I’m sitting here in a small, locally owned coffee shop, sharing electricity, Wi-Fi, and coffee with a packed room of fellow St. Augustinians. People are obviously stressed and most look as though they haven’t bathed in a while, but there is smiling and the trading off of electricity sockets, giving all the chance to recharge their beloved devices. The AC is cranking out coolish air as much as it can but the number of humans, as well as the bright Florida sun pouring through plate glass panes, diminishes its effect. I’m grateful to be here. (Thank you and shout out to the wonderful people at https://www.dosbar.com/. You are a refuge.)
My original week’s schedule included visiting schools to provide professional support but those plans have changed due to so many schools statewide being closed. Some districts were able to open today, some will open tomorrow or Friday, and some next week or later. Getting back to normal is based on floodwaters receding and power companies working overtime to get school buildings up and running. But open they will, eventually, and teachers will be there with open arms, listening ears, and active love.
My daughter-in-law, a 2nd grade teacher in Seminole County, will most likely greet her students Monday, September 18th, after not seeing them for over a week. We spoke yesterday and discussed the reality that returning to school after this type of event is truly like starting all over again. Her students will return to her overly excited, apprehensive, perhaps a bit scared. More than anything they will return to her with hope that school will be normal, the same, a place of safety. She will be all of that to them, and more.
This is one of those pivotal moments when I am reminded of the all-encompassing role played by K-12 teachers. In 2015-16 2, 791,525 students were enrolled in Florida’s public schools. For many of those 2 million plus students, school is the only safe and sure thing in their lives; it’s where many receive consistent meals and for some, it is the only place they are heard.
Sometime this week or next, school doors will open and the kids will come back. Teachers will be there to greet them. Many of those teachers will still be without power in their own homes, many will be displaced, many worried about what will or will not be covered by insurance. But they will come and do what they do best—care for children.
You see, many teachers went into the profession for just that. They are caring empathetic individuals and for them teaching is a calling. In spite of low pay, increasing criticism, and outrageous demands, they remain because they believe in what they do. It’s why they work countless hours off the clock, spend thousands of dollars of their own money to buy basic classroom resources, and remain steadfast even as elected officials use them as political pawns.
In the midst of all that insanity, teachers are now returning to classroom expectations that will remain in place; high stakes assessments will eventually be given, test preparation will be encouraged, data will be gathered. But for a moment my hope is that teachers will allow themselves time to just be, that they will gather their students around and reassure them that in spite of a world that seems upside down, things will gradually turn right side up again. Rather than hushing them and telling them to “pay attention” and “stay on task” my hope is that teachers will follow their gut and know their time would be better spent just listening to their students’ stories, giving them moments to process through drawing and writing and speaking and listening and being.
So to my teacher friends and colleagues statewide, your time is now, as it always has been. I have no doubt you will rise to the occasion and be that sense of normalcy desperately needed in moments such as these.