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The bell rings, signaling the final period of the day. I gather my things and wheel my “classroom on a cart” to another room I don’t call home. I am a “floating teacher,” the districts’ answer for over enrollment and reduced funding. I shuffle from classroom to classroom, armed with a little red wagon of supplies. The squeal of the front right wheel mingles with the hustle of children marching along the one-way markings, separated by blue tape and compliance.

Just in time, I juggle greeting students while logging in and out of what seems like a buffet of technology. Somewhere in between, I pump sanitizer into palms and spray all the desks, killing both Covid and my love for teaching. All this hullabaloo against a two minute ticking time bomb.

I gear up for the encore, the grand finale, period 12. Yes. Twwwellve! I take a deep breath, and suck in a mouthful of stretched cloth with what smells like remnants of lunch. The mask is a mandated muzzle, suffocating all the voices buried behind it. I smile anyway, welcoming a swarm of adolescents masquerading into the classroom concealed behind their own cloth disguises.

I quietly ask my mask to at least shield my disdain for the state of the world and my current place in it. For the childrens’ sake. Children. I try to push the thought of my own child’s first day of first grade out of my mind. But I can’t shake it. Burned in my head is an image of a wide-eyed six year old, sitting alone on a big yellow bus, her nerves hidden behind a floral-print mask. Her head low, her stomach queasy, she fidgets with the stray pieces of hair that fall in her face. This morning, when I blew her a kiss goodbye and waved wildly, I watched as she chose among all the empty seats. Clad in a periwinkle t-shirt rocking the phrase Ready to Rock First Grade, she took her seat. The putt of the engine signaled the bus’ departure. I watched until the yellow bus dissolved into the sunrise. I reassured myself that with the clothes to match her moxie, she would endure. But I wish she didn’t have to. Something feels deeply wrong. But, the day begins and ends without my permission. I blink hard to beat away at the puddle in the corners of my eyes when a voice startles me back to class.

You look tired Miss,” says a pair of warm chocolate eyes preparing for period 12. I imagine that somewhere behind his mask lies a curved nose, freckled cheeks, and deep dimples. His observation has me questioning my ability to camouflage the tornado brewing inside.

Nope, all good!” I sing through clenched teeth that spills into a wobbly smile. I half expect him to recognize the fakeness of the top half of my expression and report me to the district’s failing teacher police. I drop the smile as quickly as I make it when I realize ‘chocolate eyes’ can’t actually see me grimace as I choke on the polluted air recycling under my mask.

He drops his belongings next to his seat and flips the lid on his chromebook. He seems unconcerned, so I figure my concealed smile must have reached the outer corners of my eyes, temporarily selling him on my pretend sanity. I twist back and forth, from podium to class and class to podium, playing a solo game of attendance tic-tac-toe. I glimpse a waggling hand in my periphery. “Yes, you may go to the bathroom,” I blurt without lifting my eyes from the screen. The race against the minutes move at warp speed, a pace only fellow teachers and mothers of newborns understand. I’m fairly certain the students have picked up the frazzle in my many clicks. Click to open the attendance tab. Click to open the agenda. Click to open new assignments. Click to open old assignments. Click to set the timer. Click to open Zoom (a virtual learning apocalypse). Click to begin Zooming. Click to admit Zoomers. Click to readmit dropped Zoomers. Lord Almighty, CLICK TO ADMIT ME TO AN INSTITUTION!

I greet the black screens and the ceiling fans that have replaced real people. Before I have it together, the chat box begins blinking and my fingers mirror my internal frenzy. I half expect the kids are counting down how many clicks I am away from a mental breakdown. It must be a thousand and one, because only a thousand clicks later, I am ready.

There they are, a class full of both masked pre-teens and computer pre-teens, fixated on me, waiting, surprisingly patient, for me to guide them into a brighter future. Everyone is staring at me. Don’t choke!

I part my lips to enchant them with the opening words to a brilliant novel when, doink! Zoomers are kicked out. Chromebooks malfunction. Connectivity issues slow loading and learning. Ding goes a bell and bling...a new email. My eyes bounce to one of the three monitors I am managing, a certified NASA technician. A message bold in blue takes its position at the top of a long list of unread to-dos. Like a bad accident, I can’t look away. The contents of the email floods the subject line. A run-on sentence a mile long...in...the...SUBJECT LINE! Something about going to Mexico for a month and wanting the work in advance. I temper my urge to address the grammar errors and scold myself for being distracted as I turn my attention back to the live show. I allow my inner monologue to trickle out before projecting my voice beyond the mask. I skip the cute introduction, because, well, who has the time? Instead, I outline the day’s agenda and goals, pausing to take short, broken mask-friendly breaths.

Meanwhile, the chat box is blinking, signaling for my attention. I can't hear u, a forehead had messaged as though casually texting a friend. Whoopsie daisy! Have I been on mute? I curl into a hunchback as it occurs to me that they didn’t hear a word of my instructions and I must begin again. Oh. My. Word. My head drops in defeat. The marathon is beating me. I must slow to a sprint or I won’t finish the race.

After attendance and a deluge of technology crash and burns, class is down to thirty six minutes. Thirty six minutes to blow their minds. Thirty six minutes to get them to buy in. Two thousand, one hundred sixty seconds to make magic. A fraction of a day to shake them with my virtual hands and shout from under my muzzled mouth how important it is for them to be readers, writers, thinkers, question asking, answer seekers, world changers, lifelong learners. To impart what I know now to what I wish I knew then. But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I gently order, “You may begin your test.”

It certainly never occured to me, over a decade ago when I made the leap into education, leading young minds meant that I’d be staring at my own face in a cloth diaper. Now, in the year 2020, I find myself directing 167 sixth graders, a hybrid of Brady Bunch digital boxes and incognito masked faces. There they wait, separated by feet and cyber walls, completely unaware of this wildly mangled education model that fails their generation.

In my childhood, I played school, forcing my friends to sit on pillows and listen to me read aloud from my favorite Roald Dahl chapter books. I’d pressure them to solve math problems and take spelling tests, which I’d later score with red ink and plant a shiny gold star in the top right margin. My vision of teaching resembled something more like Kindergarten Cop, but the part after Mr. Kimble brings in the pet ferret and has perfected the systems to police academy standards.

I left a career I chose for one that chose me. I picked meaning over money. People over principle. I imagined myself reading the classics in goofy voices. I imagined snack time and recess. I imagined crafts with white glue and popsicle sticks. I imagined children building and creating and sharing. I imagined Heads Up, Seven Up on rainy days. I imagined little light bulbs going off with proud discoveries and aha

moments. I imagined happy little faces, discouraged faces, hopeful faces, curious faces, bright-eyed, world-changer faces. I imagined, in the very least...faces.

It would be a dream profession. On any given day, I would have little golden nuggets of opportunity to make a difference. I, alongside little budding minds, would uncover meaning out of the small bits each day offered up. Teaching would shine a spotlight on the things that mattered. And it did, for the fraction of a second when nobody was watching, and creative juices were free to flood the room. When I could choose real over rigor. But with each passing year, my purpose would slowly drown under swells of data supported by swinging research. Districts collect numbers like work ants collect crumbs.

Now more than ever, teachers are tossed into the deep end, only to be thrashed by waves of policy, regulations, and conformity. The pressure to maximize performance on standardized exams is coupled with impossible to-do lists. Creativity approaching extinction, death by online learning programs. A love for learning and of learning is no longer the beating heart of education. Our children have become mere numbers. Our teachers, mere instructional droids.

To save myself from sinking into the abyss, every August I begin holding my breath and my voice, careful to exhale incrementally, a single and seemingly inconsequential bubble at a time. Now, with the little oxygen I have left, I paddle on empty. It’s only a matter of time before the last shiny, rainbow bubble escapes my core, and dances to the surface with the persuasive current of administration and boards. I am uncertain when the air will run out. An angry parent? Another action item? A failed lesson? Unreliable technology? Another data report? Or maybe just someone popping their bubble gum? And when it does, I will exhale that final pinch of air, and watch the bubble drift away like a child who just let go of a balloon.

Over the years, I have been doing as I’m told, peeling off the less appealing versions of myself in order to upgrade into teacher 2.0, a robotic snake shedding its skin. I do this because I think they are right, because, of course, it’s research based. Surely, they know better than me. The thing about being a teacher, and what they don’t tell you, is that when you are a teacher you are also all things: entertainers, public speakers, negotiators, mediators, designers, detectives, master organizers, coaches, counselors, data analysts, IT specialists, event planners, fundraisers, philanthropists, mentors, and now frontliners. And it’s nothing like I imagined. But I do it anyway. We all do. Because we won’t let them down. Now, weary by the direct hits, I feel duped and defeated. Yet when someone notices the tired in my eyes, I will clench my teeth, give a goofy grin and reply, “Nope, all good!!”

I once learned that when a snake is getting ready to shed its skin, its eyes can foreshadow the change by turning a milky blue color. It’s called the blue phase. I think I am stuck in the blue phase. Maybe we all are.

Dedication

Years ago, the Golden Apple Award was established to recognize teachers for their exemplary work as leaders in education. It’s the Golden Globes for educators, the Academy Awards, an honor to even be nominated as the saying goes. I have never met a teacher that didn’t deserve this recognition, the holy grail that is the Golden Apple. When the curtains close and the kids go home, the work begins. Teachers are people who dive, cannonball, and even

belly flop into the impossible, treading water in the rip tide of a broken system that doesn’t care about them. Today, my fellow teachers, I recognize you all as Golden Apples.

Bio: 
Jac Lyn is an aspiring mother, wife, friend, and school teacher. When she is not running loads of laundry and wiping rear ends, she writes to uncover the meaning in all the mess. She believes in the power of story to connect with ourselves and others. Jac Lyn grew up in California and currently resides in Florida after sampling a number of states to find home, only to realize home is merely a collection of our short stories.
 

 
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