How This Teacher Is Handling The COVID-19 School Closures

Because Illinois’ COVID-19 school closures will run right up until my two-week Spring Break in April, I, like many of you, am about to embark on a month-long separation from school period due to coronavirus concerns.  Whatever your feelings are about the virus or the decisions to temporarily close schools, this will be the reality for many teachers in the coming month. 

Let’s first acknowledge the positive.  The present situation has made me feel incredibly grateful to be a teacher.  I am a salaried employee, with health insurance, who is able to work from home during this challenging time in order to protect my own health and the health of others.  I am choosing to self-quarantine as much as humanly possible. While I am not showing symptoms nor am I especially concerned about contracting the virus myself, doing so seems like the very least I can do to protect the greater community, especially considering my privileged circumstances. 

It’s Time to Make the Most of the Present 

While I won’t go so far as to say that I’m excited about it, sitting at home reading scary news articles about COVID-19 closures or endlessly scrolling through social media isn’t going to do anyone any favors.   Instead, let’s shift our mindset and think about how we can make the most of the present situation, and use the time away from school to come back better people and teachers for our students. 

Like many teachers, I will be expected to be working from home, checking in with students, and completing assigned projects. I don’t anticipate this being an entire month of sleeping in and binge-watching Netflix.  However, I do anticipate having more time on my hands than usual. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

Read!  Let’s be honest, how many of us teachers expect our students to read independently each day, but don’t practice what we preach? 

I have so many books on my to-read list that I can’t wait to dig into this month: some professional, some for pleasure. Is there an instructional strategy you’ve been wanting to learn more about but just haven’t found the time?  Any popular young adult texts that you may or may not want to recommend to students? Or, maybe you just want to read because reading helps us to be more educated, well-rounded, and happier people. That’s fine too.

Take up a hobby.  Or, in my case, dedicate myself to a hobby that I’ve all but abandoned.  For a long time, I’ve been wanting to teach myself how to play the piano on the keyboard that’s currently being used as a shelf for the clothes that I’m too lazy to put away.  Doing so will be a good distraction.

When was the last time you learned something new that was challenging for you? Remember when you were a student and that was what you did all day every day!  How does it feel? How do you approach challenges? What keeps you motivated to keep learning and trying? What can we learn about learning and self-guided exploration that we may be able to apply to our classrooms?

Get organized.  I’m one day in and have already started Marie Kondo-ing my house.  Let me tell you, it feels amazing! I’ve always been conscious of how I feel like my school life is under control when my home life is under control.  Use this time to get your affairs in order.

It’s also a great time to get ahead on your school life. Plan that amazing unit that you can’t wait for your students to experience upon their return.  Organize those word study materials or math centers. Getting organized now will help everyone, teachers and students alike, to have a great end to the school year. 

Check in on your neighbors and students.  I asked my friend, who is a doctor, what healthcare workers need during this time to feel supported.  She responded jokingly that what they needed was someone to watch their kids. While this might not be possible, given current recommendations, we can nonetheless support our friends with school-aged kids as they are thrust into homeschooling for which they are likely unprepared.  Offer to help explain homework or connect them with additional resources. Offer to help them make a developmentally-appropriate daily schedule to keep all involved productive and sane.

Teachers Are Helpers. We Can Still Help!

Is there a neighbor who might need help getting groceries? An elderly family friend who might need someone to pick up their prescription?  Check in on your students however you’re able. Not to see if they’ve completed the extensive work packet sent home, but to see how they’re doing.

Inspired by a community in Massachusetts, I‘m forming a neighbor pod in my apartment building.  Lending a hand will help to give us a shared sense of purpose during this challenging time and make us feel less helpless in the face of it all. Use this opportunity to call that friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile and combat the social isolation we’re all bound to experience to varying degrees.  We are all human, and teachers will likely feel this loss of social connection more acutely. We’re all in this together.    

Most of All, Be Gentle with Yourself

Or, do none of this.  These are unprecedented times and no one knows what the heck we’re doing.  Be gentle with yourself. Who knows what the next month will bring. But, maybe this time away from our students and colleagues will give us a greater appreciation for the profession that we’re in.  After all, our jobs allow us to form meaningful relationships, constantly learn and grow, and have a positive impact on others and the larger community every single day. That is a gift. I have a feeling this time away will make me really appreciate the fact that my days are never boring, no matter how stressful they may be.  Stay positive and healthy, everyone!

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Sara Urben

Sara Urben is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher who leads professional development with educators from around the city. She is passionate about purposeful play in the classroom, the benefits of bilingual education, and literacy as a social justice issue.