As we enter into the 2020-2021 school year, a sense of unease, of uncertainty, hangs above students, parents, and educators alike. For most educators and support staff, it is like their first year all over again. There are new rules, new procedures, and new methods of delivery. It is an altogether new normal, if it can be called that at all. With all of these changes comes anxiety, not only from the rapid acquisition of new methods of instruction, but from the floating fear of the unknown. Will cases rise? Will we be shut down again? Are we equipped to provide the best education, the best services possible if it does?
Many have argued that we have collectively undergone (and are still undergoing) a national, even worldwide, trauma. I can hardly argue with this assertion. With trauma come characteristic symptoms: confusion, disconnection, fear, hopelessness, etc. For some children, school and their classroom are safe havens. Families who deal with food scarcity are often grateful for the meals their children receive at school. Children living in unsafe environments are certain to be missing the routines and security provided by school.
But while the classroom is a safe haven for many students, we must worry about their safety, their health, and their very lives while they are within our walls during this pandemic. Parents are facing similar concerns, similar fears. With the current unemployment rate and economic uncertainty, families are experiencing stress like never before. Adults may try to shield their children from their worries, but our nation’s children are more perceptive than we usually give them credit for. I do not claim to have the answers to whether school should be in-person, virtual, or a hybrid model. I cannot say if the benefits of the traditional classroom outweigh the risks of a rise in cases. What I do propose is that we are patient and empathetic with each other, educators and support staff with parents and students and parents with educators and support staff. We are in this together, all trying to learn and cope with our rapidly changing world in the best ways we know how. It is tough for all of us. As you become frustrated with others and with systems, try to view the world from their eyes, try to walk in their shoes. Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have. While we yearn for what used to be, there has likely been a fundamental shift in the way education will look from now on. There is no way to know for sure, and uncertainly is never comfortable. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, no matter how unpleasant. Just remember, we all share the same goals. Children’s safety is all of our shared primary concern, followed by their learning, both academic and social-emotional. We must work together as a collective and cohesive unit to work through this trauma together, whatever that may look like. Despite all of the uncertainty we all face, I have hope, and I hope you do too.