August 31, 2020

Calming the Storm: How to Manage Anxiety while Teaching during a Pandemic.

When I was young, I loved to sit on the screened-in porch with my dad during a thunderstorm.

I have vivid memories of the smell of his pipe tobacco combined with the muggy air, the feeling of mist on my bare arms, the squeaky sound the damp chair cushions made when I changed positions, and the strange feeling of the artificial grass between my toes.

Embedded in my memory is this physical sensation of being in an enclosed space with someone who made me feel safe.

I still love to sit outside during a storm. Not in an open field, but on an open porch or in the garage with the door open.

Sleeping in a tent during a storm is even more amazing. The sound of the thunder, unpredictable bursts of lightning, unique visual patterns of clouds moving across the sky, and the melody of the rain falling on the roof create the perfect environment to simply enjoy the moment.

If a storm is predicted, I sometimes change my plans. I might grab a jacket on my way out the door or change into more practical shoes. I don’t turn on the television and watch the radar for hours in anticipation of the storm. If the storm has conditions that could produce a tornado, I’m more alert, but not frightened.

If a tree branch falls on the roof, I wait for the storm to pass and assess the damage. I get frustrated, but I figure out how to fix the damage. I don’t get mad at the builder for building the house so close to the tree. Instead, I keep up with regular tree maintenance to lower the probability that a branch will fall again.

No matter how spectacular, once the storm passes I seldom think about it again.

A few summers ago, it rained almost every single day. We didn’t go to the pool or go on many bike rides or explore the metro parks. The kids still played outside. There were a lot of muddy boots that summer. Wet clothes were draped all over the house.

We didn’t want it to rain, but we didn’t question the weather. We all knew we couldn’t control it. My girls worked really hard on teeny tiny photo books with construction paper pages, mini black-and-white printouts of family photos, and a fun wire binding. They hand colored the photos with highlighters, transforming our family into bizarre and wonderful creatures.

Today we look at those photo books and recall that bummer summer with fond memories.

Soon, I will teach young children in the midst of a pandemic. I have been anticipating this for months. I have had greater anxiety than I’ve ever experienced in my life. I have imagined every circumstance and every configuration for learning possible. I’ve tried to imagine a solution to the hundreds of problems the children will encounter whether they sit in the school or sit in their homes. The problems are so layered and so daunting that I became resigned and indifferent for a while.

During that time, I lost all of my creative energy and I lost my purpose.

After a few weeks of in-school preparations, I’ve finally come to understand that what is happening is happening. I’m trying so hard to create a mindset similar to the one I have before a storm.

Now is not the time to question or to hold onto an inappropriate amount of fear. Sitting in a storm doesn’t have to be scary. A certain amount of anxiety is good to keep me from becoming complacent with the safety procedures.

I have no choice. Tomorrow I have to grab my jacket and umbrella and walk into a wonderful school full of students. Just like a storm, it will pass. There will be damage and there will be pain.

I don’t have to agree with the collective decisions of our society, but it serves no purpose for me to rehash what has already happened. I must embrace the circumstances for what they are and understand that I have no control over what is happening.

Within the parameters I’ve been given, I have control over the learning that takes place in my art classroom. I will focus on making my students feel safe. I will do everything I can to keep myself safe in order to prevent virus spread.

I will be flexible. We can’t do the projects we normally do, but we will still create. We will learn new skills and experiment more in-depth with less glamorous materials. We will still explore. We will still ask and answer questions. We will discover new artists and new techniques. We will look at art and make connections to our lives. We will solve problems. We will laugh.

Each day, I must remind myself that the students will have vivid memories of this time period. My role is to use my creative gift to help them find pleasure.

I must enjoy the moments because the attitude of the teacher is just as contagious as the virus.

My purpose is to do anything within my control to lessen the damage of this storm.


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