Blog Post

Cracking the Chrysalis

How does an emerging butterfly crack through their chrysalis? Do they elbow their way through with their forewing? How do we re-enter the world as we remember it? After dealing with a little bit of road rage in Monterey, mind you, my husband half-jokingly says that we are going back to abnormal. 

Are we going back to abnormal? Did we learn anything through this pain? I can’t help but wonder, ‘Did I do enough during this time? Did I grow enough during this time? Did I spend enough quality time with my husband this year? Most of the time, I was exhausted from teaching. Was that energy expenditure on teaching worth it? Did I help enough of my students and their families during this time?'

I blur the present, past, and future tenses. Flat Time.

This year I taught virtually. I hear on the news about post-pandemic America, etc. I have also been reflecting on my role as a teacher this year. For the most part, I feel like I’ve been a chrysalis all year. I think it is important to keep safe and keep my loved ones safe. I wrapped myself agoraphobic.

We are now fully vaccinated. That is a good feeling. I still wear my mask. The other day, I went to the optical at Target. I had my mask and shield on. I still cringe when I see people with no mask or a mask that is pulled down below one’s nose. I don't see the person anymore, I see a nose with mRNA boogers pushing a grocery cart. Does the mRNA have COVID? What is in their cartilage basket? And why aren't their children wearing masks? Likewise, I cringe when I see the unmasked tourist lined up around the restaurant down the street. They round the building a hungry maskless herd. My stomach grumbles. California is in Yellow Tier and Governor Newsom plans to fully reopen California on June 15th.

Across the country, we have a family member in the Midwest, she is fully vaccinated and caught COVID post vaccination. A family member thinks that she got COVID from her in-home caregiver. Now she is in the hospital struggling with COVID. Hence, COVID is still in the forefronts of our minds. She fell in that small percentage where one can be vaccinate and still be hospitalized for COVID. We are praying for her full recovery.

When I approached the optical, I was thankful to see that my eye doctor was nice and he wore his mask too. Some doctors that I visited during the pandemic didn’t wear a mask. I had to switch doctors. I want to keep safe. We are planning on visiting some older medically-fragile family members this summer.

 1. What is a chrysalis made of? Interestingly, I thought the chrysalis was the container or the envelope in which a furry caterpillar transforms. I learned that the chrysalis is actually the butterfly in the pupa stage. The caterpillar knows when to spin a button of silk and knows where to suspend itself. It also knows when to molt. It sheds away the unnecessary. The chrysalis becomes layers of exoskeleton protecting the soft places. It lightens the load by shedding the unnecessary.

Unnecessary. How can we molt as teachers too?  As I reflect at the close of the school year, I feel both sad and hopeful. Sad, because we have lost loved ones. My grief comes in waves. One of my best friends passed away. She was my sister-in-law’s sister. Being around her, I could just be my goofy self. She was a crazy redhead, like me.  My grief has been quarantined. I haven’t really allowed myself to grieve. I had to get up each day and teach. My student depended on me. I cried after work, and slept after work. I tried to snap out of it. I wanted to be present for my husband, but I was exhausted. This year, I have had more meetings and paperwork than ever. I had to try and keep my focus because IEPs are legal paperwork.

Paperwork. Working for a nationwide virtual school, it is a business. I learned ten different platforms. I scavenger hunted data and mined migraines. I was told not to take things personally if someone made a comment about the quality of my work. But I do take it personally. I spend so much of my time and life with my calling as a teacher. This year, I couldn’t sleep many nights and would wake up and work. Why was I so pressed to impress this factory school?

Factory. Our factory had no curriculum for special education. Hence, teachers cranked out curriculum that we had to be sure to differentiate for each child's needs. They said that I spent too much time developing my lessons for my students. I like to plan. I like to create. I was told to teach without a PowerPoint and try that. A blank screen. I learned more improvisation. I was told I was a good teacher and then told that I wasn’t doing enough, enough, enough paperwork. It was a year of mixed messages for me as a teacher. The school’s focus was on paperwork. Funding is connected with paperwork. I held over 70 IEPs this year. However, my focus was on my students. Now as the year closes, I still wonder did I do enough?

2. “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” - Albert Einstein

Caseloads. This is my 17th year teaching PK-12. Special education has changed a lot since I first started. When I started special education, teaching was at the center of my profession. We had a special education secretary who arranged for all meetings, etc. Yes, we led meetings. However, it wasn't like today. Today special education teachers are more like the social workers of education. When I first started teaching, the guidance counselors partnered with social workers. Now many schools do not have guidance counselors or social workers anymore.

As a special education teacher, we are given caseloads each year and are now called "case managers". We arrange and lead interdisciplinary IEP team meetings with school psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, behavior therapists, nurses, and mental health counselors. There is more emphasis on case management, rather than the students themselves, which is sad. This year in virtual school, there were no secretaries, no guidance counselors, no attendance clerks, and no paraeducators. Mind you, I am thankful that I was able to work during the pandemic. However, this is not a good trend because it is not sustainable for special education teachers who care sometimes our most vulnerable children.

Occasionally, I will see a meme that says resting is important business. How then do I rest my brain at the close of the season? At the close of the school year when there is so much paperwork to do? 

I want to make time to reflect on this year, but really don’t feel like I have done enough. Why do teachers struggle with the concept of enough? What if looking at enough, we strive to be minimalist instead? What would that look like? What if we could just focus on our students? Indeed, teaching is my favorite part of teaching. How can we take the idea of minimalism to transform our teaching? How can we crack through our own chrysalis so that our mosaic wings can fly?

Teachers, it's time to fly! Happy almost summer!


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