Week Two. The Kids are On Their Way.

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I feel like I’ve been clenching my jaw for the last six months. Over the last few weeks, though, it’s gotten worse. It feels sore all the time. I have to keep reminding myself to relax it, or at least separate my teeth.

Also, this week was better than last week. It felt better, if just a little, in all the ways it could. Next week promises to be much better, way better. I’m excited, even, for the weekend to end.

I have students, real live ones, in my class starting Monday. I get to teach really real people for a week.

When we pass each other in the halls, our staff doesn’t have all that much to talk about, since our answers to “how’s it going?” are either deeply depressing or lies. So, we track who has kids. Ooh, you’ve got kids today, must be exciting! Lucky you, kids next week! Oh, I had kids last week, so this week distance feels especially rough…

So, yes, the answer is yes, I’m excited to have kids in my classroom. I’ve only known these ones for two weeks, and only two days a week, and only through Google Meet, but I already know I adore these little weirdos. It will be great to see them in person, to hear them talk without asking them to unmute themselves first, to let them talk and laugh together, to feel at least a little normal for at least a little while.

And, you know, also, the idea of sharing one room with a bunch of other people for four hours isn’t overly relaxing right now. Like, there’s the parts of all of this I give most my stress and anxiety to, all the things we do because of the pandemic, the extra planning and how to distance teach and all that, but also there’s still the actual, real pandemic. The thing that could get us sick. The country will hit 200,000 deaths in the next day or two. I know people who have had it, people whose loved ones have died from it. I take it seriously.

The longer I’m actually out in the real world the more I feel like I must be imagining it. It just must not be that dangerous or that contagious. It must not be that scary, surely, because no one else seems to be scared.

The more I talk to those students, those real live and wonderful weird ones, the more I hear about all the sleepovers they’re having, and the friend visits, and the study groups and the practices, oh the practices. I see them as I drive from school, the cross country team packed in a tight circle, all sixty or so, so they can stand and hear the coach, then running off together in packs of ten or so. Students are in basketball leagues that play indoors, there’s soccer games at night. It sounds like the football season is about to start after all.

My district is doing a pretty good job, I think. Students come to school in small groups. We stay distanced as we line up, distanced as we eat, distanced while we sit in class. masks are mandatory in the building. We have staggered releases at the end of the day so the hallways don’t get too much traffic. But when they all meet each other on the sidewalk and take their masks off for their walks to each other’s houses, it starts to feel a bit like we’re doing a whole lot of safety theater.

But then, all that is happening and everyone seems ok. The numbers in the community are fairly low. I don’t know anyone there who has had it. It doesn’t feel real, like, really real, that we could be spreading it to one another, that us or our students could get sick, that one of those really real students I’ll see in a few days could have it, could end up on a ventilator, that we could lose parents and grandparents and, my god, that we could lose colleagues.

It doesn’t seem real, it feels impossible, that my job could kill me, that the stories of another dead teacher that are increasingly common and get less and less attention, could be me, that the “grief counselors are available” and “classes will start again Wednesday” could happen here.

I don’t really think about it, not all that often. I wear my mask because I can, because I should, and it often hides the clenching of my jaw. It doesn’t feel real, not really real, anyway, the sickness. It’s so easy for it not to be real when the students come in Monday, when I can’t wait to share a room with them.

Written by

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything. www.mrtomrad.com

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