The bright yellow taped arrows on the floor of the hallways and on the stairways were new, although if those arrows had been there pre-COVID, I never would have noticed them because the halls and stairways were usually full of students going in all directions, doing their daily scramble to get to class ahead of the ringing bell. So my attention was never focused on the floor, even if I could have seen it for the crowd.
So truthfully I must confess – I cannot say with any certainty that these bright arrows and blue tape lines down the center of these same hallways are in fact new – perhaps they had been there all along. (which would mean no one had ever paid them any attention nor followed their clear instruction – until now)
And so it happened that I now entered the very same building I had exited seven months earlier at the end of a most ordinary of school days. The building was familiar, but the eerie quiet that met me when I entered was not. The tall plexi-glass shield in place on the counter in the front office was new. But the welcome, familiar voice that greeted me from behind it was not. She had changed her hair (as is a woman’s want to do) but the same kind lady was still running the front office. I would add that her smile was unchanged, but the mask she wore made that impossible to verify. (I’m pretty sure she was smiling though – I hope she knew that underneath my mask, I was smiling back at her)
So this is school now? This is school in the time of COVID. The bell rang and a few students entered my classroom and took their seats. The desks were already spaced further apart than in the past in order to comply with distancing guidelines. Of course, the students wore masks. (maybe that accounts for their uncharacteristic quietness?)
My classes during the day had as few as one student or as many as ten, usually four or five was typical. The rest of the students were attending the class virtually, I could see their names on my computer screen and hear their voices, but no faces were visible. They were each just a name on the screen.
The students’ assignments were on their computers, even for the students physically present in the classroom, they worked in silence on their computers. No pencils to sharpen, no one putting work on the classroom whiteboard, nothing being presented in class on the overhead, no class discussion, this was a whole new world – a very silent world.
Pre-COVID, it was an impossibility to keep the students in their seats and quiet. (of course there were usually twenty to thirty of them) but still . . . the contrast was not lost on me. I should be grateful for the peaceful atmosphere, right? Is it one of peace or one of fear? I cannot be certain. But I am already missing the many small, personal interactions that usually occur during the school day.
Toward the end of class, I spray each desk with disinfectant and each student wipes down their desk and seat before leaving the room. This is a newly instituted COVID ritual, one among others added to the students’ daily routine. I wonder if the students miss the full classrooms and crowded hallways, alive with the noise of conversation and sometimes confrontation, but alive nonetheless?
Is it wrong to wish for the return of something you formerly complained about? (crowded classrooms and noisy students) Do we learn better in isolation or from interaction with others? It is clear students need more than online interaction, but at the moment that seems to be the most widely available alternative to in-person learning. How this will affect students going forward remains to be seen.
For now, we walk into these uncharted waters and do what we can, while looking for any semblance of what used to be. I found one – the “eye roll” is still alive and well – the mask does not, cannot hide this universal form of protest. How reassuring! Some things have not changed.
I hope that a love of learning is not lost in this time of isolation and of regulation. I hope that when the students return and the masks come off, students will again ask questions, speak their minds, give oral presentations, (book reports, show and tell etc.) engage in debate, theater, public speaking – do science experiments and cooking labs and ceramics and painting, all the hands on things that go into a full education.
There is a long standing saying that “the church is the people, not the building.” I think that must be true for school, too. I am in the same school building, but without all the students and all the activity, without the energy, the life, the vitality they bring with them into the building, school is a very quiet, very different place. It is the students who determine the character and the spirit of their school, not the building. Anything else is a poor substitute for the real thing. (post “C.C. True Confessions – the real thing #83)
I will continue to show up and continue to hope for more opportunities for in person learning in the future. As always, my ultimate hope for anything and everything that is good lies with my Heavenly Father. He is the giver of every good gift. I can truly say along with the psalmist,
“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” (Psalm 71:14)
“May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.” (Psalm 33:22)
sincerely, Grace Day