Teaching During The Pandemic
When the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic hit America, I was teaching in a local community college. We didn’t know much at the time but, as a precaution, we all switched to remote learning. The school went dark for a month to allow teachers to transition courses online. When we turned back on, it was in a whole new world.
No one expected it to last long. We were midway into the Spring semester and still making plans for a normal graduation celebration. We resumed classes as online only but planned to have fully in-person classes available by July. That didn’t happen.
I was more prepared than most for transitioning to online teaching; I already had a lot of the systems in place in my classes. My students were prepared to maintain their workload online, so I didn’t experience the drop in attendance as bad as my peers. What did change, however, was the hours when we worked. Because many of my students were parents working in the service industries, they were working more and sharing their internet (with their kids also doing school from home) more. My students didn’t have time for their own education till late at night, so I adjusted my time to match them. When their peak work hours were midnight to 3am, mine were too. I found myself stretched. On one end, I had to be alert and active during the day for work Zoom meetings. On the other end, I had to be present for my students to interact and answer questions when they were available to work.
I was exhausted, but I didn’t tell my supervisors. If I had, they would have advised me to keep normal office hours and tell students I would respond to them within 24 hours. I tried that, but I didn’t feel like it was the right response for me or my students. We were all scared. We were all searching for some semblance of normal pre-pandemic life. Keeping a rapid connection–even though it was just responding to emails and questions on the learning management system–made us feel like we were still connected…still human.
Fear of Human Connection
I stayed online with my students for a year. My students and I supported each other through race riots, pandemic, and economic losses, but I still couldn’t write about it.
I went silent on this blog and most of my social media for a year. Everything in the world was chaos, and I didn’t want to be another trite voice adding thoughts to the discussion of it. I underestimated my role and value in the world, and I let my feelings dictate my actions.
Working remotely was more freeing than anything I had experienced in my career, and I loved it. I could work in my pajamas. I could do house chores that I never had time for before. I could visit with family and friends within my safe circle–all while still doing my job as a teacher. I was no longer tied to schedules or office hours; I was free!
I did everything from home and only returned to the office once a month for paperwork as needed. When I did return, I was wearing a mask and staying socially distanced from everyone. The first thing I noticed was that the office culture changed. People didn’t gather and talk anymore; everyone stayed in their separate offices and barely acknowledged when someone else was nearby (except to put on a mask if they were).
The very thing that made us human–our communication, connection, and care for each other–became the first thing we shed in our fear.
I found myself afraid of being around others. For a year, I isolated myself from friends and community involvements like my church. The mere thought of returning to in-person classes caused me anxiety. I wanted to care for others but keep my distance, so I leapt at an opportunity to work remotely full-time for more money than teaching. I left eight years of teaching for the security of never having to see another person face-to-face unless I chose to. The irony of this choice is that I was already given special permission to work remotely as long as I wanted to, but I knew there would come a point where that choice would no longer be given to me.
I thought that isolation was a good thing. I was staying out of the public (with all the germs). I was ordering my groceries and online shopping for everything else. I was watching more church online than I experienced in person. I was socializing with people I lived with and a few close friends I trusted. I was distancing myself from the rest of the world, and I thought I was safe. I had no idea how much that distance was toxic for me.
Loss Becomes Real and Personal
Isolation was supposed to keep myself and my loved ones safe, but it didn’t. My only living grandparent–more isolated than me–got COVID, ended up in intensive care, and almost died. We couldn’t go see her. Our only communication was the hospital phone or the personal phone she had taken with her. If either line stopped working, we had no way to know what was happening to her, if she was safe, or if she was coming home to us.
I still remember the sound of her voice on the phone. Hooked up to machines and heavily drugged, her voice was low, gargled, and strained for breath. She was afraid and said a lot of things that didn’t make sense. Nevertheless, she said she would fight to stay with her family as much as possible, but she also kept saying her goodbyes like every breath would be her last. It was heartbreaking. I was powerless. All I could do was pray and surrender, so that’s what I did–every day, every moment that I thought of her and feared I was losing her.
I guarded her story. I didn’t share my life on social media or my blog, nor did I allow my friends to do so for me. In many ways, I gave up on the world and ever being part of it again because I was convinced it had nothing but hurt to give me.
When our prayers were answered and my grandparent got better, I knew that time with loved ones was something I didn’t want to take for granted anymore. I took it a step further. I determined to spend more time with the people I loved, and I devoted my energy to being present as much as possible. I helped care for sick loved ones, I spent time with extended family, I visited close friends, and I made plans to see family out of state.
Life became complicated in May 2021 when I lost my job (the one I left teaching for) and couldn’t go back to teaching. All the pain and angst from isolation were intensified by fear over money. Loss of income derailed my plans for connection and made me feel powerless, but those were just feelings (and feelings are temporary).
A month later, I lost three people that were important to me: my brother-in-law died of a sudden non-COVID-related respiratory problem, an 8-year relationship ended, and a former student died in a boating accident.
So much loss derailed me. I wanted to succumb to my feelings and just die, but God said…
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7, NIV
Change Your Perspective
Doubt, anger, guilt, sadness, and fear circled me. I allowed myself the freedom to feel my feelings while they were raw, but I did not allow them to root in me. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are temporary and they lie to you. You can’t let your self worth and perspective of the world be determined by them.
I took control of my thoughts as best as I could–even though it felt like holding a balloon in the wind by a thin sewing thread. I reminded myself of scripture and the truth of Christ that makes up my moral compass.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.Philippians 4:8, NIV
I found that if I took control of my thoughts and pushed out the ones based on fear and pain, I could fill my mind with thoughts of strength, love, and affirmation. The more I allowed God’s peace to fill me, the stronger I became for the challenges that surrounded me and the more I saw God’s hand directing me through them.
COVID made me afraid of being around others. Loss, loneliness, and sadness made me need to be around them more.
It is a basic human need to crave in-person connection with others; we were not meant to live life alone. I craved fellowship beyond a mask. I craved community without fear. I longed for a new normal where I could hug or shake hands with a stranger and not immediately fear exposure to a life-threatening disease.
Something had to change, and it started with who I was listening to. I stopped reading the CDC website because it kept changing its mind on what to do and left me more confused and afraid of others. I stopped listening to the news because they had nothing good to say and capitalized on fear and anger. In case you were wondering, fear and anger are emotions we have historically used to control the public. This article from The Conversation website, does a fair job of explaining the history and how it has been used for COVID but experienced backfiring results.
I limited who and what I allowed to speak into my life. (Which is a policy I think showed more wisdom than fear and still saves me today from unnecessary confusion.)
- I started filling my mind with advice from people I trusted including family, friends, and ministers.
- Next, I started studying the Bible more and seeking God in worship and community at church.
- Next, I sought wisdom on issues from authorities that were dealing with them first hand. I found doctors and hospitals online debunking COVID myths. This website was particularly helpful for countering some of the lies I was fearing.
With self-education, I felt safe enough to be in public as long as I maintained social distancing and sanitation. I didn’t consider the germs a child is exposed to in a public learning environment and then brings home to you. I had been taking my nieces to and from school every day for weeks. I didn’t question their lack of hygiene in a time of COVID. They are teenagers and what teenager EVER stops touching their face, phone, and every other surface long enough to sanitize or pull their mask up over their nose these days?
Then my eldest niece got sent home to be quarantined. She had been exposed to a COVID-positive person at school and had to stay out for ten days unless she tested negative. We had to isolate her and not let her socialize with the rest of us unless she was wearing a mask and distanced. I had to keep enforcing those protocols like a relentless dictator, however, because teenagers don’t pay attention to their actions. While I waited and watched for symptoms, I also lived with the fear that I had already been exposed and that this was no longer in my head–it was real threat.
I fought my fear with facts and self-educated.
- I found out that COVID-19 is easy to kill with soap and water, so I washed my hands more and made my nieces shower when they got home from school.
- I shut down any of our plans to be in the public, and I found ways for us to stay social but distanced together indoors.
- I found out that people with the COVID vaccine can still get sick and still have to quarantine if they experience exposure–which made me wonder how the vaccine is helping at all if vaccinated people are still getting COVID.
- I learned that COVID takes a minimum of five days to germinate and present enough bacteria for an accurate test result and ten days before symptoms begin to show.
- I also learned that very few symptoms often present in children. That meant that my niece–who struggles to focus on schooling when she is home–would be stuck self-motivating herself to do well in school for a whole week of work before she could get tested. It also meant that all her household chores fell on me and her sister because all her energy and time were spent on staying focused on school.
I watched the girls and myself closely for symptoms according to the CDC and WebMD. The girls didn’t exhibit any signs, but I had almost all of them. While I could explain away the nausea, dry cough, fatigue, muscle ache, headaches, sore throat, and congestion, I couldn’t explain my loss of taste and smell. I was pretty sure all my symptoms were allergy and med related, but I had never had allergies take away my senses of smell and taste. What was worse: if I did have COVID, I had been exposing the family far longer than the school because I had all the symptoms before school began. The choice was clear: I had to get tested and quarantine myself.
Luckily, COVID-19 testing is federally mandated to be free right now, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to get tested. You still have to prove exposure and/or symptoms to be eligible to get tested. Here is what I did to get tested.
- I googled “Covid testing near me”, answered some questions online, and scheduled an appointment.
- When I got to the appointment, everything was handled through a drive-thru window and dropped in a LabCorp box for analysis.
- Though I didn’t do the rapid test, I had my results within roughly 24 hours.
Panic over COVID made me treat others like parasites and live in fear in my
own household. It created a
wound in people I loved and built a barrier between important relationships. It
exposed a lack of faith in an Almighty God to protect and restore us. It
revealed an area of growth and healing I needed to pursue.
What My COVID Scare Taught Me
Testing negative for COVID-19 gave me back a sense of power in my life–but it came at a cost. I had created wounds with my own fear that needed restoration. I grabbed up my nieces and hugged them tightly. I wanted them to know they were not the Black Plague of germ death to me (even if teenagers sometimes seem like they are).
No matter what happens with the pandemic in the months and years to come, we can’t let our “new normal” become a place of fear about connection with others. We need to stay alive and aligned with our core values, and we need to stay in a place of safe in-person contact with other people.