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Cottonwood Heights Journal

I am a paraeducator. This is what school feels like with no students

Mar 30, 2020 01:31PM ● By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones

By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]

Monday morning, 8:15, March 16. The halls are silent. I see a single teacher down the hall. The classrooms are empty of children. I enter a fifth-grade classroom. Left from the Friday before are papers that never made it to the cubbies, a blue water bottle with liquid still inside, and pencils strewn across tabletops.

Sitting inside the rooms are teachers, empty of what usually fills their days. They are working. They are asking questions. They are concerned about how long the quarantine will last. A sixth grade teacher is almost in tears. The night before she cried. “What if this lasts the entire school year? What if my last day with them was Friday?”

Papers are copied. Packets are assembled, lamination for forthcoming projects cut and organized. Now there’s time. Teachers teaching the same grade are seen working together. They have never had to teach online. Some don’t know what to do. 

In the gym, tables are filled with packets and handouts, their representative school grades posted for parents and their child(ren) to find. Students take the packet or they come to check-out their Chromebook from their teacher, maybe both. Teachers wonder if students will follow through with their at-home work. They wonder what things will be like when students return, after having missed so many days.

Everyone is concerned. No one knows if this will work. 

I am a paraeducator at this school. What usually fills my days is practically nonexistent. Gone are the children, the laughter, the noise. I am no longer testing, helping kids learn and comprehend their reading or spelling words. I am no longer teaching a small group about writing. 

I am making copies. Assembling packets. Asking worried and frustrated teachers if there is anything I can do to help.

Gone are the children, the smiles. The struggles to learn. Gone is the boy that believes he is smart because a reading concept he’s been trying to understand has finally turned on inside his head. Gone are the fights, yes. But so too are the jump-ropers and the four-square players. Kids learning in the only way they can learn – with lots of joy.

A friend of mine told me today, “This is not the new normal. This is the normal right now.”

But what if it isn’t? 

We often don’t see what we had until it’s no longer there. We may complain about long days, about our feet hurting or children not listening in class. But this? How does a person prepare for this?

On March 18 I was in the shower when the 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit. At first, I thought, “What is going on?” As I reached for the walls, all I could think about was the end of the world. And then my 15-year-old grandson yelled, “Don’t worry, grandma! I’m just dancing!”

This grandson, as well as one of my granddaughters, both go to Hunter High. They have to be in the house full-time. No going out for anything. My daughter is working at home, she brought her work computer home. My husband still goes out to work — there are only two employees at his office—and I am at home during the closure along with the children I teach.

Like you, my life has made a turn. But I wouldn’t say a turn for the worst. Just a different turn. I have realized some new things about life. And some of them are good.




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