A Mindful Return to School - Thoughts From a Teacher
Written by: Amanda Cottrell, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
To send kids to school or not! That is the question that so many parents, policymakers and teachers are grappling with right now. While some places in the world are sending their children back to school, others start off the year with an online platform. Regardless of how school starts up this year; parents, teachers, policymakers and students are in a unique position that we have never been through before. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused much panic and anxiety across the globe on a scale that we have never experienced in our lifetime.
I am a teacher, I have been teaching for 14 plus years, and this is by far the most confusing return to school that I have ever experienced in my career. I am more anxious and confused about this year than any of my previous years combined, including my very first year, and trust me, I don’t know how I survived the first few years of teaching. The first few years were like wandering around in a dark cave with no light just trying to survive. Each day I just hoped I got through to at least one kid while at the same time trying not to lose my mind with how completely overwhelmed and underprepared I was for the reality of teaching. Those feelings are definitely surfacing amongst the confusion and stress of this years return to school.
As a teacher, the start-up of school is always an exciting time. Time to prep your room, get ready for the kids smiling faces, buy a new first day of school outfit, a new planner and take fun first day of school pictures with my daughter. I always look forward to it and am always ready to embrace my career after some much-needed rest over the summer.
Yet this year, I am not excited to go back. I am nervous and confused. I want to see my students and give them a big high five as they come into the school. I want to see the kids smiling faces and watch them bear hug their buddies and chase each other on the playground. I want to send my daughter back to her school and see her face light up when she sees she has a bestie in her class.
This year, however, I am scared to return. Not because I am afraid of the virus and getting sick. (I am lucky my daughter and I are both very healthy individuals. I feel for those who have loved ones with compromised immune systems and understand their fears about a return to school), but because I am uneasy about what school is going to look like. I am afraid of walking into the school and the kids afraid to get near me. I am worried about kids wearing masks and not wearing masks for very different reasons. I am concerned about my daughter going to school and getting miscommunicated information about COVID and coming home even more confused and scared. Because let us be honest, adults and experts in the field cannot even agree on the best ways to combat COVID 19.
I wonder how long I will have with my students and my daughter with her classmates if there is another shutdown. I am spending my summer brainstorming what I essentially need to teach to make them the most successful if we have to return to emergency online school. Because I know that in my district, we are returning to class. Other teachers and students will not have the luxury of a possible few months together to build their classroom community.
I worry about the lack of funding and how we will ensure the students are sanitizing their space and hands. I wonder how they will survive the day if they do not get gym class or an actual recess to play and be kids. I worry for my students whose parents have lost their jobs due to the economy, and those whose parents or loved ones have gotten sick. I have compassion for the kids of frontline workers who have had to learn from home with parents working long hours and just happy to have a job. There is just so much unknown and uncertainty ahead that makes me anxious, nervous, worried and scared all at the same time.
However, even though the fear and confusion, I choose to look at the return to school with a positive mindset. All I have control over is my own mind, and so that is where I am going to start. I have the control to look at the situation and make the best of it, whatever it may end up being.
I have the power to look at this situation as an opportunity for some of the most meaningful learning our students have ever had in their lives. I choose to look at this as an opportunity for me to learn and teach differently but possibly in a more meaningful way. I choose to believe that this pandemic will force policymakers and community to recognize the importance of education and fund it properly.
I choose to look at this as an opportunity for me to support my students and have an impact in a way that has never before presented itself. A space where we may focus more on supporting each other, taking time to check in on each other’s mental health, being present, and listening rather than rush to the next topic. A time where connection, compassion and empathy are more important than test scores and checking boxes on an outdated curriculum.
This is why this year, more than ever before, we need to return to school in a MINDFUL, EMPATHETIC AND COMPASSIONATE WAY. Mindfulness means to live in the moment and truly be present. To live for today and not dwell in the past or worry about the future. For a teacher, that is hard because we are constantly planning ahead, thinking about how we can alter the lesson or engage a certain child, create an amazing lesson or project, or dwell in that lesson that blew up in our faces.
At the start of every year, I focus on building a compassionate classroom community. These skills are more important now than ever. Being empathetic means to understand how another may be feeling even if you have never been in that situation. Last fall, I actually published a children’s book on being empathetic because I noticed how increasingly important understanding this concept is for children.
While some kids may have been affected by the pandemic, others may not have been as affected. “We are all in the same storm, but not on the same ship. (Author unknown)” - this is something we really need to teach this generation. While everyone has been affected by the pandemic we have not all had the same experience.
Children are much better at living in the present. They embrace the day and live for the moment. They are not as scared to try new things or worry about the future the way adults do. There is a spark in children that is so empowering that I really hope that we don’t squash in our own adult anxieties over returning to school amongst the unknowns of COVID-19.
One thing for sure is that this is an exciting time for education. Instead of asking the question, “should I send my kid to school or not this year.” Maybe ask at this moment what is best for my family and child. What is the most healthy option that I can choose at this given moment in time and space?
I know the reason I teach is about connection, empowering the next generation and sparking passion in children. I know that for the vast majority of my colleagues, that is why they teach too. We do not get to make the rules or decide how the school is going to look this year, so I ask from the bottom of my heart to be mindful when sending your kids back to school. Your child’s teacher is there because they have a passion for teaching and learning and they are doing the very best they can with what they have.
To have a mindful return to school, we need to catch ourselves when we get overwhelmed by our fears and anxieties and reframe our mindset. How will this experience make us all more resilient, empowered, and compassionate individuals? May the next generation embrace how we worked together for the best of everyone during this very uncertain time and be proud of how we lifted each other up and powered through the uncertainty.
I wish you all a mindful return to school, take one day at a time, YOU GOT THIS!
Amanda Cottrell, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Believe! Create! Inspire! Amanda Marie Cottrell is a woman who wears many hats with a B.A in Political Science, B.Ed in elementary education, M.Ed specializing in creativity and technology, Reiki master, yoga for young children instructor, artist, mom, author, illustrator and teacher. She also runs an arts-based business teaching art and mindfulness workshops. As an educator of young children for over 14 years, Amanda’s passion is education and creativity. She believes that everyone has creative capacities. Her mission is to empower people through tapping into their own unique creative gifts through connection and mindfulness. Namaste!