October 11, 2020

Dear Teachers during COVID-19: Thank You for Doing what you Never Wanted to Do.

I listen as my husband sighs, “Here we go.” 

I hear the ding of his first student entering the virtual Zoom class. My husband is a sixth-grade public school teacher working all online—for now. When he isn’t “Zoom-ing” from an empty classroom, he heads upstairs to his makeshift space to teach virtually. His day starts in front of a screen and ends that way.

I know this isn’t what teachers signed up for. Teachers are the kind humans who love connecting, teaching, and engaging kidsin person.

I hear sighing from upstairs. The first Zoom class of the day signed off, headed to another class, and another. Most students and teachers are now online all day long. He told me later that three kids had internet issues, many students are home alone, forgot what time class started, or what day it was. One family was infected with COVID-19. This is just the beginning of another long week—one wave of trouble after another. This sounds impossible, but this is the learning world now.

I know my husband is lucky enough to head downstairs for a quick break to pat the dog and give me a hug before he starts the next round. Unlike many of you, we don’t have kids at home. I am sure teachers and caregivers all over this planet are struggling to survive in any way they can, so they can do what they do.

With no end in sight to this altered reality, I wanted to offer a pause, a moment to say thank you in a different way. 

We are in for the long haul. We can’t change that, but Victor Frankl, the psychiatrist who wrote of his experiences in a concentration camp in Man’s Search for Meaning, had some idea about seemingly unending suffering. He explained that we cannot escape suffering; we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning, focus on love, and move forward with renewed purpose.

I remember reading that, during his darkest time, he called to mind the love he felt for his wife—lying still on his wooden sleeping bench. He imagined the wonderful things they did together years before and imagined doing those things together in the future.

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform tragedy into triumph.” ~ Victor Frankl

Okay, shall we try a silly experiment then? Play a little make-believe with me.

Maybe what you really need is a homemade thank you card with glitter sprinkles and rainbow smiley faces. And a big fat hug. Or 12. 

Pretend you just opened a card with your name carefully printed on the front (probably misspelled). Take a peek at the kid who handed it to you. Their smile widens; there may be teeth missing. Remember those cute scrawled drawings your students handed you, shyly smiling? Yeah, this card is that. Can you see it?

That child gives you a side hug. Go ahead, feel it, there is power in imagining, you know this. Feel this moment fully all the way down to your toes. Breathe it in; for just a moment, let your tired heart fill with a little joy. Send that joyful moment into the future with hope and love. (I am sending that love into the future too.)

Things change, seasons rotate, the light dims, and then rises again. This is a season, and there will be a time when you will see smiles and waves from families when they come to drop off their kids on the first day of school.

The air will fill with the sounds of kids giggling together in groups, playing games like Toilet Tag on the playground at recess. Choruses of children’s voices will recite poetry and numbers with gusto. Even sixth graders may play Duck-Duck-Goose in music class, hooting at the ones running around the circle.

There will be high fives and hugs at the end of the day, and you will pick up pencils and paper clips off the floor. And you won’t mind! That first week of school will go by so fast. You will sigh happily, glad to have things as they are. Staff will call out, “Happy Friday!” and chat together, patting a shoulder here, smiling and waving there.

Take the time to remember your purpose. Put your head above the water and see the bright, future day and send waves of love into the world.

I hear my husband upstairs, “Hey, Jimmy, nice cat!” “We all here?” “How’s it going, everybody?” He uses the word we through the day, as in, “We can do this.” And “This is tough, but we’ll get through it.”

He is figuring out how to bring humor and silliness to his classes, putting on a wig to be a “guest teacher” for the day, telling stories about shenanigans growing up with his three brothers. I hear those wistful voices at the end of each class, “Bye, Mr. D, see you tomorrow.” Maybe you are finding those things too. 

The things that make working with kids fun and rewarding are gone or limited—physical presence, hugs, and high fives. This is now, but it isn’t permanent—just a nasty wave in our sea of life. Teachers will ride this wave with kids, their families, and each other.

We can offer lifejackets of love and flotation devices of gratitude to each other as we go, and we will remember the sweet thingsimagine them returning. This matters. Hope matters.

Every day you put on a bright face for the littles in your care, even when you are exhausted, empty, and maybe a little hopeless. You know you have no choice but to keep on keeping on, and so you do. I am reaching through this computer right now with a warm hug, a deep embrace from my heart to tell you how grateful I am for you—every day.

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