Almost an entire season passed since remote learning started. Our first day away from school was March 17, and our last day of remote learning is tomorrow, May 29 - the same day that Gov. Pritzker reopens Illinois. Although today is the last day I'll see my students. Grades were due yesterday.
It's almost hard to remember life before the pandemic now. Just weeks before the pandemic hit, I soaked up the Arizona sun for a few days watching the White Sox in spring training. The promise of a new baseball season was ahead. The ballparks were packed with fans, none of them wearing masks, of course. We went to restaurants and a couple of bars. We rode public transportation. No fear or any thought of a viral disease was on anyone's mind anywhere.
And then not long after that end of February trip, the entire U.S. started going into lockdown. I recall being in church and instead of the greeting of the peace, we were asked to give each other a polite nod. We were forbidden from drinking from the common cup. Announcements rang over the intercom at school about the importance of hand washing and using the antibacterial soap in the classrooms.
Social media users posted stories about places like Disney World closing and we all thought the world was ending, like we were in some weird Sci-Fi novel.
Before they closed school on March 17, it appeared that we would finally get through a school year without any snow or cold days. There were some teases in January and February with reports of heavy snow and subzero temps, but they were not nearly snowy enough or cold enough to cancel school. Since I've been in education, there hasn't been a year that has gone by since we didn't have a snow or a cold day. It looked like this year would be the golden exception.
Our district was still in the planning phase of remote learning and we were not scheduled to fully implement it until next year. Luckily, all the students were issued a Chromebook at the beginning of the year and we had already done some one-on-one instruction through programs like Khan Academy and they utilized Google Classroom. But when it was announced that schools would close, it was still uncharted waters for all of us. E-learning was set up to be for emergency school closure days - to post assignments to help students for a period of a short time span.
None of us were prepared for what was ahead. We held several virtual meetings planning, researching online tools, and brainstorming ways to stay connected with students we didn't know when we would see again. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, we pressed on with our new normal. A couple of days ago, we were called back to school to help collect textbooks from students for a textbook return. This was all done in a careful social distance manner of course, with everyone wearing masks and students dropping books off while they or their parents drove by in their car. But being able to see them and be at school was both surreal and refreshing at the same time.
It was no picnic standing out in the blistering heat wearing a mask and latex gloves for hours, and I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. The last time I was there, school ran as normal with bustling hallways, and no one wore masks or stayed six feet apart. The teachers and I talked about the ridiculous CDC guidelines and laughed at how they would never work in a high school environment. We wondered what the fall would look like. Whatever it looks like, I know it will be a while before it looks like it had before the pandemic hit.
So today is the last day of school with my kids. I don't get to say goodbye to my students. We don't get to have any fun last day activities. I don't get to see their antsy anticipation as they count down the final seconds on the wall clock until summer starts. It's only been a couple of months, but it feels like it's been so much longer than that. The world has changed in so many ways, and even though it appears that this is dying down, how will this change for all of us going forward? We will just have to wait and see.