In our classroom (I say “our” because it is both mine and my students’) there is an order and a calm that comes with knowing. In the first week of school, my students and I discuss why we are here, why it matters. We create Essential Agreements for our room that relate to expectations we have for each other as well as the look and feel of the room we want to be surrounded by all year.
I compile our Agreements into a document for one last final review. Once is it just the way we want it, I type it up and give each child a fragment of the document to write in their own handwriting. (They are also able to add one embellishment if they wish, as long as it does not make their words unreadable. They love learning the big word embellishment.) These fragments are then put back together and glued to a large poster paper upon which we all sign our names. These Essential Agreements are what guide us in our behaviors, attitudes, and direction throughout the year. It is a large piece of the order and calm that then organically takes place in our classroom.
We care for each other and our room because that is the type of environment we want to be in.
We laugh and have fun, but we also work hard and support one another because that is the type of environment we want to be in.
We acknowledge that learning is sometimes messy and hard but know that at the end of the day, we are proud of our learning and our learning space and so together we tidy because that is the type of environment we want to be in.
On Thursday, I came home from a quick and unexpected trip to my school campus and cried.
I had no order.
A lot of energy has been spent this summer worrying about the unknowns and the uncertainty of this coming school year. My worry is twofold – I worry as a parent and I worry as an elementary school teacher. In the arena of parent, I felt I had more control. Husband and I discussed and then worked at getting both boys enrolled in a school district that had an option we could live with. Once this decision was made and our boys were officially enrolled, I felt less anxious and my mind could shift to my own self.
At this time last week, my district was fully in the direction of in-person learning. While they waved about the CDC guidelines with vague and unreachable realities, they did mandate masking for all, but still it did not seem safe to me. In an effort to have some control, I bought a box of N95 masks and tried to mentally prepare myself to teach thirty, eight and nine year old children through such barriers and still come across as loving and accessible.
Last Monday I received an email from my principal; a water supply line breakage occurred sometime over the weekend and many classrooms were flooded. Many classrooms upstairs (where my room is) and many classrooms below those sustained heavy damage. Phrases like “major loss” and “water restoration company” accompanied the information that the water was on for 2-3 days leaving a lot of water in rooms.
I played over in my mind any items low to the floor that I may have lost. I tried not to think of the smell that surly must be there considering none of the windows open to the outside. I recognized my inability to control any of this even while I looked, with a heavy, flat feeling at a picture the custodial staff sent of one of the classrooms across the hall from mine.
The next evening my district held an emergency board meeting to discuss and vote upon in-person vs. on-line learning. There were moments that were very heated. The chat stream made me uncomfortable as I watched both sides do away with niceties. It lasted over three hours, but in the end four votes for on-line learning through the first quarter out numbered the one vote for in-person.
Feeling safer but still full of questions (and with a lake for a classroom), the next morning I was greeted with an email telling those teachers affected by the flood that we could come in the next day to pick up any items we felt we may need from our lakes/classrooms for distance learning. No expectations or guidance in how this distance learning was to happen had been disseminated yet.
It was then, that on Thursday I was escorted up to my classroom. Long plastic sheets hung down in the hallway making for an E.T. like vibe. Fully expecting to walk into my room to quickly pick out the items I had on my list. I know where everything is, there is order in my classroom, even behind the wall of cabinets and on the sometimes jumbled looking bookshelves. I was greeted with cabinets, counter tops, and cubbies all ripped from their walls, emptied of contents, and pushed into the center of the room. I could not access any of the items I thought would be helpful.
Some of the water restoration workers took me down the hall to boxes meticulously labeled and stacked floor to ceiling. Boxes containing my classroom. Tears welt up and I was glad my mask covered my face as I worked to keep from crying. They offered to open them and help me find what I needed, but I waved the offer away. I would simply make it work without. I went home and cried.
Then, I once again recognized that which I could not control. In doing that I saw that there are things that I can control. So I did.
I took my desk, shoved into a wall in my bedroom, my uninspired work station, and I turned it, making a little “classroom nook”. I ordered a whimsical, cheerful canvas print of an owl in glasses to hang behind me, an image my students will see ever time I reach out to them for a video call.
I created a virtual classroom containing a Bitmoji of myself that we will use as a place to house resources, assignments, and celebrations. I am not technologically savvy, so my head is not fully wrapped around all this, but I am trying. I am going to grab on to what I can control and I will make some semblance of order.
For my family.
For my students.