April 29 2020
CONSCIOUS TEACHER OF A COVID19 WORLD
By Nicole Henares
None of us were prepared for the announcement during 7th Block on March 5th- A student’s family member had tested positive for COVID19, our school was closed. That day my students were watching the episode “Hope” from the television show Blackish because they had had read an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates as we were at the end of our unit on Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. I wanted the students to see how the episode called for intergenerational empathy. Yet, the essential question for the episode, the Coates essay, and the novel was the same: What does it mean to be a conscious member of this terrible world?
And then came the announcement that our school would close.
Although since the beginning of January, SFUSD sent out numerous notices to teachers to be aware of the symptoms of COVID19- with the explicit instructions to stay home if we were sick- we were all shocked. I had symptoms in the middle of February but could not get tested. In twenty years of teaching, I have never had as many students out sick. I was more concerned about the micro-aggressions against Asian students- when one of my students joked about an “Asian” student who had asked to go to the Wellness Center because he was sick . The student who made the joke I know says things when he is uncomfortable. I can’t help but wonder if he knew what was ahead of us, and was worried- The student is an essential worker and is now working overtime.
After the closure, our school had a deep cleaning and re-opened for three days, before all SFUSD schools were closed. However, I had fallen hideously ill with what I thought was food poisoning. I had a fever, chills, and stayed in bed with a plastic bag next to me because I was too weak to make it to the bathroom. Even the fever and cough that knocked me out in mid-February was nothing compared to what I experienced- I cannot remember the last time I had ever been so sick. In the back of my mind is the constant fear that whatever I had might return. So far, I am grateful to wake up every morning with mild allergies. The experience has informed how and what I want to teach.
SFUSD has not made a decision about grades- At my school grades are everything. No one was prepared for this. Everyone is going to respond the best way they can. Though I have done instructional videos, and created lessons online, and provided scaffolded options for each assignment that include mental health and emphasize connection, I am worried more about my pedagogy than my curriculum. Sometimes the breakout rooms are challenging to set up, I do not mind teaching over zoom, and creating online activities for my students. All my classes have already been on google classroom. My entire epic and myth curriculum is project based. I have done “distance learning” in my graduate program, but this is not distance learning. This is teaching through a pandemic that calls for trauma based pedagogy that allows students to have options and agency in their education. I am most worried about the students who do not have reliable technology, the students who are essential workers, the students whose families are out of work, the students whose families are sick, the students who are taking care of family members that are immune compromised, the students who are sick, who might get sick, and who are worried about getting sick. I am most conscious of how this pandemic will effect all students for the rest of their lives.
I lost three days of pay because I was sick those three days in March when my school re-opened, and I was out of sick-days. That said, I am acutely aware how lucky I am to still have a paycheck, as well as the responsibility that comes with it. I am grateful to have administration and a district that has been supportive of the ways there is no one way to respond to teaching through a pandemic- I think because of that support, I have been able to do my best for my students. At the time of writing this, the district has not yet come to an official decision about grades, but I have:
1- No student will receive a grade below what they would have been given on March 13th.
2- No student will receive an F or I.
3- All work done under distance learning will count positively towards improving students’ grades.
I miss seeing my students faces. I miss my colleagues and the chatter of the department office. I miss chaperoning the prom this year. I miss my school. I haven’t been back since March 5th. From a photo someone posted online last month, the cherry blossom tree in our school’s courtyard was in bloom- It stood alone alone like a haiku of ten blossoms divided by seven branches.