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That First Week Energy: Starting School in Person in the Days of Covid-19

The start of the school year is always exciting for me, and it's exciting for almost every teacher I've ever met. We spend the whole summer preparing. Sure, we're traveling, spending time outside, reading books, and doing things we love during those sacred months, but our teacher brains are still on. Maybe they're in sleep mode, but the hard drive has never fully shut down. We're seeing new things and always thinking, "Oh, that would be so fun to share with my students." We're reading books and gathering ideas. We're stumbling upon school supplies sales and stocking up. We're thinking about our students. Even though we love the break, we miss those faces. Until, finally, it's time to go back.

Even though my school is small and I know most of the students walking in the door, day 1 is still exciting. Every year, I meet that first day with energy and a smidgen of sadness. After all, my summer is ending. But just seeing those faces and feeling that energy as they walk in after being away for so long...there's really nothing like it. Meeting them in clean classrooms filled with brand new pencils, pencil sharpeners that actually work, all of the supplies I could ever need, and the best back-to-school lesson plans ever is a thrill. As a music teacher, I'm ready for them with new repertoire, tuned instruments, and an updated list of top 40 songs. I hold the door for them as they enter my room and think 'I'm ready for you, gang.'

This year was strange to say the least. I hadn't seen my students in the flesh since March. They had grown and changed in so many ways; their hair was different, they got taller, their voices had dropped, and, for the first time ever, I couldn't see their smiling faces. I did, however, get to see all of those lovely masks. Their funky patterns echoed their personalities and put my boring white mask to shame. They were nervous entering the building. They knew, as well as I did, this was going to be a strange year.

We walked to the sanitized classroom 6-ft apart. We talked, but it wasn't the same; raising our voices to talk as we walk down the hallway isn't quite the same and a simple hallway walking chat. The hallways were not packed with kids, backpacks, and instruments - everyone had a desk they were assigned to in a classroom, and they were to sit there until classes started. We didn't gather as a middle school to cheer and celebrate the first day because large gatherings are not allowed. Instead we sat and looked at faces on a Zoom call. Yes, we were all in the same building, but it wasn't the same.

After completing my second week of Covid-19 approved teaching, it's still not the same. I'm continuing to mourn the loss of some of my favorite things about school while pushing forward with a smile; I've been told my eyes smile when I smile so even though I've got my mask on, the kids say they can tell. I push forward for the kids. They are everything. I push forward for safety because those kids, they are everything. I push forward because I believe every child in my classroom deserves the best music education I can give them. And so I press on. We press on. Keep fighting, educators. We got this.

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