Out of Darkness

Home with COVID-19, a teacher reflects on her new school and students.


Britt Jungck’s new classroom at Boone High School.

Britt Jungck, Teacher Writer

Sometimes life is sunny, radiating warmth like the smell of fresh-cut grass on a summer day.  Sometimes life leaks struggles in an endless stream like a toddler playing with a squeaky balloon. 2020 has been a squeaky balloon. Now, it is misshapen and saggy and barely holding it together, and I have to squint to realize it is, indeed, still there.

We knew we’d move this year.  We had a dream we were chasing.  We didn’t know that we’d leave our school, our district, our colleagues, our friends, and our students without a goodbye.  The pandemic clapped down on our plans for a farewell, and instead, we snuck out of town, silently leaving a trail of memories behind.

I write this from bed, while recovering from COVID-19.

Then, we opened a business during a global, economic crisis, lost the contractor on our home, were hit by the derecho, and found ourselves living with my dad and stepmom.  It couldn’t get worse, right?  Alas, it does. 

I write this from bed, while recovering from COVID-19.  

It took wallowing in my own misfortune to see what was fueling me: my new school.

However, I think it took wallowing in my own misfortune to see what was fueling me: my new school.  Now, I am used to people groaning at my unbridled passion for my workplace.  I swear when the word “Waterloo” comes out of my mouth, I can hear eyes rolling all around me.  I can’t help it.  I am a loyal gal, and every school deserves a passionate cheerleader. I feared I wouldn’t feel that loyalty again.

But, last week my heart melted.

In my new role, I teach English to upperclassmen:  American Literature to juniors and AP Language, and Composition/DMACC Composition to seniors. I had taught middle school for the last six years and I questioned whether I’d remember how to bond with kids this age.  Had all my tricks revolved around dodgeball and making dorky voices while reading?  

I stumbled a lot at first.  I demanded things.  I layered on the pressure.  I like winning and I wanted these students to be the best and brightest I’d ever taught.  I channeled everything from my past lives teaching collegiate classes and pushed the accelerator harder and harder.  I wanted to impress people. Yet, vanity is a futile exercise. 

I questioned whether I’d remember how to bond with kids this age.

My seniors and I were sitting in class one day, facing a roadblock with their writing.  Suddenly, I sent them a blank Google Doc and a list of 100 personal essay topics.  I told them to pick one for me and set a timer for four minutes.  I ended up writing an essay about a time I peed my pants in high school. The giggles and snorts as I typed fueled me.  When I heard the Ding! of the timer, I simply said, “Again!”

Then, I wrote about the death of my grandmother from Alzheimers.  How her slipping away was the cruelest torture I’d ever known.  I heard sniffles as I buzzed out sentences.  I then looked up and realized it had happened. We had a breakthrough.  The recipe hadn’t been rigor, after all.  It had been humility.

I had let my “person” out.  

The weeks went by and we continued to learn, grow, and ask questions.  I shared stories about my life, even writing about my fear for my Black students back home and discussing racism I’d countered on their behalf. We discussed imperfect parents and mental illness and stress beyond measure.

And then, we started our unit on marginalization in America.  We read Sedaris, Giovanni, Tan and Alexie, and my students showed their hunger for knowledge for the first time.  They asked questions instead of just searching for answers.  They wanted to know more instead of just wanting to know what the exam would be.  I looked at notes submitted by students and I saw things like, “Why don’t I know enough about how immigrants are treated in America?” or “I never thought about how offensive the term ‘broken-English’ was until I read Tan’s essay.” 

What poured out was an essay of gratitude.

Just last week, another teacher surveyed my seniors as part of our school’s EDGE program, gathering information for future job shadows and speakers for our students to develop their 21st century skills.  After class, she said she couldn’t believe how many kids asked for more information on “the rights of indigenous people” and I almost cried right there at my desk.

I sit here with a headache, feeling a little sorry for myself, wondering what obstacle is next for our family, yet I also realize this strife is temporary.  For when asked to write about my experience as a teacher with COVID-19, instead what poured out was an essay of gratitude for the new home, the new colleagues, the new view, and the new students…filling my heart with purpose and reminding me that our humanity is the secret ingredient that makes magic happen…in any area code. And it might just be what saves us all this year.