Ashley Corbin Wise
Green County Middle School
Ashley Corbin Wise, Mathematics Teacher
Are you nervous? Are you scared? Those are the questions I found myself being asked in the weeks leading up to our return to in-person school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Our school was preparing to be one of the first to return and everyone wanted to know how I, as a teacher, felt about it. I know they were curious and meant well, but many people were not able to understand why being able to offer an in-person option for our students was so important.
At times, I was nervous and scared. I feel confident that educators across the nation had moments that made them feel scared and/or nervous as schools and states deliberated about whether to return to in-person instruction. When I considered my elderly family and friends, I was (and still am) concerned that I might unknowingly share something with them. As a mom to a toddler with asthma, I take every precaution I can (just like I have always done) to reduce the possibility of sharing an illness with her.
For my district’s leaders, however, the decision to reopen our schools on August 17 wasn’t really about anyone’s emotions. It was much greater. It was about our kids. Our. Kids. We have great kids and great families in Greensburg, Kentucky. In March, we were not able to say goodbye to our kids. We were not able to celebrate the end of a wonderful school year. We were not able to wish them a happy and safe summer break. That was tough on my emotions. I had a Zoom end-of-the year celebration with two of my classes in May–and I sobbed when we closed the call because I knew that they were headed to high school and I might not see some of them again.
When I really consider things, even now, I am more afraid about what might happen if we are not able to have in-person school. Not being able to come to school is scary for some students. Like communities across the United States, we also have kids who come to school for a hot meal, for a calm environment and to be lovingly supported while they learn. Those kids are our kids. Even though meals were delivered during our spring shutdown and we all worked to make virtual learning as successful as it could be on a short notice, we all knew that not being at school was really tough for some of our kids.
As we prepared for a fall that might not be typical, we knew that we could improve upon what we had learned in the spring for our virtual learners and that we would do whatever it took to be able to offer an in-school option for our students who needed to be in school.
Our district’s leaders, teachers and support staff spent the months leading up to our return in mid-August making plans for our return to school. Plans were made, adjustments made, and classrooms arranged to accommodate for social distancing. Each family was given the option to choose what was best for their student, as we offered both virtual and in-class learning options. Understanding that the pandemic is entirely fluid, our school district offers families the opportunity to alternate between the two options. We were as ready as we could be for the unknown; we were a little nervous and a little scared as the first day approached. What would it be like to teach while wearing a mask? Would the kids hate being socially distant? My administrators love to say, “At Green County Middle School we work hard…and we play hard!” What would it be like to eliminate so much of the fun parts of our day?
The big day came (finally!). It was different…and it was wonderful! The first week of school was one of the best of my career, although things were a little weird. I had five days when my kids from last year came by for air hugs and socially distant fist bumps. I had five days to cherish the sound of students talking in my classroom that had been eerily quiet for far too long. Things were different–pausing to disinfect desks, to make seating charts for “just in case” they were needed for contact tracing and trying to learn new faces hidden behind masks. Five days full of eager learners (that was refreshing for this middle school math teacher…normally the first day is full of begrudging wishes for home/summer/sleep).
We know that times of entirely remote learning might be necessary to keep everyone safe. It was expected and even prepared for; unfortunately, we did have to make the transition to fully remote learning after that first week. We had started well, though, and built the relationships that allowed our virtual classrooms to function and thrive. Since then, our local numbers have improved so that it is safe to once again have in-person learning. Being able to be at school with students is something that I took for granted before, just as I think many students took for granted the benefit of a teacher. As we learn to do school in our new, hopefully temporary normal, I hope that the lesson we forever hold dear is to appreciate and maximize each day. Wouldn’t we all have appreciated that last day just a little more had we known that it was really the last day we would have with those kids? I would have hugged each one of them as they left! For now, I am working hard to cherish each day with my kids.
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