Blog · Mental Health · Teaching

Education’s worst nightmare

The remote saga continues…

On Friday afternoon, one of my students appeared on my Google Meet. I was super proud of her, because she had told me how awful she did during remote learning last year, and I was concerned that she would now be avoiding classes this year too. As soon as her avatar popped on, I smiled and greeted her, and told her how happy I was to see her. I was happy to see all of those kids signing on.

Right away, she blurted out the news – we would be doing remote schooling until January 3rd. My eyes bugged out, and I immediately went to the district’s website to verify. Sure enough, she was right. On my screen of avatars, the chat started activating with responses of dismay and great disappointment. I composed myself, to the best of my ability, and decided to spend a few minutes addressing this very disturbing news. This is where all of the mindfulness training would come to the forefront of my consciousness and I prayed I could give them messaging they could handle.

Validation of their feelings was first and foremost in importance. This situation sucks. I felt that way too, after all; it would have been a lie to say otherwise. Second was communicating the reasons why this temporary hell was necessary; black mold and asbestos particles are really bad for our health and it’s better not to be there. They needed the time to remediate this properly. Third, and the most difficult to teach, was acceptance of our situation. This is where we are, and wishing it away would not change our circumstances; being upset would not make it better. I told them to use the weekend to get it out – scream, yell, cry, pound your pillow – and then come back on Monday ready to go. The adults felt the same way as the students, and we would be ready on Monday to pick up and be their teachers. We would have lessons, we would support them, and we would be moving forward.

Of course, to be fair, as soon as all my classes and rehearsals were over, I closed up my computer and fumed. This was not supposed to happen. This should not be our school year. I was already exhausted from three days of teaching remotely. All worked up, my hips hurting from sitting in a hard chair and looking down at a screen, it was time to blow off some steam and separate from the weight of what was happening. I decided to get my ear buds and go out for a long walk. Three-and-a-half miles later, I felt calm enough to come home and start the weekend. My family kept looking at my deflated countenance, knowing how hard it was months ago, and knowing it was happening again. Even if it was temporary, it was quite a blow.

I had been communicating over that week with one of my higher-anxiety kids (I have lots of personal experience dealing with that) and was dreading the return to remote. She, like all of us, had been lulled into a sense of “we’re getting back to normal.” We had been in school for a month. Things were going well, and we were really getting into an enjoyable groove in school. COVID was, while not behind us, a manageable situation.

Her anxiety was on the rise because the sudden shift on Wednesday to remote classes for the rest of the week came from out of the blue; kind of like the magician who pulls the tablecloth out from the set table, except all of the table settings come crashing to the floor, and the lit candelabra was now setting everything on fire. We learned that the reason was not some massive COVID outbreak, but because of the presence of black mold and asbestos in our school. Several classrooms had already been closed since before the pandemic, and despite the knowledge of a terribly leaky roof for years, it seems the district never had the air quality checked to see if mold had been growing. Apparently, no one had complained of any symptoms, so there must not have been a problem.

Except there was. I remember, several years back, when the roof over my classroom was leaking, I’d get large puddles of water on the dance floor. We’d have buckets under active drips and we were dancing around them. That problem, after many years, was finally fixed in a major roof repair that seemed to correct the issue; I haven’t had any puddles since.

But that fix didn’t correct other areas in the school. I had heard that in the upstairs wing, the leaks were so bad that there was literally a river running down the hallway at one point. I don’t know the details, but I don’t really need to know more than that to think, “Hmmm, I wonder if we have mold growing in the ceiling tiles.” I wasn’t the only one, and what makes me so upset is that despite the fact that the leak issues had been known by the district for so many years, nothing was done about it. Not even an air quality check. We were basically out of the building for a year and a half for COVID. The fact that no one thought it would be wise to get our old school building inspected is so very disappointing. I suppose if you don’t look for a problem, then there isn’t one.

Except there was. Mold doesn’t take long to grow. Anyone with a shower in a bathroom with poor ventilation knows that. At home, you see mold, you spray it with bleach, or whatever your choice of remediation happens to be. You monitor and maintain it so that you don’t have to deal with a monstrously inconvenient and expensive abatement that takes you out of your home while they tear out the walls and remove the nasty spores that can trigger respiratory issues. It’s common sense.

Common sense did not seem to prevail here. Budget concerns did.

I wondered how long it took for black mold to grow. Maybe it was a slowly developing problem that takes years to proliferate. A quick Google search came up with my answer.

With the right conditions for temperature and humidity, it only takes one to two days for black mold to start growing. Once this process begins, the spores can start colonizing and spreading anywhere between three and 12 days. Black mold still may not be visible by this point, but you may notice visual signs of it in your home after roughly 18 days.

https://moldremediation.io/how-long-does-it-take-black-mold-to-grow/

This answer didn’t make me feel any better. I can only imagine what was lurking above our heads in our classrooms. We had windows in the classrooms, but no ventilation system that circulates fresh or conditioned air. Last year, when we came back with students, I opened my windows in the studio and prayed for a breeze.

Now, we are staying remote until January 3; that’s if the process is properly expedited and goes well. We will have a week to go to the building and retrieve any items left behind, after which we will have no access to our school building. Again. I’m shaking as I type this, because I think of the conversations I have had with my anxious student and I’m afraid I will lose her in the abyss of isolation. She’s supposed to graduate this year, and she is devastated by the loss (even temporary) of what should have been her best year; her anxiety keeps telling her she’s not going to make it. In light of the fact that her sophomore and junior years were, for all intents and purposes, lost, I can’t blame that anxious brain for taking over.

It also makes me wonder how many high-anxiety kids are not communicating their concerns; who are sitting and ruminating about this situation with no adult support. Who will decide to just stay away, do nothing, and disappear?

There is nothing right and nothing good about this situation, save for the fact that we are now away from continued exposure. My job now is to pivot, keep my students with me, and provide whatever emotional support I can to these kids. My kids. My heart is breaking for them – for us. We were really enjoying each other’s presence in that first month. We were healing from the trauma of isolation, only to be thrown right back into it.

This is my remote setup. I was so happy to finally abandon this last year and get back to “normal” in the school building. Maybe we’d use it for a random snow day, or if we had a temporary quarantine situation for a week or so. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that we’d be remote for black mold and asbestos. It’s a head-shaker and heart-breaker.

An interesting (and sad?) facet of this situation is how, for a year and a half, we were trained to think of remote learning as a part of a societal need to isolate in order to keep ourselves safe. Now that the world is finally moving away from that, we are re-learning how to be in the community, little by little, and existing with other people around us. Being back in school was an adjustment that was welcome, to be sure.

However, this current wrench in the works makes things I do in the outside world that are “regular” feel strange. I spend all day in my basement, and my brain is back in COVID memory. The act of getting in the car and going out in the world doesn’t quite feel right, even though it should. I’ve been doing it for months now, and have been relatively comfortable about it. But being back, working from home for a reason other than COVID is really messing with my brain. I left to go somewhere today and I had to tell myself that it is normal, that the only reason I’m home for work is that it is not safe to be in my school building. It is hard to reconcile this knowledge with the mental training from which I am trying to separate.

The fact that every other school – including the others in my district – are “business as usual,” stings. We should not be back in the trauma of doing school-at-home. And yet, here we are. I will, of course, be the rock of support for my kids that is expected of me. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I take pride in my charge. I am the adult in the room, and I will act accordingly. But I cannot pretend that this situation is acceptable. That wouldn’t be fair to my kids, so many of which are barely hanging on.

On Monday, I will model what I preach. Maybe I won’t like it, maybe I’ll struggle, but I will come to accept where we are.

6 thoughts on “Education’s worst nightmare

  1. I, too, would like to yell, scream, hit something (which is not my
    nature) because we’ve been dealt this impossible situation once again.
    I’m upset for you, Morose, and all the other teachers I know and don’t
    know at school because teaching remotely is difficult.  On top of that
    you have the fall play to work on and I will help in any way I can.
    Morose and I have Forensics to work on and the competition is a month
    away. All the other schools we face don’t have to deal with the problems
    we are facing. I’ll be at rehearsal until 3 on Monday and take it one
    day at a time from there. I hope that Mike founds us a performance space
    so that we can present this play.
       Iris

    Like

  2. That sucks! I’m really sorry to hear that. 3 January? Wow that’s hard.
    Good luck. Hopefully the attendance of the students will be stabilise. Everyone needs the connection. I hope the transition back to remote is going as smoothly as possible.

    Like

    1. Thank you, E. Let’s just say, we will be dancing when we are finally back. January 3 is the earliest we would return. I hope they keep their word. So far, most of my kids have stuck with me. We were lucky to have the first month to establish relationships with the kids, so that helped us with the transition. But it still sucks…😞

      Like

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