Pandemic Teaching and Teachers’ Collective Trauma

I hope 2021-2022 was a better year for you than 2020-2021.  I hear the term “collective trauma” thrown around a lot, and it makes perfect sense to me.  An expression that resonated with me was “We were all in the same storm, although we were NOT all in the same boat.”  I’m sure that we all had our own very specific problems that came up between March 2020 and now that are either related to the pandemic or how others handled it.  But right now, at least for me, things feel different today than they did that March. 


In January 2020 some of my students were getting a “weird pneumonia.”  We had heard of COVID spreading in China, but it wasn’t in this country yet (at least, that’s what they tell us).  I started washing my hands a whole lot by February, and I remember telling my husband, “I wonder if this will be the last time we eat out at a restaurant.”  A few days before the state closed all school buildings, we started having meetings about advanced cleaning protocols.  Then we closed for a day.  I immediately prepared some activities kids could do at home and Emailed it to parents.  My gut told me, “This isn’t doing to be over in one day.”  Then we closed for a couple weeks.  Our district wanted to know what we were doing to support kids because they (like everyone else) had no idea how to support kids.


Around this time, I started creating online activities on Google.  This was before I knew how to assign things on Google Classroom, and before we were asked to teach new concepts online (for months we were told to review only, because we didn’t want to penalize any student whose family could not facilitate a homework routine or did not have the resources to print papers or work on a device).   

And within a week I started updating my existing products on Teachers Pay Teachers. 


It was slow going, because I was learning as I went.  There were some teachers who had a head start.  But my priority was never to match them.  It was for those of you who already purchased and enjoyed my products.   

Suddenly you (and I) needed to do ALL our teaching online.  We couldn’t send home folders of papers or bags of manipulatives and task cards.   I was having nightmares about the things I couldn’t do with my students anymore, with all the shame of feeling unprepared.  Like me, I knew you had all these activities to support your standards that weren’t usable.  

So I started updating them.  I was familiar with Google Slides, so I took the ideas behind those pdfs I was selling, created activities that didn’t need to be printed and cut out, and added Google Slide links to those existing products.  That way at least some of your old purchases would still be usable during the time of remote learning.  

I felt like I was making some real headway with the activities that upper elementary students needed the most practice with.


I was getting better at it by April.  Obviously, activities that involve cutting and drawing just don’t translate well to a Google Slide activity.   


But I was getting better at it, and then we had April vacation.  And obviously, we weren’t going away anywhere (I was even getting my groceries delivered, so my dream of not having to drive anywhere was coming true, at least). 


Then Thursday of my vacation, my mom called.  Hysterical.  My sister died.


She was in her 30s.


In the height of the pandemic, we couldn’t hold a funeral.  My mother was terrified of even a small gathering with my brother and I so we couldn’t even grieve together in person.  We worked in shifts to go through my sister’s apartment.  My mother did some sorting, my brother did most of the hauling.  I went through paperwork. 


This same week that I took for bereavement to sort through my sister’s things, our district, with guidance from the state of Massachusetts, clarified some of the remote learning expectations for the rest of the year.  Suddenly I had to learn how to assess student work on a variety of learning platforms.


And then another family member was hospitalized. 


That put an end to my dabbling in Google Slides creation. 


Trauma Informed Teaching is a buzzword I’d heard before the pandemic.  I’d been a good learner and test taker all my life.  I had no fear of technology.  But now I was learning SeeSaw and Google Classroom and Renaissance and Kami and document cameras and Google Meet and a dozen other platforms.  I sat through trainings over Zoom and I could not follow along.  I was in a haze, tearing up because I couldn’t click through and make notes fast enough, getting headaches, not sleeping well, feeling more absent minded, startling easily, and feeling short tempered.  I was experiencing the effects of trauma on my brain. 


I couldn’t blog anymore because I felt like I wasn’t the expert anymore.  I was the one who had a lot to learn, and I wasn’t even doing a great job at that.  At least my administrators and colleagues supported all of us during the wave of educational and protocol changes that kept rolling over us.  But because I wasn’t, well, fully operational, I knew I had to focus all my energy on my own students instead of my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 


But then…that was my creative outlet.  I couldn’t go out for recreation.  I couldn’t go to the gym.  There’s more to life than work and losing my little sister was a reminder that life is short.  So I started yoga and crochet.  These were activities I could handle.  They helped me relax.  Completing a crochet project helped me feel accomplished.  Yoga became a routine to calm my mind when life was feeling chaotic.  And I felt like it was going to make me physically stronger too. 


Then a year after it started, a vaccine was made available.  I could go out places again.  I could see my family.  Things are back to normal…but also not normal.  We’re not housebound, but Covid is still here with its quarantines, (with students and co-workers suddenly needing a week of extra support) part-time mask usage, and of course, illness.  My sister is still gone; that won’t change.  But my other family member is better (so why am I still not sleeping well?).  I’ve started taking some 1 hour PD sessions this summer, and instead of feeling like I’m in a haze, I’m feeling excited about trying new things.  And I’ve started blogging and creating new resources for my Teacher’s Pay Teachers store. 


It's been a long 2 ½ years.  We teachers were (mostly, but not always) praised in the beginning of pandemic teaching.  Then in the middle, well, all of us, parents, teachers, state and local officials, school boards, we all got frustrated and got less praise.  And I wondered, as I walked the halls, "How many of my colleagues are quietly hiding their trauma?" 

I’m starting to find some balance.  I had a rough time learning how to do online learning, and I prefer making activities that students can draw on, cut out, and make a game out of.  But what do you think?  Are you going back to using hands on resources?  Or are your students finding more success with online learning, even when they are back in the classroom? 


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1 comment :

  1. I am so sorry about your sister. So young. I enjoyed reading your blog post because I've never heard about collective trauma. You have definitely been through a lot. For my 3rd graders, I try to use the computers once a week at the most; kids are using technology too much in general. We are even teaching cursive again thanks to Fundations!


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