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School Daze

by PK Brannon about a year ago in student
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Masked views

School Daze
Photo by Xingyue HUANG on Unsplash

I found my high school yearbooks online the other day and began perusing as I hadn't seen them for years. I found pictures of myself I don't remember seeing before, or maybe I just saw them differently this time. I'm sure at the time I was just aware of a bad hair day or my blouse puckering where it shouldn't. This time I saw a young girl with shining eyes at 14 , looking a little lost at 15 and at 16 completely deadpan face with no light in her eyes. There had been …issues at home. Did anyone see it at the time?

My perspective now is through a teacher's lens, so perhaps a little more in focus than peers or friends might have noticed. Still, did any teacher see the me that seemed to be disappearing?

It made me think about this past year teaching and coping with COVID, trying to keep myself and my students safe, keep them engaged, navigating new online teaching/learning methods together and mostly just making it from one day to the next.

My school had shut down with everything else in the U.S. in March 2020 and remained so for the rest of that school year. A whirlwind of about 3 months when we were all at our most anxious, angry, annoyed, always tired, frustrated, scared and just sad sometimes.

But we opened our doors again in August and have remained that way. We still offered virtual learning to families that weren't comfortable sending their children in person, so we had some crazy hybrid classes and some high tech equipment that allowed a more comprehensive experience for online students in class, in theory anyway. And then the on campus students that had to learn how to participate in a classroom of friends they couldn't stand too close to, eat lunch next to or even accompany to the office or nurse if needed.

Overall, though, my school did great things together. A private K-12, we were way ahead of many others. We had the resources, a tenacious administration, devoted teachers and staff, supportive trusting parents and amazing students working hard to make it through what we’d never been through before. I was aware even in the middle of the storm how fortunate we all were to have what we did during this struggle and always felt grateful.

But we were all juggling so much all of the time.

I wonder if I truly saw all of my students who might be caving under the pressure. As a faculty we supported each other, alerted each other to possible situations, students red flagged for probable issues.

But what about the well-adjusted 11th grader who prior to this year was a great student academically , a leader of his classmates and thrived on social activity? Or the group of popular girls that were at that 8th grade age on the verge of mean girl status who teased the cast outs mercilessly, feeding off of someone else's discomfort? And was that virtual student really okay at home? Was it his fear of coming to school or his parents ?

Whether we realize it or not, we read lips in conversations, it helps us hear. With masks covering our mouths, there was no reading lips. And because I wear glasses I was continuously adjusting my mask so my glasses didn't fog (tried all the products and different masks....). So rather than having my hands on my face then touching other things, I just took my glasses off. I couldn't even see expression in their eyes- the only part of their face that was showing.

I teach theatre, so I instinctively read expressions and body language; I am tuned in to the nervous or wavering voice, the hand or foot that taps constantly , or the pacing while reading a scene aloud.

But my field was obscured, my tools removed and I needed to utilize every other possible trick or device available to help these sweet students learn in my class. It felt like I was desperately trying to keep all the balls in the air, hopping on one foot and rubbing my tummy while patting my head. I came home much more exhausted then I should have been, ate, planned the next day if needed and dissolved into my recliner for the rest of the night.

So, did I miss something? I hope not. I know we all did the best we could, and that kids are resilient, will bounce back-blah blah blah. Most adapted beautifully, like they had been wearing a mask to school always. Some were victims of their parents views and opinions, suddenly feeling sad because there was no graduation ceremony only because their parents mourned the memory they felt the year took from their child. Some vocalized their fears, from behind 3 masks and a personal bottle of hand sanitizer in the outside pocket of their backpack. Others quietly went through the motions, did what they were expected to do, and buried any issues that should have surfaced.

And those are the ones I might not have seen. Those are the ones I will watch more closely.

Theatre has outlets that encourage students to deal with emotions, their own and their characters. Games of improvisation that can work out troubled scenes, build confidence and just let off steam from the day. But math class doesn't.

I hope that families that stayed hovered at home together were able to use some of the time to be more aware of each other, and not just make it through the day of balancing childcare and zoom meetings. I know that I will be more aware and apply my theatre processes with more care as we start year two very likely with masks. But even as we find normal again, please don't swap your mask for your phone's camera. Stay in the moment. Look in your child's eyes at the time, not in a photo years later.

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About the author

PK Brannon

I am a transient New Yorker (always in that New York state of mind) living in glorious southern California. I am currently working at a private K-12 school where I teach theatre outside of the box and am the Artistic Director.

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