A Tupelo teacher reflects on being distanced from her students.
Written by Eileen Bailey
Covid-19, Coronavirus, pandemic, social distancing, remote learning, distance learning, Zoom, Google Hangouts, uncharted, quarantine. If I didn’t know better, this list would look like a vocabulary exercise I would use in my classes. Instead, these words have all become part of our vocabulary as we face uncharted waters in learning to live in a time of pandemic.
Before spring break, which for me started on March 9, students had asked about Coronavirus here and there. My seventh-grade U.S. history students at Tupelo Middle School would ask, and with the limited information I had, I would answer the best I could. Practice good hygiene, be sure to cough into your elbows and make sure you wash your hands often using the antibacterial gel in the wall dispenser.
How were we to know this virus would spread like wildfire? How were we to know it would jump across continents as people, unaware they were affected, traveled? How were we to know the symptoms often don’t show for weeks? How could the word pandemic become part of our everyday conversations?
When Tupelo superintendent Dr. Rob Picou and the members of the Tupelo Public School District Board of Trustees cancelled school the week after spring break, I was ready to see my kids, but I thought, one more week won’t hurt. One week turned into another week, and then through April 17.
Their decision was not an easy one. They were charged with taking care of thousands of students, teachers, administrators and staff members, and they took that job seriously and wanted to make sure they made the best decision for all. The safety of the TPSD community was paramount.
But this time of being physically distanced from people I have grown to care for has been devastatingly difficult. None of the teachers I know and work with are happy to be away from their students. We have shed tears because it is so hard to not see the sweet, smiling faces of our students. I miss their hugs and their fist bumps. I miss their jokes and their eagerness to learn.
In July, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a double mastectomy and a second surgery in December. Both times I went back to work as soon as I could because I love my kids. I think my illness bonded me with my students in a strong way. The students are protective of me and take care of me. They have learned empathy for someone who has a disease they can do nothing about.
For nearly 15 years, I have taught an average of 125 middle school students a year at Tupelo Middle School. Each year I love what I do even more. The students are always in my heart, and when people ask me how many kids I have I always say, “I gave birth to one child but have 126.” They look at me crazy for a second and then say, “You must be a teacher.” And I proudly say, “Yes, I am.”
The first week after spring break, my department, made up of Katherine Holland, Nanette Shoemaker, Micah Wages and me, worked hard to provide resources for those of our students who had online access. All of the departments at both grade levels at our school have been working hard to provide students with learning opportunities.
All of the schools did this to provide immediate resources to parents who had computer access. We gave them vocabulary assignments, web quests and guided readings with questions. None of this was for a grade — it was to help with the transitions until the district could find a plan that would work for our large number of students. My principal and the administrative staff at our school have been working around the clock answering questions from teachers, parents, students, community members and staff. They want to do what’s best for all of our students, who come to us from a multitude of backgrounds and learning styles. We have a plan in place that will help provide continued learning opportunities to our students at all levels until our healthcare professionals, who are on the front lines, get a handle on the spread of this deadly disease.
My department meets several times a week — once just to keep in touch and check on each other, because we are a family, of sorts. We also meet to provide as many resources to parents as we can. We all have in common a love for our students, and we look forward to the day we can see them again.
Eileen Bailey is history teacher at Tupelo Middle School. She teaches seventh graders.