Today, I did a Google Hangout from my living room with the Class of 2020.
“Don’t move as fast as the colleges did, Ms. Klotz,” one appealed. “Can’t we take it a week at a time?”
“Hi, Janaan,” one typed in the chat.
“Hi, G,” typed another.
On the call, we talked about the milestones we fear they will miss and what is most important to them about those end-of-high-school events. My goal was to let them know that we understood how abrupt the end of school was for them, particularly as seniors. I wanted them to know we love them and value their leadership and understand that this is not the spring they had hoped for. We laughed a lot. Everybody talked at once as we tried to remember to mute and unmute at the right times. Girls’ faces floated on and off the screen. Emily leaned sideways into her camera. They are bored. They are lonely. They are sad and mad. They are a group who has led our school with calm and thoughtfulness all year. They are grieving. So, I realize, am I. I want things to go back to the way they were.
“Can we have a Senior Skip Day?” one asked.
“That would be this quarter,” I answered.
“When it’s all over, when we can come together, could we have a sleepover at school?” one typed.
“Yes,” I answered. A sleepover at school feels easy to say yes to when Prom and anything like an elegant commencement in early June seem improbable.
We have been away from school for only 12 days, confined to our homes for several. Each day, I wake, not particularly rested, with the odd sensation that the whole pandemic has been a dream. And then I remember. It’s not. The numbers are rising.
My adult daughters are in the epicenter: Manhattan. One has already started teaching her second-graders from home. We won’t begin to teach here until early April. Yet, spring break, which arrives always about a week after it is needed, has gone the way of preparing for distance learning.
My amazing faculty have worked tirelessly on their own time to prepare to teach in entirely new ways. The girls in my school will see their teachers modeling what it means to embrace creative risks. We will adapt and learn and fail and iterate; those are all good things in education — especially since education tends to change at a glacial rate. But at what cost? I worry my teachers will get sick, that my girls will not be able to focus on learning when they are caring for little siblings or fighting for a quiet space at home. The struggle to juggle school at home — for teachers and learners — will not be easy. At first, the novelty fueled me. Now, tired of looking at a tiny square of myself all day during meetings, I am wearier than I want to be as we embark on this new chapter.
I have written so many letters to my faculty and staff and to our families that I entertained myself last night by writing a Mad Lib of these kinds of correspondence. Gallows humor. Leading from home is, thus far, lonelier than I had anticipated. More trips to the kitchen to look for something to nibble. Fewer glasses of water.
It’s a wholly different world from my office at school, where I have a pitcher of water with lemon, and an assistant who is vigilant about reminding me that I must drink three glasses of water to every cup of coffee. My associate head is through my office door. We banter back and forth all day long. Older girls stop by for a piece of candy. There are people to see and a rhythm to each day that I know by heart. It is not all roses and unicorns; there are tough conversations, boring meetings, sober interactions with neighbors or parents. Yet the girls emit an energy that enlivens the building, and I take my energy from all of them — from 18 months to 18 years.
I love my husband and son and cats and dogs and fish. While I enjoy the idea of being with them, my makeshift office is a card table in the living room — I don’t want it to be permanent.
I want us all to do the right thing, to flatten the curve, to see the number of cases decline instead of increase.
And, I want to be able, once again, to hug the second-graders who brought me a mural they had drawn for me; I want to walk down busy, populated halls without taking my temperature or worrying that I must stand six feet apart from another person. I want to do errands on a Saturday morning, chat about the weather at the faculty table in the lunchroom, encourage a middle school girl who is struggling, hire two new art teachers.
Limbo is an uneasy state; I feel suspended, my feet caught in a sticky substance. I try not to think about mice in adhesive traps.
To pause offers opportunity for reflection, for gratitude. I long for the calm that allows me to feel grateful for this pause that has been thrust upon us.