Masked Up & Teaching

In a time when anxiety and uncertainty can cloud everything else, we can always slow down and take each day one step at a time.


Kaitlyn Pietan, Teacher Writer

We are almost at a year worth of social distancing. A year worth of masks. A year of learning missed for some students. A year worth of development going uncharted. I have to say, I disagree vehemently with people who say things like “they are not behind; they are surviving a pandemic.” When are kids going to learn the skills? Teachers are already crunched for time as it is, time to meet all the standards.

10 months ago

Hesitantly, I sit up. My entire body aches; once again, I have stayed in bed for over 12 hours. I rub the crust out of my eyes, and throw my legs over the side of the bed. I am hungry. I’ve been down to one meal a day, since my parents will notice if I don’t eat at least once. I eat dinner, and I’ve noticed a slight drop in my weight. Success. What else do I have to do all day? I should be accomplishing something, and weight loss seems to be the best option for me. Everyone should be doing something over this pandemic. What else do you have to do? Those words ring true for me; as an overachiever all through college, I need to be accomplishing something. I can only read so much, and there has been no motivation to write. I have no students anymore. My student teaching was cut short, leaving me with little to no work to be done. I feel useless.

I think back to the students I had at my last placement. Kindergarteners. They did not speak English at home, most of them. Minority majority. The lowest income elementary school in my community. The school was run down, and some rooms didn’t have central heat. Just space heaters that blow fuses frequently. To my intense surprise, I loved it. I was a regular English teacher before, thought I wanted to do middle or high school. Teach literature, teach writing. Never did I imagine myself teaching elementary school ESL, kindergarten no less.

The students were amazing; sweet, smart, eager. All the things you want in your classroom. A few were difficult, but who doesn’t have difficult students? I was devastated when we were forced to go home. You see, most of these students were at least somewhat food insecure. Almost all of them relied on the food pantry below the school, and most of them were dependent on school lunches. When leaving on Friday, students would often eat as much as they could, and on returning Monday, they did the same. Most didn’t have food over the weekend.

Since food was lacking, so was affection and attention. Students were dependent on school for a safe environment; they were dependent on school for a caring adult. Who was taking care of these kids now? Were their most basic needs being met? Was their existence much more difficult now than it had been two weeks ago?

4 months ago

             I slammed the tailgate of the truck. I threw the last of the boxes of books on the dolly, hauling them into my classroom. No AC, and in the middle of nowhere. Either way, I was excited. This is my first year teaching, my first year doing this. A 22 year old with a lot to prove;  a 22 year old with a lot to learn. I was thrilled to be here, regardless of the situation I was placed in. I had so many people who voiced their concerns; “I don’t envy you, entering education at this point in time. It’s hard enough, you know, without teaching in person and online simultaneously.” I knew these people meant well, but at the same time, I despised the pity in their voice. Do I seem incapable? I thought to myself, What if I can’t do this?

It didn’t matter; I still had students depending on me for their needs, no matter what is said about the true purpose of schools. I had students who needed a teacher, who needed someone to care. I heard my father’s voice in my head: People don’t remember what you did; they remember how you made them feel. Truer words have never been spoken. I have taught a number of children in my practicum and student teaching, and I can genuinely say I barely remember what I taught. I remember how the kids made me feel; like they’d miss me, like I mattered to them as their teacher, that I was making a difference in their lives. That was what mattered to me, and I know that is what mattered to them too.

Self-doubt, as always, still creeped in unbidden. I was furious about the situation we had been placed in; I am still furious. However, there is so little we really control in our lives. While many are not religious, I am; I often found myself quoting the New Testament. “Do not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” -Matthew 6:34. That’s truly all we can do in this pandemic, in this new world we live in. We can fight our battles today, and worry about the rest when the time comes. Focus on your family, your friends. Love fearlessly. Protect yourself, protect your family, protect your friends, and protect your freedoms. After all, what else can we do?