“I never thought I’d be in this position,” seems to be the resounding sentiment most of us are left with as 2020 comes to a close. So much loss, sweeping feelings of hopelessness, rising anxiety, and widespread financial strain as the world stood still and we scrambled to survive through what will become a year for the history books. Though this year has affected us all differently, we will each be greatly changed as we move forward with altered perspectives in this “new normal.” 

As a kindergarten teacher, I was tearfully sent home from my classroom at the beginning of my final quarter of a school year that I’d spent loving and growing my students. This was, of course, the safest and correct measure in order to protect everyone. In an instant, though, we were all thrust onto a plane still being built—some of us pilots, some passengers.

Students became virtual learners and parents became stay at home workers and caregivers, while teachers who are parents attempted to juggle it all. Needless to say, in quarantine or not, summer was a welcomed break like never before. It was the first time in my twelve year career that I wasn’t able to graduate my classroom babies to the first grade with my hopes and well wishes for them, or even share one final and much needed hug.

As a mom of a kindergartener at the time, I felt this loss twice over. However, I was just as sad as I was relieved. I have no doubt that closing schools when we did as a state was the correct measure to take. My household in particular, accommodating both of my parents, who are high risk due to pre-existing conditions, could take no chances.

For a very short lived moment we all began to pat ourselves on the back and teachers were being revered, this on top of the calls for our pay to be raised. Just as the days and months of the “new normal” had begun to crawl by and blur together, numbers in July were once again on the rise. Our government had no more knowledge or plan for what would truly keep us safe as August approached, yet in this lack of infinite wisdom, it was decided that teachers and students would be returning to the very enclosed spaces they’d been ejected from just four months earlier. 

I agonized over sending my 6-year-old daughter back to school. I agonized over returning to school under such impossible conditions, as did so many parents and educators.

You see, educators had the added horror of knowing just how much could not and would not be done to protect us in classrooms that are too small to socially distance, with class sizes not being reduced across the country, limited PPE was available and would take months to even make it to every school. 

Every proposed answer was only accompanied by more questions. 

  • How would isolation and quarantine work with every class in every school? 
  • How would we enforce constant hand washing, sanitizing and mask wearing—especially at the early childhood level? 

Hybrid models had veteran teachers learning completely foreign technologies and it had all teachers wondering how the heck to engage and grow children—both in-person and online—while not losing every piece of your mind. We were comforted even less by higher-ups shrugging off the already accepted idea that of course there would be positive cases in schools once reopened, and in those cases, some possible losses of life. 

All the way up to the first day of school, the genius plan from our government remained simply for each individual school—in the thousands of American school districts—to come up with one. I know what you may be thinking…” well kids need an education, children need socialization and parents need to work.” But that’s just it…

How do you make the right choice between your livelihood and your very life when your work is to educate?

For Some, There Was No Choice

For so many, even knowing the stakes, there was just no choice at all. Make no mistake, I love what I do for a living. I live for teaching. It has never been a job for me, but a calling. Every part of me hurt to make the choice I was blessed to be able to make—to take a leave without pay, abandoning my incoming students (who also had no choice) and my position at the school I’d had the privilege to call home for over a decade.

Walking off of that campus brought so much relief after over a month of uncertainty, while it simultaneously broke my heart. Most teachers who stayed are still being evaluated, attempting to perform miracles amid chaos, and obviously—they are not okay.

As an educator and a mother, that is what 2020 has taken from me.

Though not a death, a devastating circumstance indeed.

Hope And Clarity

Worldwide, 2020 will be remembered historically as the year that disproportionately gaveth and tooketh away. My hopes for this coming calendar year, as we continue the fight, is that we learn how to stop the bleeding, contain the spread of the virus, provide proper relief to the unemployed, advocate mental health for all, continue the respect and gratitude for essential workers, release fear, embrace and focus on our blessings, and begin to make plans again for joy and togetherness, where we can thrive as well as survive. 

For me, I will return to the classroom in August 2021, safely—I hope—as I will have no other option, though where is still to be determined. I am thankful to take with me the clarity 2020 has provided going forward as fuel to focus on being in a position from now on where my happiness, my survival and my success is always up to me … even when the world is on fire! 

Melissa Bagneris is a kindergarten teacher in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana where she is an active member of the school-wide positive behavior initiative system. She earned her bachelor’s degree and state certification in early childhood education from the University of Louisiana and was voted 2020 Teacher of the Year at Washington Elementary STEM School.


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