My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

I hate to dream. 


I dream in color and minute detail. In patterns of setting, plot, and genre. Their characters are archetypes, not familiars. Their conflicts encoded metaphors for my waking life. 

Vivid dreams, in other words. 

Subconscious manifestations of external turmoil, they are a nightly phenomena with which I have been intimately acquainted even prior to Covid.  However, as the new school year approaches, my dreams’ intensity and frequency have worsened because I’m worried about reopening schools. I’m worried about bringing Covid home to my family. Myself. I’m worried about my students and my ability to provide the education they deserve, and so are my peers. 

School starts tomorrow. After months of debate, late July my New Jersey district opted to reopen following a hybrid model for instruction. Whereas families could opt in to the hybrid or all-remote options, teachers and staff would report to their buildings. Mid-August, the board voted for an all-remote return for students, with faculty and staff still reporting. Late August, we learned our teaching load, but not our schedules. As I write, the details of our return remain in flux. Including students’ schedules. 

None of  this situation is ideal. No one with whom I’ve spoken is truly happy with any of our educational options.  Most students are better off with daily, in-person instruction, which aids learning and socialization. We’ve already been isolated from each other for far too long, with no end in sight and no clear understanding of the restrictions’ long-term implications for our children. But we are in a pandemic. All of us. To date we have no vaccine and no cure. Only behavior modifications: wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds. 

Meanwhile, everyone wants to weigh in on what schools and teachers should do. On their opinions of those with whom they disagree. Civility and respectful discourse have become nearly obsolete. Insults and shaming, the norm. Such behavior is  sickening and unacceptable, no matter the rationale, and certainly gets us no closer to a resolution. 

Not to mention what such ugliness teaches our children. 

Meanwhile, I have to figure out a way to do my job, following whatever guidelines and conditions my district has implemented. 

I think I figured out a way last week. 

Recently, a former student sent me a friend request, then a DM after I accepted. This may sound odd, she said, but she wanted to thank me. Even though we taught her in high school, I and a few other teachers had given her an education better than most she knows, and for that she’s grateful. 

She made my day. Maybe my year.

Honestly, I have only a vague recall of her class. In nearly thirty years, I’ve taught thousands of students, and she graduated at the beginning of my career. I don’t know exactly what I did to earn her regard other than what I’ve always tried to do: Be the kind of teacher I want for my own children.  

She thanked me, but I needed to thank her right back. She reminded me of why I love being a teacher.  She reminded me that sometimes the little things we do or say have the greatest impact on others’ lives–good and bad.

Sometimes that impact isn’t realized until many years later.  

In all the clamor and worry, I  almost forgot that lesson.

I’m glad she reminded me. 

School starts tomorrow. Tonight I think I’ll sleep just fine.

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