugs, dancing, and chatter is what I live for. The deep discussions with 5-year olds are magical. However, the germs are real. And you have to energetically be on your toes all day long.
To think that we are going to have young children walk into school with a mask, sit at a desk with a plastic shield, not play with toys, explore with manipulatives, walk for recess time, not participate in group work, not run to their side when they’ve fallen, stay six feet apart from one another, not do circle time, not pass around objects they bring in to share, breaks my kinder-loving heart. I’m sad that this is their reality. On the other hand, if you expect all children to keep their mask on, not sneeze into their hands, not come to school when they are sick, or wipe down high touch surfaces themselves every hour, you clearly have never been in a classroom. When I was pregnant in the classroom I never even found the time to pee, let alone be the cleaning police. And this doesn't stop with teachers. Think of crowded buses. Imagine a cafeteria with 100 students (I am not exaggerating the numbers, this actually half capacity for some schools in my district) and no masks. We are not valuing education and children and people need to use their voice to say something.
I am angered. Educators' plates have been overfilled for years, but we keep showing up. We continue to do what we do because we are passionate about our work. But going back to school brick and mortar right now is not only an unsafe option for school communities, it is unsafe for communities as a whole. Please know that this is not what any of us want. We love our students. We have always wanted what is best for their mental and physical well-being. It is comical to us that now, suddenly, people who have never cared about education want what’s best for children's emotional well-being. We know that children need to socialize, but please also understand that school will not be school this fall. Gone are the days of playing tag and hugging a friend when they scrape their knee, at least for now. Children go to school not only to grow academically, but to grow socially and emotionally as well. That will not be the case in the fall.
Teaching is my passion. I love it more than anything in the world, which is why I feel compelled to discuss the inequities we as educators are being faced with right now. I recognize the privilege I have and hope that there will be a resolution that requires a safe return for all. I have always and will continue to want what is best for my students, but right now many districts across the state are not considering what needs to happen to keep everyone protected.
Teachers, bus drivers, social workers, psychologists, cafeteria aides, teaching aides, administrators, everyone who helps run a school, we stand with you. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Parents, if you need any help whatsoever navigating education during this time please do not hesitate to reach out. Let’s come together and do our part to build a better future; a future in which our children are proud of.