Two months ago, my students and I were making videos in French for a contest, planning the next event for our Good Deeds Club and going through all the comforting motions of being in school that I now realize we took for granted.
When I first accepted a job offer as French teaching assistant in a small town off the East Coast of Quebec in September, I didn’t expect a pandemic to send us home so soon. As I write this, it’s been two weeks since most of Quebec’s gone back to school with new social distancing rules in effect.
I was looking forward to my first day back to work. I was hoping to feel a sense of relief. Instead, there was confusion, anxiety and stress in the air as soon as I walked into the building. I saw only half our staff and students — parents can still choose to keep their kids at home. The building felt empty, quiet.
Showing my excitement would have felt off.
I still haven’t had the chance to process everything face-to-face with my students, to articulate how I’ve missed them, that I wish things were different or that I want to hear their wonderful stories. I haven’t had the opportunity to tell my students ça va bien aller (everything will be OK).
There’s little time in the day now to talk about how their long-awaited March ski trip — cancelled because of a snow day — ended up becoming their last day of school for an unforeseen timeline. There isn’t a “good time” to explain what happened there, let alone what it means to practise social distancing, or what a pandemic is. Kids shouldn’t have to wrestle with these realities yet.
It’s peculiar. It’s frustrating. It’s heavy. Nobody’s sure what they should be doing.
Should parents send their kids to school with masks? Would they even be effective with all the things kids touch? Should teachers wear one to protect others? And what’s this about “herd immunity?”
Nobody fully understands the reason we’re back in the classroom when we could catch a serious illness. They call us “superheroes” for braving the risks — secretaries, principals, teachers, assistants, custodians and everyone else working in education — but we just want to keep our kids safe and happy.
Here are some things I wish my students knew as I stand there, every day, trying to ignore the fact that things aren’t the same anymore, and won’t be for a while:
Your teachers aren’t perfect.
We may appear a little dazed or stressed, but that’s because we’re trying to ensure everyone is following the rules, and some of us are carrying our own burdens and worries. Like anyone else, we face keeping our families safe, unreliable incomes, cancelled plans and strained relationships. But we hope you don’t think we’re unhappy to be back in your presence again. It’s an absolute joy to see you and have you in a physical classroom.
There’s still room for joy.
I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, because there’s a lot of change you have to make peace with. And because you have to be two metres apart, you have to do so without being able to reach out to your friends for support. It’s hard, and it’s OK to admit that. But, I promise, there is still room for creative relationships with the people you love most, including your teachers behind their masks.
We want to be with you.
Your teachers are wearing masks and social distancing to protect you. We’re not afraid of you, we’re afraid for you — if we’re ill, we don’t want you catching it. You wouldn’t believe how badly it’s killing us to not be able to hug you and tell you everything’s going to be OK.
For now, please, keep on keeping on. There is hope.
You can still have fun in school.
It might feel too regulated at times. Like, how are you supposed to play tag at recess? Or show your friend a new toy? But we can work together to make it fun. It’s us against the virus, not us against the rules.
You can talk to me about your fears and anxieties.
I see the worry and stress on your face, already. And we love you too much to let you continue on about your days without telling us how you’re really feeling. So, don’t hide behind your tired smile and your heavy eyes. We see you. We hear you.
This isn’t easy on your parents.
It’s understandable that yours might be frustrated. Sometimes that frustration can surface as anger or fear. Your parents are trying to keep it together for you, juggling many things in order to help your whole family get by. So please don’t blame yourself if they’re not giving you their full attention right now, or if they appear stressed. It’s not your fault.
School can still be your home away from home.
You can still find solace here. You can find music, art and play. You can be who you are here.
The “rules” will get easier to follow.
We don’t expect you to enjoy the process, but we do hope you recognize its importance. Give yourself time, patience and love. You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll get it right eventually. Pretty soon, these new rules will become routine to everyone — you won’t even notice how many times you’ve washed your hands in a given day.
This is not a forever thing.
This is not your “new normal.” It’s temporary.
You are so brave for showing up.
You are so inspiring for getting through this time with all your anxieties and burdens. Continue to be strong, cautious and courageous. You are not alone. We’re here with you and for you.
I imagine teachers reading this right now are picturing the lovely faces of their bold and bright students. I know I definitely am as I write this. Your teachers love you, and they’re happy you’re back. Don’t doubt it for a second. We’re also eager to see how we’ll all grow from this and what we’ll say when the time comes to look back on this wild period in history.
For now, please, keep on keeping on. There is hope. You are not alone. Ça va bien aller.
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