It was 2:34 pm on Wednesday March 11, 2020. I was four minutes late for a mandatory all-star meeting in the chapel at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Washington. Vut there was an eager student with a shopping list of questions about the last test. I smiled and answered them one by one, but all I could think about was the clock tick-tocking on the wall and the voice of our principal echoing in my head. “Would all staff please come to the St. Aloysius Chapel at 2:30.”
I entered the chapel late. Everyone sat listening the to President talk about the probability of our school transition to “distance learning” for the three weeks before Easter Break. Then the Principal talked about how Thursday would be a unified schedule (in contrast to normal block schedule) and Friday would consist of professional development in order for us to smoothly transition to online instruction.
A million thoughts shot off through my mind. How am I going to pull this off? What web platform will I use to instruct? How will I instruct online? Teaching 24 juniors the nuances of The Great Gatsby was difficult enough in person. How the heck am I going to teach them Ernest Heminway’s In Our Time? Students were presenting on grammar and the sentence. How will they do that? In AP Composition we need to get ready for the upcoming AP test. We offer AP as a college-in-the-classroom course for college credit through Central Washington University, with strict requirements. How am I going to pull that off? I am teaching Creative Writing to what might be the quietest and most introverted group I have ever had. How am I going to work with them on writing elegies? How are we going to put together a new edition of our literary magazine Belles Lettres?
How am I going to do my job?
I went home to my wife and two children that night. Jaime, an educational consultant who works remotely from our home, talked about the obstacles for teachers and more importantly students. She asked what are we going to do about students without access to internet at home. That’s a huge issue with regards to equity, she reminded me. She’s smart like that. Jaime makes me look like a dull penny on a barroom floor. I’m luck to have her.
My son is in kindergarten. If we were closing down, his school would likely close as well. And we have a nanny share at our house for our ten-month-old daughter. How are we all going to be at home for three weeks?
I knew there were people with far worse situations, but I had to solve my problems before I could start solving others. (A convenient and somewhat selfish position.)
The next day at school, I did my best to teach students how to use Zoom, a online conference platform that I have never used before. But you know who uses it all the time? Jaime. I talked to my students how this was going to be a big moment for us teachers. We were going to have to learn a lot in order to pull this off. It wasn’t going to be easy. There was so much out there that I have simply avoided because it takes time to learn new things. And now I am being forced to learn new things and I am scared because I don’t have a lot of free time or energy. But I don’t have a choice. I need to step up. I also talked with them about this as an opportunity to step up and into the future because whether they are aware of it, this next three weeks will like the glimpsing into their life after college. Remote employment has shaped Seattle, a 45-minute drive to the north.
Then in the afternoon of March 12, Washington’s Governor closed schools in King, Snohomish, and Pierce County until April 24. That was us. Ground zero.
We will be away for 6 weeks.
This is uncharted territory.
This week was supposed to be the start of our school’s musical. My room is across the hall from the theater so I get to know the kids. The guys use my room to change in during dress rehearsals. Every morning, I arrive to a note from the young men. Sometimes there is joke but always a giant THANK YOU, MR. SINGER and their signatures. Almost all of their shows will be cancelled. Tonight they are performing for family and friends. Tomorrow they will get to do one more show. Then the theater will go dark. The fields will grow weeds in the spring sun. The campus will close.