Bicycles now lean like blossoms reaching for the sun in one long row locked along the front parking lot of the school. They fill the space of green grass vacant since March 2019. Masked students with backpacks move across the land in small swarms visible from my second floor classroom window. There is energy in the air; albeit muted, but I see it and feel it.
I greet my grade 9 students knowing they cannot see my mouth, so I smile more with my eyes, listen more to what they have to say, and linger longer beside their desks. I say their names, a few times, asking if I am saying them correctly, leaving space for an offered anecdote or story to fill this once empty room.
I then ask them to use evidence found in the classroom or online to figure out aspects of my identity – who is this teacher in front of you? They draw conclusions and have fun speculating using information from Instagram and Twitter to list my loves; dogs, raspberries, rose, kale, running, but mostly books. They tell me that I’m married and they know this by my ring. They laugh among themselves making guesses about me not realizing they are learning to use evidence and inference. One boy offers what he first thinks is simple “you’re a teacher. I expand on this and let them know this is a fundamental aspect of my identity. I intentionally don’t talk in the language of “school” yet, because I hope that this natural curiosity will flow. I’ll share more about my identity tomorrow; but not today.
The inquiry ends and they begin to use paper and sticky notes left on each desk.
“Glance around the room and count the number of people who you recognize. Write the number in the middle of the paper on your desk.”
I join them and we raise our papers in unison. They see the large zero in the middle of my paper and students with 0 or 1 smile knowing we are in this together. Suddenly, we aren’t alone in being alone.
The sticky notes serve a different purpose as I gently ease them into this community. Each holds a hope and a worry.
“Use one sticky note to record what you are looking forward to and one to record a worry or wondering.”
I make two columns on an easel of chart paper, face it away from the students at the front of the room, and ask them to post the notes anonymously. Watching them move about the space reminds me that they are not used to being in crowds – 28 in this class, 31 in another. Most hang their heads, move in staccato motions towards the front anticipating others. Some have not yet grown into their legs, or feet, and trip, or knock into desks avoiding eye contact with peers.
We have filled the two and a half hours with independent reading, personal writing, some short videos, poetry, and lots of talking. There were two classes today, one of 28 and another of 31. There will be two tomorrow and the days after that as we try to build a learning space together. I am pausing to read the room and I know this is my objective in this prolonged pandemic year as I’ve done all the webinars and trauma informed pedagogy and I have worked nearly all summer to bring equity to my practice.
But we are not well. I hear it in the deep sighs at the photocopier. We share the same physical space but each of us moves internally carrying residue. There are three of us, in three different physical spaces, who have worked together as friends and colleagues since the pandemic hit. We text in a shared chat – often daily. We Google Meet on weekends or call one another and problem solve and sometimes cry. We have used technology to keep us connected. We create our own community where collective action and nurturing is our goal. We are not well, but we have each other.