Crying, Cleaning and Reconnecting

After roughly six weeks of closed schools and distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have had ample opportunity to think about what to do first when they return to their classrooms and schools. At the top of the list: a good cry before getting last year cleaned up to make room for next year’s memories.

While the education community reacts with a variety of emotions to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s suggestion yesterday that the state “consider” reopening schools as early as late-July for the next school year, educators across the state continue herculean distance learning efforts to support their students through this time. As CTA leaders participate in ongoing discussions about COVID and next school year, we asked educators: “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you return to your classrooms and schools?” Here are their responses:

Janel Ann Reyneke, Corona Norco Teachers Association
Clean it, take down the work from this year’s kids and set up the class for the fall.

Cheryl Zablow, Val Verde Teachers Association
Hug all my teacher friends.

Kristy Garcia, Association of Colton Educators
Place all my belongings on top of my desk and sit in the middle of the classroom to give myself time to reflect and remember all the magic that happens each and every day. Soon after, I will clean and make the classroom (my second home) as welcoming as it can be for my students.

Valerie Puckett, Teachers Association of Lancaster
Clean it out. I am retiring this year. Sad that I won’t get to say bye to my teacher friends and students.

Jennifer DeWeerdt, Martinez Education Association
Open my blinds and windows to let fresh life circulate back into the classroom!

Katherine Colvin Marvin, Burbank Teachers Association
Cry. There were no proper goodbyes. No cleaning out of desks. No gathering of work from the walls. Just 40 mins of confusion, passing out of a couple workbooks and a quick “see you after an extended spring break.” No fifth grade panoramic photo, yearbook signing picnic, annual softball game, spring dance, awards ceremony, promotion. No send off to middle school. Just gone. We are all grieving.

Monica Freeman, Oakley Union Teachers Association
Mourn what we had planned for the spring. Mourn for the little faces that won’t be mine anymore. Mourn for the broken promises I had made to my students.
Then I’m going to dry my tears, get up, and figure out how to create a new safe place in the middle of a pandemic for my new students in the next school year. Because they will not feel safe anymore. They’ve been through trauma. And I need to help reassure them that while things are different, we are all in this together.

Karee Johnson, Association of Cypress Teachers
I think tears will be in order. I had a hard year this year, but I had some really great kids too. I love seeing their faces in Zoom, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person, getting hugs and hearing about what interests them. After I shed my tears, I’ll get down to cleaning, organizing and planning for next year. ·

Marla Niffen, Nuview District Teachers Association
I won’t be returning. This situation helped me to decide to take the early retirement.

Elva Lopez-Zepeda, Southwest Teachers Association
Walk in and look around my room and still seeing everything up from March, thinking of the lack of closure for my kiddos and myself. I’ll probably have tears while I reflect on what should have been. Eventually I’ll roll up my sleeves and start cleaning, erasing the upended school year. My focus being a different beginning than the previous 32 years to the new needs and challenges students will bring. Too much to really process now.

Lynda Licata-Schou, Eureka Union Teachers Association
Hug my teacher friends.

Bernadette Pedroza, Association of Colton Educators
Clean it out! This quarantine has made me realize how much “junk” I really do have and don’t ever use. I also want to reorganize so I can have more space so that my students and I can move around more freely, as I have come to appreciate mobility and space more.

Keith Pickering-Walters, Livermore Education Association
This was supposed to be my last year teaching and I was so looking forward to getting my special and personal things out of my classroom during the last few weeks – you know, like a real celebratory event. I went in last week to pack up some of my things and it was so deflating. I stopped halfway through and just went home. I’m no longer looking forward to getting the rest of my stuff. I’ve been okay focusing on how this affects my students and taking care of their needs. But, looking in the mirror and seeing how this is affecting me and my family is just so hard to deal with. My antidepressants just aren’t cutting it this trimester.

Liz Brewster, Redlands Education Support Professionals Association
Lots and lots if hugs, if we can. Maybe cry with some of our staff and students. But most of all embrace the fact we survived and try to enjoy the time we have together in our classroom

MaryEsther Espinosa, El Monte Elementary Teachers Association
I will stop, look around, appreciate what happened before we shut down, and look forward to what the future holds for all of us!

Cris McKee, King City Elementary Teachers Association
Find all of the class pictures from over the years and put them in a scrapbook. I want to remember each kiddo and their specialness.

Amy Syverson Kunis, Perris Elementary Teachers Association
If it’s the first time back with students: I want to tell them face to face how much I missed them. If it’s without students: clean the daylights out of that place.

Bianca Colon, Edison Charter Teachers Union
I will be sad. I’m cleaning out my classroom. I’m moving to a new school after 13 years at the same school. I didn’t get a proper goodbye. So I know I will cry. I’ll take pictures of the room before I box it up. Still sad.

Irene Sanchez, Azusa Educators Association
When the bell rings, go to where I used to stand at the door and greet every student who enters. Then as we start class, recite the class poem again.

Susan Blanchard, Association of Rowland Educators
Cry, cry and then clean. I’m retiring after 35 years at the same school. I never thought it would end like this!

Kathleen Stierwalt, Richgrove Educators Association
Hug each and every one of my students!

Aimee Crouse, Hacienda-La Puente Teachers Association
Cry, clean out the students’ desks and pack up their projects that we were saving for open house.

Denise Téllez, Moreno Valley Educators Association
I’m going to smudge my classroom and my school site with sage and prayer, blessing each and every inch, then cry, to cleanse my heart.

Bethany Meyer, Oakland Education Association
Figure out how to (safely) hug my kids. I am a teacher that any kid can count on for a hug or a high five, any time. We’re going to figure out how that looks like going forward. I’m a little worried that I might cry. I didn’t cry during the strike. I cried when I got back to school. So there might be some crying! ·

Pamela Tarango, Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association
Get ready for next year, whatever that might be.

Dena Elfers, West Sacramento Teachers Association
Hug all my students. We lost a student to a tragic accident recently and even though I’ve been in chatting with students it’s not the same as helping them deal with processing the loss of a classmate in person. It’s been difficult.

Michelle Nickell-Ramos, Saddleback Valley Educators Association
Cry. Clean/sanitize. Reset my room (I had a sub the day we closed). Get my mind and room ready for next year’s kids. Pack a bug-out bag for teaching at home as I anticipate this could happen again in hot spots. Make a “welcome back- I’ve missed you” sign. Restock my classroom snacks. Take pictures. Teach with compassion as traumatized students return. ·

Lori Reed, Fullerton Elementary Teachers Association
Sit and take it all in for a few minutes. Remember all the moments that took place in my room during the time we were in it this year. Most of my students (If not all) will be at other school sites next year. There was no goodbye or anything. Teaching kiddos with special needs means making so many different memories and in so many different ways!

Justin Riner, Burbank Teachers Association
I’m going to start preparing for next year and consider how I can apply some of the lessons that I learned from lockdown learning to enhance my teaching.

Michelle Carney, Etiwanda Teachers Association
Not take for granted the interactions with students by getting to be in the same room with them!

Erinn Rich, El Monte Elementary Teachers Association
I teach second grade. First, I need to focus on cleaning my room and getting my students belongings back to them. We left in such a hurry! Before all of this, I resisted screen time, I resisted going digital because they are so young. Next year, I’m going to start immediately on getting them all on Google Classroom, making sure I can communicate with them with email and announcements as well as taking time on typing skills. ·

Lisa Becker, Orland Teachers Association
When we finally gain safe access to our classrooms, my students will not be present. The first thing I know I’ll do (because I do it now at home) is cry. I’ll cry for all educators who’ve lost their lives during this time. I’ll cry for the children’s voices I will hear as I walk in my room—you know the students who I often had to tell regularly “keep it down.” And I know I’ll cry for lost memories. I often tell my students that my role as a teacher is it only to teach content, but to also teach character—those are the lessons I miss most. A significant amount of teaching time with middle schoolers revolves around what it means to be a good human. I will cry for lost connections … I will cry.

Amber Pattie, Victor Elementary Teachers Association
Just take it all in. I was on maternity leave when we left so I have no idea what my classroom even looks like at this moment.

Maria Ross, Campbell Elementary Teachers Association
Clean and get rid of any communal supplies. Kids won’t be sharing the colored pencils and scissors anymore. Those days are over.