On Friday, March 13, my English teacher waited until everyone sat down and then said, “OK, let’s talk about the coronavirus. I want us to talk about your fears, concerns, and opinions.”
One student asked if we were having the essay test that was scheduled the following Wednesday.
“We don’t know if schools will be open or not next week, but if they are, you can take the test at home.”
Another classmate said she doesn’t want to go to school because she feels unsafe being around so many people. Her parents forced her to go because they don’t want her to fall behind. I empathized.
My teacher said, “Hopefully, schools will be closed soon and no one will have to face that difficult choice.” Then, to the whole class, she said, “I don’t want this class to be why you feel obligated to go to school. If you choose to stay home, you will miss nothing. I am not sure if the AP exams are still happening, but if they are, I will be posting the review materials online.”
I felt immense relief when she said this. In my house, there was never a question of whether or not I would attend school. As long as school is open, my mom wanted me to go even as the pandemic spread. I am also unwilling to fall behind.
But I still had anxiety about getting the virus and spreading it to my mom and my sisters.
So when my teacher let us know we’d be getting the same education, whether at home or at school, I felt I could use this as leverage to convince my mom to let me stay home.
When the conversation died down, our teacher asked, “Shall we talk about the end of the book?” This stuck with me because she posed the question instead of getting right to work like she’d normally do. She made it clear that we could spend the whole period talking about our feelings and questions surrounding the coronavirus if we wanted to.
Similar conversations took place in my other classes. And during these conversations, I began to see a more human side to my teachers.
When my history teacher was asked whether she would be coming to school on Monday, she said, “I don’t know. I have to evaluate the effects it could have on my health. But please know that even if we are learning from home, I will be there to support you however I can.” (Mayor de Blasio closed New York City schools beginning on that Monday, March 16.)
My Teachers Are Worried Too
On the first Friday of the quarantine, my biology teacher gave us an overview of what she expected of us for the week. Then she added that she had gotten less than five hours of sleep for three consecutive nights. She was frantically teaching herself how to use online learning platforms and preparing new lesson plans to fit into them.
When I saw the dark circles under her eyes, I was moved. I realized she is going through such lengths for us and how hard it must be for all teachers to adjust to this new normal.
Our guidance counselor apologized for not being able to schedule individual meetings with us.
“It just isn’t possible because I have to take care of my kids, especially since my husband is also working from home. We are staggering our meeting times so our kids are not left unattended.” At the end of the video, she proudly showed us a sign that her son made for her to show to her homeroom.
Not everything is despair. I’ve also learned to take delight in small joys. During Zoom sessions with my English teacher, our class was introduced to Pete, her dog. Now we are obsessed with him and request that he join every meeting.
A Tornado Uprooting All Sense of Stability
Other teachers have been making extra efforts to be there for us, too. Besides holding optional zoom sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays, my Spanish teacher said, “I stay glued to my phone so I’m available to you kids whenever you need me.”
For me, it feels like a tornado uprooting all sense of stability and order. My parents own a Chinese take-out restaurant. The day that Mayor de Blasio announced school closures, my parents also closed their restaurant. As a result, our only source of income is cut off. It scares me that the economic consequences of this pandemic will likely be permanent and will force us to sell the restaurant, which has been in the family for over 10 years.
Although I’m not comfortable talking about these worries with my teachers, I know that if I wanted to, they would be there for me. In a class video call during biology, one of my classmates said that he isn’t allowed to go near his mom when she comes home from her shift at the hospital, and that he hasn’t been getting much sleep because he is worried about her.
“If she needs me to do anything for her, just let me know, OK?” said my teacher. He replied, “Yeah, yeah.” She pressed, “I’m serious, let her know that I am here to help.”
I know that should I ever go back to class, I will never see teachers the same way again. I have been given a window into how much preparation they put into developing and designing lessons. I also see how complex their lives are and how much they struggle to balance their home life and work life.
Outside of the classroom, they have pets, husbands, children, and friends to worry about. I will try to be more considerate of that when the class judges them for taking weeks to grade a test or when they never return a homework assignment.
In an online post, my history teacher said, “I am grateful for every day of good health for myself and my family. Some of my friends are sick with COVID—here in New York City and in other parts of the world. I’m counting my blessings.” Like her, I am also counting my blessings. One of them is that I continue to learn even while trapped at home, thanks to the teachers extending themselves for us.