Uprooting

After three weeks away and an 18-hour drive home, the kids and I pulled into the driveway. I unlocked the doors and opened the back hatch, handing bundles to the boys as they made their way inside. There, in the waning light, I saw several dandelion plants nearly as tall as the 11 year old dragging a suitcase up the front steps. Long green blades of grass – not grass I had planted – poked up between the paving stones and around the azaleas, visibly proud of how quickly and well it had grown. And even the enthusiastic grass had nothing on the tomatoes: they had grown exuberantly, abundantly, outrageously, and then, exhausted, had laid their heavy branches down on the sidewalk, creating a thick verdant obstacle course for passersby. The plants were out of control.

I paused, arms laden with the miscellaneous car detritus that appears at the end of a long road trip, and shook my head slowly – as if I could somehow reconcile this sight with Andre’s text from last night: “I did some trimming of the garden so you wouldn’t be totally horrified, but you will still want to get out there to rip stuff up.”

I was, in fact, totally horrified.

As I stood, rooted to the spot, our neighbor Mike came over to welcome us home. I sputtered something about giant dandelions and he laughed, “Yeah, Andre didn’t get a lot of gardening done while he was home*.” Mike had watered the plants while we were away, and he’d kept at it even once Andre came home because Andre had to work. Now, together, we stared at the wild tangle that occupied the space previously known as the front yard.

“Girl,” said Mike, “get in there and get some sleep. We can deal with this tomorrow. I’ll help with the tomatoes.”

Saturday arrived, hot and humid. I rummaged through the shed and found stakes, twine, a small garden fork and a large yard waste bag. The morning was for pulling things. Out came the dandelions (really sow thistle), carefully culled so that their fluff didn’t spread seeds everywhere. Up came the grass – and more grass and more grass and many little bulbs. What was this stuff? I wiped the sweat from my forehead and checked my phone: nutgrass? nutsedge? Who cares? I ripped it out ruthlessly. 

I paused for a long walk and a short lunch. The afternoon heat was more than I could handle, even with water, but after dinner Mike showed up, as promised. We staked one tomato plant after another, slowly clearing the sidewalk as we discovered dozens of green orbs hidden in the leaves. For a while he tied and I weeded. Then he weeded a little, too. Then I weeded some more. By the time the sun was setting, we had overfilled the yard waste bag and were both happily dripping with sweat. I wiped a dirty hand across my face, stood up and stretched, high and long. 

“It looks good,” I declared. 
“That it does,” he agreed.
“I’ve got more to do tomorrow.”
“Yes, you do. It’s a good job done for today, though.”

We surveyed the yard – tomatoes upright, paving stones visible, azaleas able to breathe – and said goodnight. I went inside and washed off the dirt, then fell asleep knowing that all that uprooting really meant coming home.

*To be clear, the house was immaculate and he’d left cold beer in the fridge and lovely treats for us to discover, so I’m not complaining. Not everyone is a gardener.

At the cafe

I only planned one museum visit for this trip because I knew that Eric would not likely be a big fan. Still, I love the Musee d’Orsay, and I haven’t been to Paris in 15 years – 15! – so I couldn’t resist. We had tickets for the earliest admission time and, after an extremely quick walk through the temporary Gaudi exhibit, we headed directly for the Impressionists to take advantage of our morning energy and the relatively smaller morning crowds.

Eric didn’t last long, Monet be damned. In fact, he quickly determined that he preferred the benches to anything else. (Granted, the benches are art in their own right – “Water Block” by Tokujin Yoshioka – but I’m pretty sure that’s not what attracted Eric.) He looked at the paintings for a room or two, then raced ahead to the end of the exhibit. There, he waited a few minutes, then returned to complain politely, then went ahead again. This cycle repeated several times. Each time, I showed him one piece or offered one idea; he listened & then left.

Portrait of an 11 year old at the Musee d’Orsay

On his third return trip, Eric told me that a) he needed something to drink and b) there was a cafe at the end of the exhibit and c) it opened at 11. I agreed that we could go, suggested that my mom catch up to us after she looked at some more art, and wandered towards what I assumed would be an overpriced bottle of water and a Fanta at a museum kiosk thing.

A casual glance upended my expectations: sunlight spilled into a large, open room through the giant clock that dominated the far wall – a reminder that the museum was originally a train station. The yellow walls seemed luminous and everywhere bell-shaped pendant lights covered in golden squares glowed. As Eric dragged me into line – of course there was a line – I worried briefly about what I had just agreed to.

The photo from TripAdvisor is better than what I took

Minutes later the cafe opened, and we were shown to a table. Since we were among the first to order, we snagged some of the croissants and pain au chocolat to accompany our drinks. Our server poured our drinks with a flourish, teasing Eric, and we felt well looked-after. As I finished my tea (Eric’s Orangina was gone in a flash), an older man at the next table asked my mother, in French, if Eric was her grandson. I translated, she said yes, and the man told her that he was beautiful – he repeated it carefully in English, to make sure she understood. He struck up a conversation – much to his young nephew’s chagrin – and, although he was from Brazil, insisted on speaking French to Eric. Eventually, we called for our bill, and as we left, the gentleman told Eric that he must see Manet’s The Fifer before he left.

Was it the croissant? the cafe? the man who took the time to notice Eric and talk to him? I don’t know, but we managed to enjoy another hour of the museum – statues, models, and paintings, including, yes, The Fifer – before it was time to move on. My guess is that Eric will remember the setting and the conversation for at least as long as he remembers the artwork. I suspect I might, too.

The setting, the kid & the croissant
Many thanks to twowritingteachers.org for hosting this weekly space for teachers to write and share.

Family Reunion

What I want to say is that it is a terrible idea to start a 17-hour drive the day after the school year ends. And that this is the reason we somehow forgot my suitcase. And that I had packed all the toothpaste, among other things. And that I had to replace everything which is part of the reason I was fussy until about four hours ago.

What I want to say is that 18 people in one house is, more or less, 12 too many, even if one of them is my adorable 13 month old niece who, for reasons none of us can quite fathom, is basically happy all of the time.

What I want to say is that South Carolina is hot, even at the beach, and that most of us are ridiculously sunburned even though we’ve only been here three days. And we were too far away to really appreciate yesterday’s fireworks, and what were we celebrating, really, since each day the beach appears to be full of straight white couples and Roe has been overturned and there were 21 mass shootings in the US between July 1st and 4th and as we drove down here we passed within spitting distance of at least two of them.

But then I meet my sister’s partner, a woman who makes her very happy and who, as it turns out, makes a delicious daiquiri. And my Cuban sister-in-law is tucked away in the shade, reading and cooing at the baby. And my brothers are on the beach, kicking a soccer ball with my son while my partner plays in the ocean with my nephews. And I marvel that my family has dealt with addiction and divorce and depression and suicide attempts and miscarriage and abortion and money troubles and the list goes on and on. Some of us own guns; some of us abhor guns. Some of us are vegan; some of us are enthusiastic meat-eaters. Some of us have MDs; some of us never finished college.

By all rights, we should not get along at all, and sometimes we don’t, but for the week of the family reunion, day after day we laugh and love and find the things we have in common. The grill sets off the fire alarm – again – and the kids try to fill the pool with water balloons and then, after dinner, we have a birthday cake to celebrate birthdays we’ve missed. Tonight, we are all in the main room with the baseball game on mute while Jamie and Donna serenade us with old time bluegrass music and about half the family sings the chorus.

This family reunion – so many of us joined in such unexpected ways – doesn’t fix everything, of course, but it’s not nothing. Some nights, once I’ve recovered from the long drive and the end of the school year and all its attendant fatigue, I think it might be (almost) everything.

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers, whose weekly Slice of Life keeps me writing and thinking.

Almost the end

Knit Night starts in 6 minutes and I do not have a project on the go. I always have something half-finished or nearly-dreamed, but tonight, despite oodles of patterns and skeins of yarn, I am at loose ends.

I could cry “end of the school year!” and “I’m so busy!” and skip Knit Night to mark student work, but I’ve marked everything they’ve turned in. I should be pleased about this, but I know the deluge awaits: missing assignments will magically appear by Friday and my weekend will be full.

Tonight is Tuesday, and I have not yet written a “Slice of Life,” though I meant to write last night and again this morning. I have a million half-started ideas and drafts stashed away in journals and various corners of the internet, but tonight none of them seem willing to fledge themselves into fully formed posts.

I’m even between books, and though I have half a dozen on my nightstand, none of them feel quite right. I suppose I’ll have to start *something* tonight, I can’t sleep if I don’t read, but I don’t know what it will be.

Clearly, I am almost-the-end-of-the-school-year tired. I am the tired that comes the week before the week before. Next week is the flurry – grad breakfasts and rehearsals and commencement and last days. Next week we will buzz with energy and fill the school with excitement. My evenings will be full of the well-earned exhaustion of a job (nearly) done.

Tonight I’m the tired that arrives two weeks before school ends – full of regret and longing. How much more I wish we had done! Oh, how much more we could do together! But we have finished the projects – well, nearly – and no new ones are on the horizon. Instead, what lies ahead is goodbye. We will celebrate the journey and look to the future and it will be good.

But now I’m 6 minutes late for Knit Night, and I don’t have a project on the go, but I know they’ll be happy to have me anyway. And I’ll probably come up with a new project. I always do.

The elusive tree-rabbit

We were on lunch break during day five? six? of curriculum work at the central office, and a few of us had driven to Frank’s for sandwiches and butter tarts. I chatted outside with a friend while the others waited inside for their sandwiches to be ready.

Even on break we were talking pedagogy and learning and teaching when suddenly I paused and said, “Sorry, wait a second,” and she said, “What?” and turned to look where I was looking.

“I think that’s a rabbit in a tree.” I blinked my eyes several times and squinted, as if that would somehow make things more clear.

My companion freely admitted that she could only see a black smudge in the tree because she was not wearing her glasses, but even so, it looked like a rabbit. I stared. She stared. She said, “Oh, the poor rabbit! I wonder how it got up there?”

“It can’t be a rabbit,” I shook my head again. “I mean… it can’t be. Rabbits do not live in trees.” This statement seemed unarguable.

A breeze came and the rabbit’s ear twitched. Its little head moved side to side. The poor rabbit!

In the parking lot, some garbage collectors continued their work. Closer to us, a guy in an orange construction vest leaned against the wall and took a drag on his cigarette. No one but us seemed to see the rabbit.

Surreptitiously, I moved closer to the tree. I stared. And stared.



“It’s a nest!” I crowed. “With a feather sticking up!” The breeze picked up again. The feather/ear swayed. I giggled.

Just then, another teacher arrived with her sandwich. “What are you looking at?” she asked.

“Oh,” I said nonchalantly. “It’s just a rabbit. In a tree.”

The elusive tree-rabbit – a very rare sighting.

Many thanks to the tireless team at Two Writing Teachers who host this Slice of Life weekly on Tuesdays.

Breaking up is hard to do

I have broken up with Hamlet on more than one occasion. The first time was in the Spring. It’s so lovely out, I thought, and this play is so tragic. Let’s read something more cheerful. We did. But the breakup didn’t take – Hamlet and I tried again a semester later. It didn’t last. It’s winter, I thought, and everyone dies in this play. Let’s read something more current. So I left him again. This time I was sure we were over. We stayed apart for a couple of years.

Times changed. In the English office, we teachers discussed whether or not we should teach Shakespeare every year of high school. I maintained that, while I love Shakespeare, he is over-represented in our curriculum. Some of us argued that great literature continues to expand and wondered about the place of a long-dead English guy in our students’ world. Others insisted that Shakespeare is the pinnacle of literature. We didn’t reach a conclusion – how could we? – but Hamlet and I stayed broken up. Each semester I asked students if they thought we should get back together; every time the nos far outweighed the yesses.

Then, during the pandemic online learning, a few students picked Hamlet for their choice unit, so I got to spend some time with him again. I was… intrigued both by the on-line options and by the students’ reactions to the play. They loved it – and Hamlet was on my mind again. Last semester we were in a weird pandemic limbo so I didn’t even think about Hamlet, but this semester… well, we had enough time for one more unit before the end of the year and I offered options. Hamlet was one of them – but I also offered a focus on social media, a “banned book” book club, a non-fiction children’s book study. They chose Hamlet.

I was wary – our class includes students from all over the world, some of whom are still learning English. (Honestly, in many ways we are *all* still learning English – but that’s another post.) They have plans to study computer science, engineering, medicine, economics, political science and more. I don’t think any of them plan to study Literature. And look, I know why I find Hamlet attractive, but I was unsure that he was the right fit for them. Still, it’s what they chose.

So, cautiously, I introduced them. We got our bearings and set some goals for our time together – boundaries, if you will: no, we will not read every word; yes, we will actually say the words on the page; yes, we can use No Fear Shakespeare and the internet; no, we will not stay in our seats. Then, tentatively, I invited Hamlet back into the classroom.

Look, I said, the play starts with a question – but the wrong person is asking it. Soon, students were patrolling the ramparts and trying to decide if they believed in ghosts. By Tuesday, someone gave a low whistle when Claudius taunted Hamlet, “’tis unmanly grief”. That’s HARSH, Miss. Another student replied, Well, he is behaving like a jerk. A student who has a spare during our period has started attending the class, just to read along. Today, Hamlet compared his dead father to a sun god and thought about killing himself because it was, frankly, all too much. He’s so *dramatic* sighed one student. I mean, it is kind of a terrible situation, but still. A lively discussion broke out about Hamlet’s response to all this – which made it that much worse when Horatio showed up and said, um, so, about your dad… “methinks I saw him yesternight.” One student shook her head gravely and said, Oh, this is NOT going to go well.

Tomorrow we will meet Ophelia. And I probably shouldn’t tell her, but I think I just got back together with Hamlet. Again.

Many thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly space for blogging.

Ribbit

Over lunch, when I mention that I have opted Mr. 13 out of the new online learning requirement for high school, my mother in law asks casually if I think online learning is the way of the future. I do not.

Listen, I know that e-learning works for some people. And I know that it can be done very well. And I know that there are times and places when it is the right option. I’m not anti e-learning. (Well, ok, I’m a little bit anti e-learning, but I can live with it. I’ve done all of my credentialing/ post-graduate school classes online, and there are definitely advantages.) I am, however, against an e-learning requirement in high school – especially when I believe it is a nakedly political attempt to increase class sizes and destabilize public education rather than increase student learning or wellbeing. And I absolutely do not believe that e-learning can or should replace in person learning.

In the kitchen, I start to explain the reasons that mandatory e-learning doesn’t make sense to me. I reach for evidence; my brain goes into fact mode. Even now, as I write, I have paused to find articles to link to, statistics to back up my beliefs. I have searched the internet for other voices to back up my own (there are plenty). But I decide not to include them. For the past two weeks in Grade 12, we’ve been working with analysis and reviews, reading mentor texts and noticing how writers choose and use evidence, so I realize that I am defaulting to logos even though I firmly believe that the most convincing arguments must first appeal to pathos.

Let me tell you a story.

Last week, on the way to school, I was listening to poet Ada Limón’s podcast “The Slowdown“. Each day, she shares a little bit of her thinking and reads one poem. The show is usually about five minutes long, and I love it. In fact, I love it so much that I was listening to back episodes as I drove in, and I stumbled across an April episode where Limón read Alex Lemon’s poem “Credo”. Its energy blew me away, and I knew immediately that I would use it in class.

So there I was, less than an hour later, reading this poem to some sleepy 12th graders. We noticed its exuberance (ok, that was my word), then grabbed our notebooks (ok, because I made them), and wrote “I can be…” at the top of the page (the repeated line in the poem). I set a timer for three minutes and we let ourselves go, completing the line in any way we wanted to. I wrote on the board so they could see me working. An observer in our class also wrote – if you’re in the room, you’re in the class. When the chime sounded, we paused to take a breath. I could feel the changed energy in the room.

“Let’s each share a line,” I said. We’ve done this before – we do this regularly – so even though reading our writing out loud can be tough, most of the students were up for it. Sometimes people only share a word; sometimes they share far more. That day, most people had picked up on the freedom in Lemon’s poem – some were still writing! – and the sharing began quickly. We heard from most of the class, including our visitor, but of course, there are always those who are reluctant; in those moments I try to encourage, maybe even push a little, but not to over-pressure. This day, the extra push allowed M to share a line that they prefaced with, “this is a little weird.” Their line began, “I can be a frog…” Afterwards, they added, “I mean, poems aren’t really about frogs” and they blushed a little.

My response was immediate, “Of course poems can be about frogs! I can think of one right now,” and I launched into Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” I had only gotten out the first two words when another student chimed in and recited the rest with me. This student is neurodiverse and participates in class in their own rhythm; in saying the poem with me, they astonished their classmates.

Then class moved on. And that would have been it. Except that the next day I opened class with 32 translations of Basho’s Frog haiku. By the time we got to, oh, the 15th or so, people were smiling. We spoke very briefly about how translations can help us see a poem in a new way – and how well they do or don’t communicate the original. Then class moved on. But our original classroom frog poet was absent that day, so the next day I arrived with Hilaire Belloc’s “The Frog.” We giggled about calling a frog “Slimy skin” even as we learned the word “epithet”. Unfortunately, the student poet who kicked this off was at a track meet. “Don’t worry,” I assured the students, “I have plenty of frog poems. I’ll just keep going until they’re back in class.” Their best friend laughed and students around the room shook their heads at what is, essentially, the teacher version of a dad joke. Then class moved on.

(Fear not, there are a LOT of frog poems. I can keep this up for a while.)

I have finished telling my mother in law this whole story – from the podcast to the writing to the ongoing frog poems. She is not a fan of e-learning (in fact, she’s a firm believer in energy and creativity and more), so she has been an easy sell. And even though I have decided not to link to any of the statistics or evidence out there – and there’s a lot – I know that the online classroom can’t replicate this, the gentle push to share a bit of yourself, the wonderful astonishment of a quiet student suddenly reciting a poem they know by heart, the moment of mild discomfort that leads to a world we didn’t know existed, the serendipity that allows one moment to become a string of moments that creates a community of learners, a community of people who experience the beauty and humour and affirmation that leads to learning that lasts a lifetime.

So, no, I don’t think that online learning is the way of the future. Unless we can find a way to include a lot of frog poems.

If a student asks for poetry…

If a student asks for a poetry book that’s not in the library, you buy it.

I didn’t know this rule existed, but as soon as she asked, I realized it was clearly a rule. After all, how often does a student ask to read a book of poetry? How often is the poetry by a poet I don’t know, a poet the student discovered on her own? How often is that poet a refugee, born in a camp as her parents fled the Khmer Rouge regime? How often is the student who is asking a newcomer herself?

After class, we looked up Lang Leav so at least I would know a little about what we were getting into – but, to be clear, I was always going to buy the book. Leav’s style reminds me of Rupi Kaur, whose books are so popular that they regularly disappear from my classroom, leaving me to buy them again. (It’s ok; another unspoken rule seems to be “If a student needs a book of poetry to become theirs, they should probably have it.”)

In April – National Poetry Month – I usually read a poem out loud every day. We don’t study it or anything fancy like that: we just read it. For a few minutes, the poem simply exists with us; the students simply meet it. I choose all sorts of poems, often with the students in mind but sometimes just because I love them. Usually a few students will start to share poems they love after a week or two. Often someone brings up something that a poem reminds them of. Sometimes, like this year, we find ourselves talking about one poem, which leads to another and – oops! – we’ve read four and are accidentally talking about Robert Browning’s Meeting at Night and Parting at Morning and somehow we’re talking about sexual imagery and I’m blushing and then… well, then class continues. And the next day we read another poem.

On this day, the student wasn’t sure which of Leav’s books was “best”, so we looked at the covers and the previews, and then I bought two. Thanks to the miracle of modern shipping, I will put them in her hands tomorrow. I cannot wait.

Two books of poetry: the lefthand one is red and is entitled "Love"; the right hand one is cream and we can see the word "September" in the title.

Because you know what? If a student is reading poetry and falls in love with a poet – well, I buy it.

(Also, I just realized that Rupi Kaur is missing again. I know I spend too much on books for my classroom, but how can I say no?)

Lit Test Prep

Over thirty students signed up for today’s literacy test prep session, but only a desultory handful are actually here. They dot seats around the library, mostly far from one another, some with their heads already on the table. My job is to make sure they feel prepared for tomorrow’s lit test. I suspect we are all more or less equally excited about this.

The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test is a graduation requirement which, like many standardized tests, is touted by some and reviled by others. You can guess where the teachers lie on this scale. For both of the last two years the test was waived because of covid, but now it’s back, and anyone who is not graduating this year must pass it before they receive their diploma. And this time, the test is fully online.

As a result, this test prep session involves almost no literacy: it’s all about how to navigate the electronic test. First, I show the students how to put their Chromebooks into “kiosk mode” so that they will not have access to the internet during the test. Then, we return to “regular” mode and find the practice test. I explain why there is a “Minds On” page on the test and that no, there is nothing to do on this page. I go over the general directions so they will not have to read them tomorrow. I explain how to use the various electronic tools – the line by line reader, the highlighter, the “side by side” view that allows students to see the reading while they answer the questions. I show them how to flag a question they might want to come back to. We practice doing these things. We play with the online highlighter and the underline tool. I show them where to find the word counter for the writing section and where to see how many words they have left. I tell them to try to get close to the maximum number of words. We spend easily 40 minutes simply practicing with the tools.

Kids today are tech savvy, for the most part, but some are savvier than others, especially if by savvy you mean “has regular and effective access to technology both at home and in school.” Or “doesn’t have to overcome a language barrier simply to access the test.” Our school has one of the best school-provided Chromebook-to-student ratios in the school board – and one of the worst for BYOD (bring your own device) because so few students have Ds to B. Offering the literacy test requires gathering Chromebooks from all over the school and using them exclusively for the test for three days. Not only will no other classes have Chromebooks, but we’ve also been asked to plan lessons that involve no wifi – because who knows if our broadband will hold up. We pretend that these preparation challenges are not due to structural inequities. We pretend that the literacy test will not reveal who has computers and internet at home or who only recently arrived in Canada.

Luckily for our prep session, the students perk up once we start playing with the various tools. Everyone likes the side-by-side view. The word counter is daunting but effective. They like being able to flag questions that they’re not sure about and that the test reminds them to double-check those before they move on. This is good.

I offer a few tips because some of the students have never taken a standardized test before: restate the question in your answer; if you’re not sure, make a guess and move on; write simple, clear sentences; think about something positive before you start to stay calm; it’s only a test; you can always try it again.

After this, a few students stick around actually practice the test and ask me questions. There’s only one practice test available in this new format, so I hope it’s good preparation. As I move from table to table, from student to student, I think about the fact that it’s still Eid, that many students just finished fasting, that most of the dates for this test fell during Ramadan. I try to ignore the fact that one of the articles is about the marshmallow test – and that these same students who cannot eat most marshmallows. The students laugh off my observation; they’re used to it.

Tomorrow, they’ll take the test. Some will know how to navigate the interface, how to “do” standardized tests. Some will be ready. Some won’t. Nevertheless, as they leave the library and head back to class, each student says, “Thank you, Miss” and I cross my fingers that we’ve done some good.

The Dilemma

My test is positive. Again. Unquestionably, undeniably positive. Despite my best efforts to prevent it, I have covid. Today is day 8 since my symptoms began and, while I feel much better – only a cough and runny nose linger – my RAT test insists that I am still highly contagious.

I’ve already missed five days of work, so my self isolation period is officially over. According to both Public Health and my employer (the entity, not individual people), it’s time for me to get back to the classroom. Public Health’s official policy is that people can go back five days from the date their symptoms started if their symptoms have been improving for 24 hours and they don’t have a fever. This is me: fever is gone, symptoms are improving. My employer offers five days of “quarantine” leave, but after that I am using my sick leave. I am an employee, and I am supposed to work. Did I mention that I am still testing positive for a disease that may be more transmissible than measles and which, while it can be mild, can cause unknown amounts of long term damage to vital organs?

Nevertheless, the expectation is that I go to school – masked – even though both the tests and the science say that I am contagious and that the mask will not prevent me from infecting others. And I want to go. I’m so eager to return that this morning I even contacted a physician, just to double-check. Her response was unequivocal, “The RAT means you are still contagious. You shouldn’t go to work. Even in an N95 mask. Your students aren’t in the best masks. Just staying 2m away doesn’t prevent others from getting sick. Covid is airborne. I’m sorry.”

Each day that I stay home, the pressure to go in grows. Each day I’m out, the students lose out on effective instruction. Our school board, like so many others, is struggling to find supply teachers (substitutes). My colleagues are stretched thin, covering classes that are not their own; if we’re lucky and the school finds a supply teacher, that person is unlikely to be able to deliver a lesson; increasingly, we cannot find coverage at all and the students have (another) study hall.

But if I go in, I put real people at risk. Real people. People like you or your loved ones. Even as I type, researchers are trying to figure out the complications of covid, and we know they’re more likely if people aren’t vaccinated. Maybe you think that everyone should just get covid and get it over with. Or maybe you think that covid isn’t really that serious. Ok, sure. But what if I go in, coughing, masked and infect your child or your sibling? I don’t know if the students are vaccinated. I do know that one of my students is just out of the hospital. I do know that some of my students have younger siblings who cannot be vaccinated and others have family members who are at risk of complications if they get covid. I know that my friend’s child attends my school. I know, too, that my colleagues have people in their lives who are at risk. Who am I to decide that they should be exposed to covid?

Then, as my father (who is an infectious disease doctor) points out, I am lucky enough that I don’t *have* to go to work. Perhaps instead of being upset that I am still sick, I should be grateful that I am able to protect others. In that case, I can choose to be particularly cautious to protect others who don’t have the same luxury.

While I try to balance all of this, I must continue to plan my classes, even though I am not there to teach. Tomorrow will be day 7 of students following instruction from a screen. They are trying; they know that I, too, am trying. They really are the best. Still, some of them have thrown in the towel. Attendance is dwindling and fewer and fewer assignments come in. I don’t know what they have actually learned or what they need next to support their learning. I really want to be in the classroom.

And yet: I am so much more than simply an employee, merely human capital. I am a friend, a mother, a teacher, a colleague and so much more; much of my identity is wrapped up in caring for others. If I go to work, even though I am “only” coughing, even if I am wearing a N95 mask, even though Public Health says it’s ok and my employer (again, as an entity, not as individual people – my administration is lovely) would prefer that I return, I am denying the human-ness of all the people around me. I am deciding that my choice, my freedom is more important than they are. I can’t do that.

I love my work and my students. I miss them. I want to be there. Precisely for those reasons, I look at my RAT, look hard at those two red lines, and know that I am about to call in sick for tomorrow. After that, I’ll get to work on another lesson plan.

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