‘I’m an elementary school teacher. I’m a week and a half from returning to work. The reality of school opening is hitting me hard.’: Teacher and mom shares realization, ‘I don’t want my 5-year-old carrying that burden’

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“I could never have imagined March 13, 2020, would be the last time I would see my class together. Sometimes I think to myself, ‘Is this global pandemic actually happening in my lifetime? Am I going to wake up from this?’

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

I’m an elementary school teacher and will start my 12th year this fall. When school dismissed on the 13th, I had a couple of weeks to prepare for a virtual end-of-year. My grade-level team pulled together and decided we would make the best of the situation and try to give our students and their parents a smooth transition to help ease the burden of teaching their children at home. We met via virtual calls every week on Wednesdays to hash out the work we would be sending the following week to our classes. To say I was and am proud of my grade-level team would be an understatement. We were there for each other and in turn, able to really be there for our students and their families.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney
Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

Each week, I would meet with my class on a virtual call. My biggest concern was that my students would feel isolated from each other and me. I didn’t want that for them. I would change the theme of the calls to keep it exciting for them. We did directed drawings for holidays, watched the Cincinnati Zoo animal videos, completed indoor scavenger hunts, and then just talked about how we were doing. Seeing the kids’ faces and smiles let me know they were happy to see each other, too. Every time I’d get off a call, my heart would be so full.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney
Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

As the spring went on, one of my grade-level partners sent out a ‘check-in’ survey to her class, so I decided to do it also. I found out most of my parents were actually very happy with how the virtual schooling was going and thought their children were doing well considering the circumstances. There were some who noted they were having difficulty, so I was able to contact them and discuss ways to make the time easier for them and their child. I think being sensitive to everyone’s situation during that time was very important to the success of virtual learning. Some days, virtual learning wasn’t the most important thing compared to the family’s mental health.

When the school year was coming to a close, my room moms and another parent organized a drive-by parade for me. Almost my entire class lined up in their vehicles and drove past me with signs and gifts. I was absolutely shocked, to say the least. It blessed my heart in a way I couldn’t describe. I felt as if they recognized the hard work I was putting in to make virtual learning as easy as possible for them.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

As a way to bring closure to the year, I then drove to each student’s home and dropped off a small gift on their porch. I told the parents I was coming, so as to not alarm anyone. I got to see some of my students from their front doors or porches. I don’t think I had a dry eye at any of their homes. It felt like I was able to give them a more proper good-bye.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney
Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

At the start of virtual learning, I was feeling pretty optimistic and hopeful life would return to ‘normal’ soon. But as summer approached, I realized that was not going to happen. My mental state turned to feeling hopeless and angry. I was mad this virus was taking the lives of people and critically sickening others and that so many people have had to miss or change major life events (weddings, graduations, the births of children, family vacations). I was feeling as if our lives would never return to what they were.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

I had been home for 3 months with a 5-year-old and 15-month old, while my husband and I worked from home full-time. It was beyond stressful, and we were both frustrated with each other and the atmosphere it was creating in our home. I quickly had to shift my focus. I had so many good friends to talk to on weekly virtual calls, where I could just vent and share my feelings. I stopped trying to figure out this entire situation in my own head, and let my faith guide me.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney
Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

As July is coming to an end, I’m about a week and a half from returning to work. Now the reality of school opening back up in the fall is hitting me hard. Especially because my daughter is starting kindergarten. The vision of her walking into school, holding my hand, skipping to her class, and meeting her teacher is now turning into something I never could have imagined. Instead, she’ll be wearing a mask, staying 6 ft apart from others, and eating in her classroom.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney
Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

I knew, at some point, I was going to have to talk to her about this, so I decided to make it less daunting. We went outside and pulled out the sidewalk chalk and started drawing our school. As we drew, I explained the new way school would be operating this year. I told her it was to keep all of us as safe as possible. I asked her if she had any questions. She asked me a few about what her masks would look like (Disney princess and Frozen 2 thanks to a friend). And then the conversation was over. She was content.

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

I realized she wasn’t worried or fearful because I wasn’t acting worried or fearful. I knew from them on, this year would be successful for us if I maintained that same mindset in front of her, regardless of how I was feeling inside. Am I worried? Yes. Do I have major concerns? Yes. But, I don’t want my 5-year-old carrying that burden.

Therefore, I would encourage any parent who is preparing to send a child to school this year to try and stay as positive as possible, let them ask questions, and see if talking to them during a game or activity could help ease the tension of the conversation. I know teachers and school staff are trying their very hardest to make this year as safe and conducive to learning as possible. And, then tell yourself, we’re one day closer to this being over.”

Courtesy of Heather Sweeney

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather Sweeney of Huntsville, AL. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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