The school year started with all the assumptions we make about how life is going to go.
She’ll go to school, she’ll make more friends, the teachers will work their magic, I will have some breathing room for myself, repeat for nine months. At the end of the year, my child will have learned whatever she’s supposed to learn for her grade level and I’ll say thank you to the teachers with a gift card, and see you in the Fall!
Come March 2020 and the notice of shutdown of school campuses due to COVID-19.
I realized in an instant that I didn’t know how to work a teacher’s magic. In fact, I was humbled to learn it’s not just magic. It’s a freaking ton of hard work, tenacity, commitment to the kids, commitment to (and patience with!) the families, incredible flexibility with each child’s unique temperament, iron stomach for politics, creativity, and an understanding of their own worth as powerful shapers of future generations even when the majority of people take a teacher’s job so much for granted.
With all the other parents, I mainly fumbled and sighed and cried my way through the first few weeks of “homeschooling.” But our amazing principal and teachers showed up to our kids and our families with a revamped plan that must’ve kept them up all hours of the night to create (and re-create). Led in that spirit, my first grader didn’t seem to bat an eyelash at all the changes. She never melted down, never complained, only remarked now and then that she missed seeing and hugging her friends and teachers. But her teachers stayed positive, engaged, affectionate, appropriately strict, and very much at the helm.
As painfully long as some of the days were with managing kids at home all day every day with distance learning, I got to see through the Zoom classes how a teacher brings a group of children together in a spirit of hope and community with an unshakable focus on continuing growth and education. I got to know my daughter’s classmates and their parents. I got to know my own child better – how she thinks, how she works through struggles, what sparks her to speak up, what inhibits her, what excites her, what makes her sad. I got to know those things about myself better as a parent as well.
By the last week of school, I finally felt surprisingly settled into the new rhythm, as exhausting as all the demands were. And then it was time to wrap up the school year. There was a winding down of online coursework, but there could be none of the on-campus celebratory end-of-year activities. There was a drive-by the school to wave to teachers and staff, where I went to shout “Thank you!!”out the window and found myself trying not to wail with sobs instead. There was a brief pickup of classroom materials and a side hug with her teacher after asking permission, adjusting her mask and dousing her in hand sanitizer. Emotions were at times muted, at times surprisingly acute, mostly confusing.
Then came the final class Zoom meetings. In a talent show on the second-to-last day, another little girl in class said she had a song to sing about saying good-bye but how everyone remains in each other’s hearts. It was off-key and acapella, but at the end of her song, a little boy then burst into sobs. I looked over at my daughter and she was quietly fighting back her tears. It was her first sign of sad emotion since the quarantine started. I wrapped my arms around her, she turned off her video, and waited to compose herself before getting back into the Zoom meeting. She said they were just happy tears.
Today. The final day of school. The online class talent show finished up, and it was time for all the children and their teacher to say good-bye. They all clasped their hands together and pumped their fists back and forth from their chest to the computer screen, “sending love” as their teacher called it. My daughter stayed on until the last minute, as one by one each little square for each classmate’s face disappeared from the virtual classroom. She was already blinking back tears but as the meeting ended, she buried herself in my arms, and we were both crying together.
This year, our kids lost so much. But in this mysterious, imperfect, painful, beautiful, terrible, magical way, we have also gained so much. And teachers and school staff, I now know that you are the most hard-working and the most magical people I know. We did it, and we did it together, but you led the way with your grit and your heart. Our family is sending you all our love.