The classroom is dim as the students trickled in.
A long pause.
By the time the bell rings, seven students are in the room. There should be 14. I suggest that they can spread out a little, these seven, but they are unwilling to leave the small square of space that has been theirs these past weeks. I can understand: they’re not six feet apart, but it’s been safe so far. Might as well stick with what works.
Several students had emailed me ahead of time; one posts in the chat.
“I won’t be coming in person this week, Miss. I’m sorry.”
“My mother doesn’t think it’s safe this week. Sorry.”
Yesterday as another school board in Ontario made a last-minute switch to online learning for this week, Ottawa’s chief medical officer, Dr. Vera Etches, wrote on Twitter, “We are not dealing with the same virus that we started out with a year ago. The risk of ICU admission is 2 times higher and the risk of death is 1.5 times higher for the B.1.1.7 variant (UK). The virus has changed, and so must our behaviours… I am asking the Province to implement further restrictions, including a province-wide Stay at Home order. My team is in the process of reviewing the COVID data in schools to advise on an approach to take for schools in Ottawa.Mask up. Keep your distance. #StayHome”
But our schools stay open.
Dr. Etches is trying to keep our schools open because she thinks kids learn best in schools – and I agree, but case numbers are climbing and a teacher who caught covid at school is intubated and in the ICU. Today Dr. Etches sent a letter to teachers and parents, reassuring us that “The situation with COVID-19 and schools in Ottawa is currently manageable, as 73% of schools have no people with an active COVID-19 infection where there was an exposure in school, and 98% of schools are free from an outbreak.
The vast majority of COVID-19 in schools originates with community exposures. Situations identified in schools where there was a possible exposure do not usually lead to transmission in schools. Child-to-staff and child-to-child transmissions remain rare in the school setting. At this time, schools are not a major driver of transmission of COVID19 and so closing them alone will not turn this current COVID-19 resurgence around.“
Today, Toronto schools moved to online learning.
I hear rumours of vaccines sitting unused in freezers. The province says that people over 60 are eligible, in some places it’s 50. The clinics are empty – or full. My husband’s friend says we are “only” five weeks behind the US. A pharmacy creates an online “waitlist,” promising to contact us when we are eligible for vaccines. Teachers flock to the website. I share it with my students because many of them will be eligible, too: almost half of them work, many as essential workers in grocery stores or food services; at least one is bringing in money for their family. The vaccines are safe or not safe. We have enough vaccine or not nearly enough. I can’t sift through the fog in my brain.
The Premier says he has “made a massive move…by basically shutting down the entire province” then complains that malls were “jam-packed” this weekend. He scolds and threatens “We’re going to have further restrictions moving forward very, very quickly” like an angry father wagging his finger and telling us to be good.
My friends complain about their children not being in schools. “The unions have too much power.” “Teachers need to get back to work.” “My kids have been at home for too long.” “This is their job.” “We’re going to private school next year; these public school teachers will be sorry.”
I think about my students, staying home to stay safe, staying home to protect each other, staying home so they can go to work to serve the people working from home. I think about them showing up online, trying to learn. I think about myself, standing, unvaccinated, in a room full of almost-adults. We are all trying so hard to do the right thing. I want to hug them, and I know I will not recognize them without their masks. If we pass in the street one day, I will not know who they are.
The anthem ends; we acknowledge that the land we stand on is unceded Algonquin territory. We are quiet in the dim heaviness of the room. We will get through this, too – we will. I take a deep breath. I tell them about books. “You can read this during break,” I say, “You should keep reading.” The quarter will end in three days.
We read. We write. We try to create poetry out of the words we have written this quarter – found poems, shadow poems, blackout poems. We try to create sense from what we have learned, from what we have done.
What have we done?
13 thoughts on “Three more days”
You have managed to capture all of the swirling emotions so very well. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I let it out at the very end. Thirty years from now, when we are asked how we got through, we will choose the short answer: “We got through because we had to.” Because that sounds so much more profound than “I have no idea.”
What have we done? You’re shutting down. We’re opening up. All the “news” and I wonder what’s true. Who really knows anything? So many big feelings- you captured it all.
I feel the heaviness in each line, but this one hits hard: “If we pass in the street one day, I will not know who they are.” Gosh. I hadn’t considered that – the moment when our job seems to lack all agency, all the potential that we signed up for.
But then I look at all you have done and do over and over despite the struggle. Even the attempt to make sense means that you have modelled for them the way to approach learning when you cannot know the outcome, when the expectations are shifting daily, but you hang on to the poetry of life.
“We try to create sense from what we have learned, from what we have done.” This is what you have done.
I also found myself holding my breath as I read this and letting it out with a whoosh when I read your final question. I think the lines that really hit me in the gut were, “I want to hug them, and I know I will not recognize them without their masks. If we pass in the street one day, I will not know who they are.” These times we are in defy understanding. Stay safe, my friend.
That last paragraph, wow. There are so many angles a teacher navigates in this pandemic. It’s challenging to listen without feeling gut punched.
“Gut punched”… “holding my breath…letting it out with a whoosh”…your other readers identified how I felt reading this. The pandemic alone is beyond difficult to navigate, yet you bring up so many reasons why, with each decision made, or not made…each judgement projected…each truth and untruth to sift through…it has been made even harder. I so often wonder why I feel so exhausted, so in a fog-your post reminds me of this weight we carry. Please stay safe.
Amanda, this is a poignant account of the situation teachers are facing everywhere. What is the right thing to do given what we know? Given that the information we are given changes every day? What have we done? Says it all.
You can make it! Thank you for sharing this information. I do not always get information about what is happening in Canada in regards to COVID. It makes me wonder how much of the information I am receiving in the US is accurate. We are back from Spring Break and all of our students are here. It is so great to see them, but many of them traveled all over the country. And although I am vaccinated, my high school son is not. The CDC says it is ok. What to believe? I hope your teacher with COVID recovers quickly.
Amanda, your post today really captures the essence of the challenge. The way you wove information and quotes from leaders in your post really adds to your overall point. What you’ve written here is just like what we are experiencing in our state. Every teacher wants their students back in the physical classroom, but back in the classroom isn’t what it normally is anyway. The answers certainly aren’t simple. You address another important point of view that we don’t hear nearly enough: that of the children. This sentence captures this: “I think about my students, staying home to stay safe, staying home to protect each other, staying home so they can go to work to serve the people working from home.”
Hard times, for sure.
What have we done…a good question! I have read it a few different ways just now and can find both positive and not as positive answers. I’m glad I didn’t read this last night before bed. The uncertainty is too much. “We are all trying so hard to do the right thing.” I was thinking last night about why there have been delays in an official “shut down”. That had me thinking about how it’s not as easy as simply telling everyone to stay home. There are people who will need financial assistance to do that. Where does that money come from and how much are my taxes going to change because of this? *sigh* You are right…too much brain fog. I’m even reading a John Grisham book to take my mind off of everything.
Maybe we should all move to the forest. We can read and write poems and forget about the rest of the world for a while.
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I’m coming to the forest to read/write poetry, knit, cook and eat together.
I’m home from the third last day. I’m in pyjamas and in bad as Mr 17 makes dinner. Yesterday’s first dose of AstraZeneca is beating me up a little.
3 of my Grade 7’s fell asleep today. They are so tired. Some are gaming late into the night, some have new babies in the family, some aren’t sleeping due to anxiety. We are, collectively, a mess.
What did we do?
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Today I had 14 of 15 in class & the rest on line. We listened to Padraig O Tuama read & discuss poetry then we read and wrote poetry ourselves; it was hopeful. (You can listen at https://onbeing.org/series/poetry-unbound/ – try Dilruba Ahmed’s Phase One – they loved it.)
The uncertainty dogs us at every turn, not only when we try to do the right things but especially so it seems. Your last two sentences – same words and yet a multitude of possible interpretations – these capture the often cruel irony of so many unknowns. Whew. I feel this.
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