My anxiety has been on a steady march upwards since March 23rd, 2021. That was the day I was notified of my upcoming parole.
I began my imprisonment on March 16th, 2020, as many of you have as well. That was the day COVID 19 shut down our country. The Governor of Wisconsin ordered my school, along with millions across the country, to close. Laughingly, we thought this would be a short-term solution and many just left our rooms thinking we would be back in a couple of weeks. I remember I still had food in my fridge!
A month into the shutdown saw Milwaukee Public Schools hand out Chromebooks and the teachers learning to teach virtually. My basement became my classroom and I ended up executing a deranged version of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” for my students who had figured out how to connect with me on GOOGLE MEET.
The learning curve of how to manage a pandemic was very steep. We managed to get most of our students to show up daily, participate when required, and actually continue their education. As time went on, the strangeness of virtual learning became commonplace and those uncomfortable things gradually turned familiar. Everything that I had been doing as a teacher for the last two decades was thrown out the window, replaced by new policies and procedures. I no longer worried about things like late buses or proper school attire for my students. I no longer graded “papers”, ran off copies, purchased supplies. I didn’t have to write letters home to parents explaining how their precious child had lost his brand new coat for the fifth time this year. My lessons were never interrupted by announcements from the office or a call for one of my students to report to the office. I did not supervise students loading on or off a bus. No one complained about the lunch in the cafeteria. I collected no permission slips, doctor’s excuses, or letters from parents to contact them about an upcoming event.
In short, this last year all I did was TEACH. I would go online at the start of the class, explain the lesson, clarified what they should do to complete the assignment, and sent them on their way. My free time was spent simply producing engaging lessons that would keep my students both engaged and educated for the hour. After a year of teaching this way, I have not only embraced virtually learning, it turns out I actually prefer it.
Unfortunately, my preferences rarely are considered when it comes to my chosen profession. Although I remember my Grandfather’s words of wisdom when he would state “If it works, don’t fix it”, that doesn’t seem to apply to the people in charge of our school system. It turns out that I am headed back to the classroom!
It has been about 400 days since we have been in person. As I said, my feelings have been running the gamut this past week. I am excited to see colleagues in person and to get back into my classroom (a place I jokingly refer to as “my apartment”). My mind has been darting back and forth regarding frivolous questions such as “What did I use to do for lunch?” and “what time do I have to leave in the morning to be at school on time?” I began to rethink every part of my day, trying to remember the old routines I had in place.
And through all of this, the main thing I am wondering about is why I am overthinking this all! I have taught in a classroom for over twenty years! I have been doing this job way longer than any other job in my lifetime! Finally, it dawned on me what was going on in my head.
I think I am having a case of post-incarceration syndrome. This occurs to people who have been imprisoned or institutionalized in a way that restricts their movements and their freedoms for an extended period. When a person first enters prison, there is an adjustment period when they are learning the new routines that are expected of them. Most people aren’t used to being micromanaged to the point that every daily activity is placed on a fixed schedule. Meals are served at a set time, as is bedtime, showers, exercise, etc. In this instance, a person’s preferences are irrelevant, thus reinforcing the fact that, due to the nature of their crime, that freedom of choice is no longer something they have.
But after a while, something changes. Their body slowly responds and eventually expects the new routines. What once was burdensome becomes comfortable as the prisoner slowly eases into the established routines. Compliance is given completely, almost to the point where the idea of free will and personal preference becomes moot.
So, after their time has been served, some prisoners become extremely anxious about going back into a life where they are again in charge of their preferences on where and how to live. Even if they have lived that way before, there is always some distress when it comes to reacclimating themselves to society.
I think this is my problem as well. For the last 400 days, I pretty much have only seen four people on a daily basis. When COVID hit, our lives changed. Church services went online. Bible studies over ZOOM. Movies from streaming services rather than going to a theater. Brewers baseball on TV and the list goes on. Every activity in our lives changed! Restaurants became carryout (which parking lot do you want to eat in today?) and curbside pickup became our standard.
But now, I am going back to school, back to a job that I have done successfully for twenty years. I am nervous! Why? Because it is not what I am used to doing anymore!
As always, whenever I discover something about myself that I find unpleasant, I find myself looking to scripture to see what God says about the subject. In this case, the Israelites had a similar situation. For 400 years, they were slaves to Egypt. They prayed for deliverance and God sent them Moses to work on Pharoah and convince him that opposing God doesn’t EVER work out the way you hope it would. After several plagues, Pharoah waved ADIOS and sent them on their way.
Later, in Exodus 14:12, the people began to complain about how much their lives had changed and how much better they were as slaves.
Why did they want to go back to being slaves? Because that was all they knew. Their fear of the unknown colored their memories of torture and imprisonment. In their minds, they were slaves, but at least they were well fed! Forty years later, they were about to finally enter the promised land. Some also seemed reluctant, preferring to stay in the desert rather than engaging in the risky behavior of taking over and shaping their own country.
I know going back into the classroom is something I really want to do! Teaching virtually is not really teaching at all. While I am delivering content more efficiently, I am missing personal connections with my students. I miss the fist bumps and the high fives from the boys and the occasional hugs from the girls when they enter the building or leave for the day. I miss seeing that light that goes off in their eyes when they finally understand or the breathless excitement when they want to share something with me. I miss joking with colleagues and greeting staff walking down the hall. I miss the phone calls in the middle of my lessons, unexpected fire drills, and super nice outside days when we just go play kickball until the bus comes. I miss passing out snacks somebody brought for their birthday and going out for lunch with colleagues on Professional Development days.
So I am nervous. I am about to be paroled from “House Arrest” and go back into the world tomorrow. But I also know:
GOD’S GOT THIS!
I also wonder what’s in my fridge?
I thank you for reading my blog and look forward to any comments or criticism of what I have discussed.
If these words have impacted you, please feel free to share them by email or any social media platform.
“You Turned My Mourning Into Dancing!”, my book, is available for purchase here.