Teaching in South Louisiana During a Pandemic
A first-year corps member reflects on her experience—and her emotions—during school closures due to COVID-19.
In 2019, Desaray Brault moved from her home state of Arizona to the South Louisiana region to follow her passion. Like many teachers across the nation, Desaray is dealing with the added challenge of supporting her students' learning in the midst of a pandemic. Here, she shares her experience as a first-year teacher during this time in a vulnerable and compassionate open letter.
It’s all beginning to hit me as I sit in my bedroom at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday. I slept until 7 this morning instead of getting up at 4 a.m. like I normally do. I made myself a bowl of oatmeal and sat down with my coffee as I did my morning devotional instead of grabbing a granola bar as I hurry out the door for my hour-long drive to work. I already exercised, which is something I usually don’t get to do, or put off until late at night. At the beginning of this school year, I thought that this was the lifestyle I wanted. But as I sit in my room, going stir crazy, it hits me: I may not get the opportunity to see my kids again this year. The life I thought I wanted isn’t what I want at all.
So many questions flooded my mind as I found out all schools were being shut down as a result of COVID-19. What will my kids do? Is there going to be anyone at home to take care of them or will they be the ones taking care of their siblings if their parents have to work? Are they still going to be required to take the LEAP test? If so, how? I still have a month's worth of knowledge to teach them! How is this going to affect them next school year and did I give them enough, or are they going to struggle due to a monumental amount of unfinished learning? What about my fifth graders–was that truly the last day I would ever see or teach them as they transition from elementary to middle school?
For those who don’t know me, or are unfamiliar with what teaching looks like in a rural parish (or any parish for that matter), I am a first-year corps member with Teach For America. I teach third, fourth, and fifth grade math as well as fifth grade science. On Friday, March 13th, I heard rumors about schools in Louisiana shutting down just as my third graders were taking a test on finding the area of a square. They were so proud of themselves for being able to take that test because it was hard, but they'd persisted. Had I known that this may have been the last time I would see them this year, I probably would have thrown away the tests and turned on my least favorite song, "Old Town Road" (I’m sure all teachers/parents can relate). I would have danced, laughed, and loved on them as if it was the last day of school before summer break.
My third graders left the room as fourth graders walked in and found their seats. My fourth graders had also taken a test before we went into the gym for a school-wide activity. This month, we got to play basketball and talk with our kids as they stuffed their perfect, sweet smiles with nachos. During our school activity, a couple of my fifth graders came up to me to make jokes and enjoy a casual conversation with their homeroom teacher. Some of them, to my surprise, even hugged me. My third and fourth graders hug me daily, but this day was special. Even some of my fifth graders gave me a hug as we laughed and relished in each other's presence. Little did I know that first hug, the one I worked so hard to earn all year, the hug that I knew required building a high level of trust with my students, may have been the last.
Of course, if I'm being completely honest, there are days it's a challenge. In the moment, teaching is stressful, to say the least. But when I really think about it, for every time I’ve had to raise my voice, I’ve laughed twice as much. For every headache I’ve gotten from holding a “teacher look” (if you know, you know), my cheeks have hurt twice that amount from holding a smile for too long because these kids bring so much joy to my day. There have also been days where I accidentally laughed at an unsuitable time because some of them are just too funny and cute, and it's impossible to hold it in.
I know I might be sending mixed messages as I talk about happy and challenging times I've experienced with my kids. I guess what I'm trying to say in all of this is that I am devastated. I'm devastated that the opportunity to create more memories with my babies was ripped away in an instant. I am devastated that my scholars will have to move on to the next school year without getting everything they needed from this one. I am devastated that everything we have worked so hard on, from relationship building to academic growth, came to a screeching halt. I was supposed to have more time than this. I was supposed to get a million hugs and cry my heart out as the faculty and staff at my school ran to the gate to wave students goodbye as they rode off on their buses for summer break.They do this every year, and I was ready to experience it for the first time.
While I cherish the time we did have together, my heart shatters at all of the missed opportunities. Teaching is a true privilege. The fact that God trusted me to shape the minds of so many of His children is unreal to me. I never thought I would be this passionate about my job, especially at the beginning of the school year. I never thought I would be this happy with where I am, or this concerned for a child that is not my own. I never knew that the love of a teacher could be so genuine until all of a sudden seventy-something tiny humans started calling me Ms. Desaray.
While I know next year I will get another round of students who I will love just the same, I am in anguish over the fact that I didn’t get a proper goodbye with them. A goodbye that includes all of the information they need to be successful not only in the next school year, but later on in life. One that was inspirational and showed them how much I believed in them. One that let them know how much I cared and how proud of them I am.
I wish things were different, but in case this is the goodbye I get, I want to say to parents who may be reading this, thank you. Thank you for trusting me with your child’s education and allowing me the privilege of knowing them. To my students who may be reading, thank you. Thank you for making me who I am as a teacher; without you, I would not be Ms. Desaray. Every "teacher move" I make is something that I have learned through trial and error with you. Thank you for giving me grace as I tried to figure out who I am as a teacher. I could not have asked for a better bunch of weirdos to be my first. I am so sorry we didn’t get to say goodbye and make the memories we were supposed to, but know that I am beyond proud of you and that I know with every fiber of my being that you are going to do amazing things, whether I get to be a part of it or not.
♡ Ms. Desaray