If you’re a classroom teacher in the US, chances are that you’re struggling right now. I’m in Florida, which means that I’m in the classroom during this pandemic. I know that many of my sisters and brothers around the nation are teaching from home. The nuttiest scheme that I’ve seen is the one where teachers are trying to work with kids in person and kids over zoom at the same time. It seems like a nightmare.
Where I am, my kids’ desks are pushed as far apart as they can be. There are cardboard and plastic shields on their desks, covering the front of and one side of their desk. We don’t have a class set of devices, so differentiation is hard. Keeping my students’ attention involves a lot of performance on my part, and a lot of volume when I teach. It’s all pretty tough.
But my kids, my kids who seem good natured, sweet, and friendly, they’re feeling it, too. This year has been a lot. Between the pandemic, our restrictive and not-all-that-great classroom setup, and the socio-political atmosphere in our country, they’re pretty overwhelmed. Like so many of us, they do their best not to show it. “But Babies, I want to say, you can’t keep that stuff in!”
One day, I projected Google Docs on the screen behind me. I typed, in 36 point font, the following*:
Clap if these things are true for you.
- I find that I’m more worried this year than normal.
- My parents seem more stressed out than normal.
- We aren’t able to do our normal things, and I feel sad.
- I worry about the older adults in my family.
- My parents aren’t always as nice as usual lately, and that stresses me out.
- Sometimes this all makes me feel kind of lonely.
- I’ve got friends that I can talk to when I’m down.
- I don’t always feel comfortable talking about it.
- I wish that my friends knew that I feel the same as them.
- I wish I could say the things that I’m stressed and worried about to someone.
- My mom — and/or my dad is a good listener, and they’re helpful.
- I’ve got an adult that I can talk about stress and fear to.
- I don’t know who to talk to when I’m stressed or afraid.
- Hearing all of the people clap on the same things as me makes me feel less alone.
- I didn’t realize that other people felt this way too.
- It feels kind of good to know that it’s normal to feel worried or stressed.
- I’m doing the best that I can, even if my best isn’t always great.
- I get it, other kids are stressed/worried, but my problems are probably worse.
Friend, it was amazing how many of my students clapped for most of these statements. I typed in the following statements:
No they’re not.
We all have awful things.
Most people don’t talk about them.
They feel ashamed.
Now back to the clapping:
- I feel ashamed sometimes.
- Sometimes I feel like my problems make me a bad person/not good enough.
That’s a garbage idea.
Throw it away.
You are AMAZING.
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.
You deserve to feel good.
It’s hard sometimes, but you’re not alone.
We (me and your fellow students) are with you, even when we can’t be in person).
My students and I had a little discussion about the things that they had clapped for. I was surprised to have near unanimous response to most of the statements. They were surprised that it wasn’t only them who felt that way.
You are completely welcome to borrow my script, but you need to have these conversations with your kids. Curriculum, currshmiculum. The kids are NOT alright, and they need to talk about it. They think they’re the only one. They feel alone in this. They feel like it would be selfish, embarrassing, or shameful to say how they feel. They need to know that they’re not alone, they need to know that their worries don’t define them. They need to know that they are together, and that you’re there with them. I know I need to hear these sorts of affirmations daily, and you know what? I’m a grown up with a lot of mature coping skills. Our kids need to hear it even more. Get to it.