My students and I were riding high in March 2020 after a video we made went viral across social media platforms. As an African-American fifth-grade teacher in a Memphis school of minority students, I created over 250 elaborate handshakes to greet each of my students with the intent of giving them a sense of value. Each student felt significant and special with their own individual greeting.
National news and media outlets were contacting me to conduct interviews, and widely known organizations were requesting partnerships with me. I was even in talks for a feature on The Ellen DeGeneres Show! Little did I know that my world and everyone else’s would soon come crashing down, and life as we once knew it would be forever altered.
In January 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 emerged and began to rapidly increase worldwide. By March, things took a turn for the worse as the number of COVID cases began to rise. I recall sitting in my classroom and receiving notice that school would immediately be canceled to mitigate health risks due to the outbreak. At that point, I had no major concern as I assumed things would be back to normal soon.
About two weeks later, on March 26, 2020, after multiple visits to the emergency room, I was diagnosed with this life-threatening disease. Although my symptoms were light, the emotional, psychological, and mental distress far outweighed my physical ailment. I experienced panic attacks, hallucinations, and anxiety. Even after defeating COVID, I experienced “long hauler” effects. I slipped into a deep depression as it appeared things were getting worse, and all hope was lost.
Even in the state I was in, my students were always my priority because I had developed relationships with them and genuinely cared about their mental and physical well-being. For the first time in my life, I felt powerless, and for a split moment, I believed all hope was lost until I made a conscious decision to focus on what I knew things could be and not what they appeared to be. I discovered hope was still there.
Adjusting to Virtual Learning
Almost immediately, virtual learning was introduced as the new wave for teaching. Both teachers and students were now adjusting to this new norm of remote learning together. The process was daunting as no one really knew what to expect. There would be no more handshakes, no more in-person human interaction, and no gathering around my desk chanting affirmations, and this realization allowed me to really take in the depth of the impact teachers have on their students. The pandemic, though unprecedented, brought to light just how important my role was in my students’ lives.
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