9/11 struck 2 days after I began my teaching career as a 5th grade teacher in the Bronx. Though the setting has changed, this week I returned to teaching 5th grade during a global pandemic. I have not taught in a classroom in 15 years but I feel a sense of comfort to return to this grade level that reminds me of a time when I learned lessons of resilience alongside my 5th grade students.
I have been writing and talking about the circumstances that have framed my role as a 5th grade teacher for months. My first notebook entry, which I have shared here, took the format of a T- chart: Teaching 5th grade in 2001 and in 2020. In 2001, I taught in a classroom without a computer. There was no staff email account. When our administrator or colleagues needed to relay a message, they hand wrote it on a sheet of paper that a student carried from room to room. My classroom sat on the third floor of a beautiful classic New York City school building. My 32 students sat at desks grouped together and were free to move around the room.
19 years later, I return to a classroom with desks 6 feet apart. With students' health and safety at the forefront of my mind, I closely monitor their handling of books and movement within the space. From a document camera displaying illustrations in our read aloud books to I pads for student collaborations, technology will be our lifeline for connection this year.
9/11 and Covid-19: Connection during Crisis
On our first day back to school following 9/11, we gathered in our meeting areas, and surrounded by bins of books, we talked about what had happened. We healed together. We listened. These tender days shaped who I was to become as a teacher. I learned to be flexible, to listen with my whole heart, and to privilege students' wellbeing above all else.
When preparing to teach in the classroom after six months of social distancing, wearing masks, and learning from home, these lessons guide me to design opportunities for students to express how they feel, what they have learned, and explore their identities so that they feel valued and connected to one another. While we will be unable to gather on a rug and we rely on online platforms to connect, we will gather in the spirit of shared resilience.