The email comes through in the midst of an online staff meeting, and a couple of teachers immediately burst into tears and soon have to log off.
That is the world we live in right now. Every bit of news is a bit of sadness, tears waiting just behind the corners of our eyes, ready for action.
I cannot cry in front of people and refuse to even fully place myself in the video meeting, posting a picture instead. Because I am always ready for action, and I have a list for this day: Home Depot to buy wood and sand, the garden center for my seed potatoes, two grocery stores to spend another huge percentage of our salaries to stock up on food before Bruce’s money is no more.
And while I am at the store, I stock up on all the things my Newcomers certainly don’t have: lollipops, candy bars, chips, pens, pencils, tootsie rolls, card stock, and colored paper.
In less than a year, they moved, with or without their families, across the world. They barely speak English. They barely know anyone. We’ve barely begun making progress towards everything from basic phonics to common expressions such as, “How do you get around your city?”
And the email has officially announced that I will not see their faces in my classroom for the remainder of the school year.
I have been teaching for seventeen years, primarily English to immigrants, but I have never taught truly new immigrants, and it has changed me. It has opened my eyes to the injustices of the world, to the beauty of the world, in a way that no other class ever has.
Everything about online learning will be difficult: those students who left their Chromebooks at home. Those who have to care for little ones. Those who are working. Almost all of whose parents are working and potentially tracking in this virus every day.
Being isolated in a small apartment without any exposure to our culture that they sacrificed everything to be a part of for… who knows how long?
None of this–going to the grocery store without a mask and gloves, going to teach those beautiful faces, going to travel the world like I’ve always traveled the world–will ever be the same.
None of us–the immigrants who still have hope for their futures, for their families, the teachers who are trying to figure out how to teach piano and ceramics to kids who don’t have pianos or clay, the essential workers who wish they could stay home and can’t, the healthcare workers who are making their wills–will ever be the same.
So this is all I can do, tears present now. Ask my girls to help fill bags. Type up letters and schedules to print in case my students haven’t checked the online updates. Put in colored paper and card stock so that they can make hearts and cards for all that they love and all that they hope for.
And hope that we all make it to the other side of what the world has become.