Going Back To My Classroom

My wife and I are both teachers. After two weeks of Corona/Spring Break, our district is implementing online learning, starting this week. Sunday, early, we went to our high school classrooms to get what we need to teach online — possibly for the rest of the year.

Even thinking about what I needed to get before going was a challenge. I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, but I usually plan at my desk in my environment. I like the quiet and solitude of my classroom as I prepare to teach. I know which books I need to reach for, which binders I need to get, which folders I need to find, and which websites I need to search. It was unsettling to try and guess what I might or might not need. I’m sure I forgot stuff that I won’t think about until I actually need it.

I should have anticipated the emotion that came with going to the classroom. Before going into the building, we put on disposable gloves. I have been entering and exiting schools for most of my life, but never have I gloved up before entering. We entered through the closest external door and tried not to touch anything.

We went to my wife’s room first. I have been around my wife’s classroom for years, so seeing her handwriting on the board is not unique. However, the time capsule of Friday, March 13 hit me hard. I looked at her SWBAT’s and daily activities in Chemistry and AP Chem and saw that they had missed a test on March 17. Nobody missed this because, in the school world, March 17 never happened. It was odd to look at the week of school work that wasn’t.

I watched Lynette gather her lab books that needed graded and the supplies she needed. I walked around the chemistry lab and classroom, looking at her technology that sat dark and silent. When would the Apple TV and Smartboard be turned on again — two weeks? A month? August?

Going into my classroom was worse. I noticed that I had Laptop Cart K, which does not belong in my room. It is stored somewhere else, and I hadn’t returned it Friday the 13th after using it during the day. I arrive at school at 6:45 every day, so I intended to return the cart before school on the Monday that never happened. It sits there now, plugged in and charging 40 laptop computers that perhaps no students will use again this year. But I did make sure they were charging while I was there, even if I’m not sure why.

In my classroom, I write each week’s daily activities on a side whiteboard. The activities from March 9–13 stared back at me. I had missed teaching a thing or two that week and had a sticky note on my desk for updates I needed to add to my lesson plans. Now, those changes are inconsequential. I don’t know what online learning will look like this week, but the handout that I forgot to give to 3rd period isn’t an issue. But crumpling up that sticky note and throwing it away was hard, because, well, it just was. It was emotional because even though it was only a fortnight ago, writing myself a note about handouts seemed a lot longer ago, a lot more innocent, and a lot more known.

As I gathered my lesson plans, my copy of The Princess Bride that who knows if I am going to teach this year, an article from The Atlantic I wanted to read with my AP English Language class, and my school laptop, I struggled to think of what else I may need. My wife has an auto-immune disease and neither of us want to come back to the building if we can help it. We are taking this social distancing stuff serious. As I looked around my desk and classroom, I was overwhelmed by the situation.

Would I be back in this room this year? Would I clean it up and put it to bed like I normally did at the end of the school year for the last 22 years? I wondered if the next time I entered this classroom would be in August. Since I was five years old, I have never spent more than a couple of months outside of a brick and mortar classroom. Most years, that time is measured in days (not even weeks) that go by and I am not at the local high school in my room. Could it really be five or six months until I taught another in-person class?

I coach high school football. Starting with Spring Ball and continuing through the summer, I am at my high school almost every day, even in the summer, working with student-athletes. We use my classroom to watch practice film. We use my classroom to explain concepts and drills before going out onto the field. We use my classroom for meetings and to eat our lunch. Would we be getting together this spring and summer preparing for fall? Would there even be football in the fall?

At both my wife’s school and mine, there were no cars in the parking lot at 7:30 in the morning. As we left my school, I passed my principal coming in to prepare for our new normal. I waved at him but he didn’t recognize me in my wife’s car. I didn’t stop because of social distancing, but I wanted to. As weird as going into my classroom had been, leaving was just as hard.

The next morning, Monday, my step-daughter — who is also a teacher in our district — had to go into her school. As a special ed teacher, she had been instructed to go in, isolate, and catch up on paperwork. Shelby called us from her classroom and her questions solidified this essay in my mind:

“Did you find it weird going into your classroom to get your stuff? Also, I’m not suppose to stay here long or use the bathroom.”

Before, teachers didn’t have time to use the bathroom during the day. Now, it was outlawed. This new normal sure doesn’t feel normal.

Written by: NathanWhite