My students are sometimes surprised to learn that teachers get nervous about the first day of school, too. A week or two before the fall semester begins, many of us start worrying about the same things that are causing our kids stress — will we be working with our friends? Will we get along with the new people on campus?
A few nights before school begins, like clockwork, I start having dreams about any number of horrible faux pas that I could commit on the first day that will color my students’ first impressions of me. My subconscious tortures me with visions of all the ways, big and small, that I could lose them and never get them back.
This time, in a surprise move that seems profoundly unfair, my stress dreams for the 2020-2021 school year have gotten started early. The uncertainty about what school will look and feel like in the fall semester has already begun to seep anxiety into my subconscious brain.
Some of the changes are routine, unrelated to the COVID crisis. We will have a new superintendent in the fall — Chris Steinhauser, who has been at the helm since the year after my own LBUSD graduation, announced his retirement back in December. At my school, we recently learned that our beloved principal, Ronnie Coleman, has been reassigned to Sato Academy after five years at Jordan, continuing the district’s policy of shuffling administrators around every few years.
In both of these cases, we have a sense of what’s coming next. Dr. Jill Baker, who will be our new superintendent, is highly qualified and has been a consistent presence in the district for years. Our new principal, Kaisha Irving, comes highly recommended from Millikan, and, as much as we will greatly miss Ronnie, we know that administrator change is part of the terrain of working in Long Beach.
Other changes, of course, are not part of the normal cycle as we close out this school year and begin looking ahead to the fall. Beginning May 20, the school district began rolling out surveys asking about the experience with distance learning since March 13, as well as preferences and needs for the upcoming year. Between LBUSD students, parents, and teachers, that’s more than 20% of the city’s population being asked to weigh in on what school should look like when it begins on Sept. 1.
My future boss, Dr. Baker, said in a recent interview that school in the fall would be “closer to what has been known as ‘school.’” That was a relief to hear, and the idea of my soon-to-be second grader spending time learning with his peers makes me so happy I could cry. As a teacher, nothing would make me happier than to have face-to-face interactions with my students again. But I also have a litany of questions about the logistical realities of that promise that are keeping me tossing and turning at night.
The leadership in LBUSD is confident that students and teachers will be back on campus in the fall, at least to some extent. Letter grading will be back, as will high school graduation requirements for seniors. But how we will manage that safely is still in the planning stages. Families will also be given the option to keep students home and continue distance learning. We’re not sure how that will look, either. Also murky is how any of this will be possible with the greatly impacted budget from the state — huge cuts are looming, but we need more professional development, more support staff, and more resources, not less.
In previous summers, I have had stress dreams featuring endless loops of difficult student interactions, or various dignitaries walking into my bungalow at the exact moment that everything that could go wrong does. Now, my dream-self is much more likely to be wandering around an eerily empty campus, searching for my classroom in the fog, knowing that, somewhere, my students are waiting for me.
It doesn’t take a Jungian to unpack that I’m feeling uneasy about the uncertainty of the future. We all are. We have never faced a fall semester like the one that will begin in a few short months, a semester where (among other things) we’ll likely have to create two sets of lesson plans, one for in-person instruction and one for digital instruction. But I take assurance in knowing that, from the leadership in the district office, to the curriculum developers at the Teachers’ Resource Center, to the faculty and staff at campuses all around the city, we are all going to do what we can to provide the best possible educational experience for our students.
And, as a parent, that helps me sleep at night.