Updated: Nov 21, 2022
2020-2021. A school year like no other. Plexiglass and masks put literal barriers between us all, making it harder than ever to connect. We had stickers on the benches in the cafeteria to remind kids not to get too close. Only half the kids could go to recess at a time. We had to re-think everything, but, somehow, we got it done. We kept our distance and learned that some connection was better than none.
We adjusted to our new normal. We adapted and moved through the year. In October, one of my shy little girls hung back at the end of class. She asked me to take off my mask. I must have looked confused, so she said it again, “Will you take your mask off? I want to see what you really look like.” We were six feet apart, so I slid my mask down and smiled at that dear sweet child. She nodded and ran on to lunch. I had made a bulletin board with photos of the students without masks, but I hadn’t thought to include photos of the teachers. I should have.
That little girl needed what we all need – connection. Sharing hugs and smiles feels natural. Elbow bumping and “smiling with our eyes” does not.
For nine very long months, we did what we had to do to have face-to-face instruction. In order to make the class sizes smaller, we taught five classes instead of four. We housed half the kids in study hall, so the others could have PE. Assemblies and class meetings went virtual so rather than sending kids off to the auditorium we kept them in our rooms and logged on to Zoom. Despite the changes and challenges, we had an oddly wonderful year. This bizarre year reinforced what we already knew: some connection is better than no connection at all.
A co-worker picked the perfect word for this year: distorted. He perfectly described the way the plexiglass often distorted the view of the students. He joked about constantly asking a child to move to the left or to the right because of a reflection that blocked his view or because it looked like the child had three faces. The plexiglass kept us safe, but it was often like teaching in a fun house hall of mirrors. Why in the world did we do all this? Because we believed in the importance of connection, even a distorted one.
Teachers and students weren’t the only ones who had a disconnected, disjointed, distorted year. We were all in this mess together. No proms. Postponed weddings. No family reunions. No big Thanksgiving gatherings. No Easter egg hunts and beautiful church services. It feels like we are finally coming back.
Hopefully I won’t have plexiglass or masks when I go back to school in August. I won’t need a bulletin board to know what my students look like. When I separate kids, it will be because they are too loud, not because I’m worried about germs. We will gather together in the auditorium as a middle school, and it will feel good and right. We will send all the kids out to recess. They will play together, and they’ll connect. And, I’ll be thankful that there is nothing separating us from one another.