Grieving.

I woke up this morning to lots of dread. The days of me being able to control my exposure to Covid-19 are waning, and that reality is starting to hit me. After a summer of trying really hard to err on the side of positivity, of hoping leaders will do what’s best, I broke. I sat in my bed and sobbed.

Lately on Sundays, I have a bit of a different worship routine—I listen to one of Kate Bowler’s podcasts, followed by an episode of the Evolving Faith podcast, before tuning into church on Facebook Live. I’m behind on Bowler’s podcasts, and realized this morning I had missed one from last May, not long after Rachel Held Evans died. The topic was grief and her guest, Reverend Dr. Susan Dunlap, reminded listeners of disenfranchised grief.

I wrote about such grief a couple of years ago, as it relates to grieving the children I would never raise, but this morning it took on a different meaning. There is no societal recognition of the grief I feel facing down an unknown school year. There is no societal recognition of the grief I feel knowing my class sizes will be smaller, knowing that there is a possibility my colleagues and students might get sick—and not fully understanding the long-term consequences of such an illness. And no societal recognition of the grief I feel for how much my job is changing this school year.

Two hours after I listened to Bowler’s podcast, I tuned in to church, and the sermon was about grief.

(God is something else, amirite?)

Today’s sermon was delivered by Rev. Debra McKnight, and her words about grief reminded me that grief is a necessary human reaction that shouldn’t be reserved for losing a loved one. Paraphrasing here: she reminded me that we can grieve loss, tension, and life just being difficult. And grief is something we must honor and give its place if we want to move forward into healing.

I start back to school this week, first with schedule pickup, then my first full day of work time on Friday. Next Monday is the first day with all staff. We are moving forward with a plan that has unknown outcomes. The unknown is hard, this moment is hard, and if grieving helps me—or my students, friends, parents, colleagues—move forward, then please don’t deny that grief. Don’t default to toxic positivity and inundate us with platitudes. Don’t tell us to “get over it.” Sit with those educators and students in your life that right now might be feeling grief. Acknowledge their fear of the unknown. Support them how they need to be supported—which looks different for everyone. (For me, it’s usually memes and potatoes in any form.)

But I agree with the reverend: to move toward healing, we must first give place for the grief.

Hold the right people accountable, please.

A Sunday morning rant.

Or maybe a sermon, depending on your beliefs.

Every year, I spend about $70 on Kleenex and hand sanitizer for my two classrooms. I do this because I don’t want students to miss instructional time by going to the restroom to blow their noses and wash their hands when sick, but also because I think it’s just kind to offer those basic conveniences. But due to budget cuts, Kleenex and hand sanitizer hasn’t been provided to teachers in my district for years*. I’m not necessarily complaining about that—it’s just part of the reality of my chosen profession.

Since many schools are looking to return at full capacity in two weeks, I keep seeing images of rearranged classrooms with safety measures created by the teacher to allow for as normal a return as possible.

If you’re praising “American ingenuity” because a teacher used shower curtains and pvc pipes and empty milk jugs or whatever to create a “safer” learning environment for their students, I want you to stop for just a minute and think.

Who paid for the plexiglass separators between you and your cashier at the grocery store?

Who paid for the signage imploring its customers to socially distance?

Who paid for the extra masks to hand out in case a patron forgot theirs?

Did the cashiers set up a GoFundMe to pay for all these things? Did the store managers take a trip to Lowe’s and bulk order plexiglass and then spend a weekend cutting them to size in his garage?

Or did corporate spring for it?

If you’re screaming for schools to reopen, are you also screaming at your congressional representatives, state legislators, governors to provide emergency funds to your district to ensure the safety of teachers, students, custodians, secretaries, paras, and administrators?

Or are you looking at these reconfigured classrooms, feeling a sense of satisfaction and maybe even pride that a teacher “figured something out” and then you send it to all your teacher friends suggesting it as something they should spend their own money on creating?

If it’s the latter, stop. If you have suggestions for how to spend money to keep students safe, make sure you’re telling the right people: the people who control how much money school districts receive. Ask the people you elected to govern and have stewardship over your tax dollars to pay for safety measures. Stop expecting teachers to just “figure it out.”

Amen.

*Edit: Since posting this Sunday morning, I’ve been told that there is a stash of Kleenex available to teachers in my building. I was told one year it no longer would be provided, and never checked back to see if things had changed. Apparently it has, though I was not told explicitly and don’t recall receiving any official notification that such supplies were available to staff.

Year-End Reflection

Every three years, I am evaluated by an administrator. Part of this evaluation involves setting a professional growth goal, and then reflecting on meeting that goal at the end of the year. I set a goal to become Adobe Certified in Adobe Illustrator. Here is an edited version of my reflection I turned in to my administrator. After I wrote it, I sent it to Stueve, who said it was damn good writing and I should post it on my blog. I thought Teacher Appreciation Week was good timing for that.

Well, what a year.

We started the school year with technology problems on a scale I’d not seen in all my years at BPS. It took me most of first semester to realize that if I was going to get anything done during my plan time, I needed to hide, because fixing tech issues as Building Tech Coordinator was seeping into my plan time, which made just the daily work of teaching more difficult, let alone setting aside time to do Illustrator tutorials. But I did complete the first of three training modules 1st semester and vowed to set better boundaries 2nd semester.

And then my colleague Mr. Stueve got sick.

For most teachers in the building, a sick colleague would have minimal impact on daily life. But over the past eight years, Stueve and I have created a program that can only be sustained in its present form with two teachers. Suddenly I found myself needing to manage basketball broadcasts, check out equipment, help editors of two staffs occasionally make changes and improvements to content, recruit students for next year’s staffs, and at times even help students in Stueve’s introductory classes with minor technical issues. All of this, of course, happening at the same time as I’m learning all the music for the school musical and attending those rehearsals, still teaching my own classes, and producing a newspaper and website.

Oh, and there was the added mental stress of not knowing whether Stueve was going to be okay, and my own two-week bout with some kind of virus (corona? Until I get an antibody test, I’ll always wonder…) that really knocked me out at the worst possible time.

I looked at the reality in front of me, and the first thing to go was the after-school Adobe work sessions for students, which was time I planned to use for my own certification. So there was another six hours of time lost toward meeting my goal of becoming Adobe certified in Illustrator. But I figured once the musical was over and Stueve returned to school after a two-month absence, I could get back on track. No problem.

And then, COVID-19 shut down the school. And to an outsider looking in, you might say, “Well Ms. Rowse, you are single and have no kids and you have all the time in the world now to meet this goal! This is quite the opportunity for you!” And yes, that’s fair, except for a couple of problems.

First: The mental toll of being completely isolated with no one in my home was much greater than I initially calculated. It is difficult to motivate myself to complete Illustrator tutorials when I am unable to share what I learn with students or colleagues.

Second: I can’t actually take the exam, because it has to be proctored by Mr. Stueve, and he is (wisely) keeping his family in isolation, and I’m pretty much keeping to myself as well to protect my parents, in case of an emergency where I might have to go to their home and help them with something. So to complete all the tutorials now, when I’m not even sure when I’ll be able to take the exam (will we be back in August? Who knows!), would be foolish.

So this leaves me, for the first time ever, as not meeting my professional growth plan as I had envisioned. However, I know I still grew as a professional this year. Here’s how:

I took students to a national journalism conference for the first time ever and attended sessions about how to continually improve our program.

I took 3 graduate classes via Augustana College which made me reevaluate how I design all instructional materials.

I read the book “Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom,” which is giving me ideas for how I can improve my courses.

But most important, I learned how to set clear boundaries when it became evident I had too many responsibilities simultaneously crashing in on me.

I had a good plan. In any other year, I would’ve met this goal well ahead of my self-imposed May 15 deadline. So I guess I can sum up my professional growth plan for 2019-2020 with this: I did grow as an educator, I did grow as a person, and I hope that is enough.

Football, Teaching, Burnout, and Self-Care.

I’m home with bronchitis today, and let me tell you, getting four hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in a week has me feeling like I can do anything. Until I start coughing again, anyway.

But since I’m home and the Tessalon perles are working as they should, I thought I might as write a little bit about Andrew Luck, because not enough people are.

That was a joke, by the way.

Anyway. My favorite coverage of Andrew Luck’s retirement has been Deadspin. This piece is what made me think that Luck’s retirement decision was radical self care, and the fallout since from fans and sports pundits has appalled me, but also not surprised me.

Here’s why. We have this mythos in American culture that working hard–almost working ourselves to death–is the best thing we can do. We wear “busy” as a badge of honor. We conflate professional success with personal happiness. And I see this in my own profession.

We get movies like “Dangerous Minds” and “Freedom Writers” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” where teachers are celebrated for putting students first, for sacrificing their families and their personal lives to inspire and “save” students. We are told that the relationships we develop with students are the primary key to their learning (so I rather enjoyed this clarification on that idea).

Or we judge and shame teachers (and really, anyone who works) for taking time to get well when sick, or heal when hurt–physically or emotionally.

And then we wonder why we all burn out.

I know comparing an NFL quarterback and a public school teacher is a false analogy, and maybe if my mind was clearer I’d be able to make that analogy a bit more solid. But before I take another dose of medicine, two things.

  1. Andrew Luck did what was good for his mental and physical health, and while he’s in a privileged and moneyed position to do so, calling him soft or weak is really just jealousy that we can’t retire at will and build a completely new life.
  2. Teachers, as we start the beginning of the year, follow these steps when you are sick:
  • See a doctor if needed.
  • Write the sub plans.
  • Stay home.
  • Rest. For the love of all that is holy, rest.
  • Your students will be fine without you.
  • Read that last bullet point again.

A brief update

Have you seen this photo going around?

It came across my Instagram feed a couple of days ago and I saved it to one of my collections. And then I must have forgotten I’d saved it, because yesterday it appeared in my feed from a different account and I saved it again.

So I suppose this maxim spoke to me. Twice.

It’s a good reminder to me that I will come through on the other side of what I’m currently experiencing, and that perhaps I’ll be able to help someone else.


Yesterday as we filed out for a fire drill, a student said to me, “Ms. Rowse, I miss your six word stories!”

For the past two years, I’ve written a six word story for every school day. These stories force me to be present while teaching, as I look for possible stories to create. They force me to practice brevity and pointed language since I limit myself to six words. And they force me into a daily writing habit, even if it’s only six words.

But I started this school year in significant personal tumult, and while I wear a pretty good Happy Mask, it’s hard for me to see much joy, let alone create anything resembling quality writing.

But the photo above reminds me the tumult is temporary, and before long joy will start to break through.

Like the student, who on the first day of school walked into my classroom and said, “I wanted to take another class with you so I signed up for this one!” Or watching my editors teach a young newspaper staff how to be good reporters. Or getting grateful emails from colleagues.

Or a student who tells me she misses my six word stories.

So do I, kiddo. I promise I’ll start writing them again soon.