Local 3977 teacher recaps first day back at school

It’s going to be “a school year like no other,” says Jennifer Robbin, a member of the Garfield Federation of Teachers (Local 3977). And with that in mind, Robbin reflected on what’s transpired in recent months and documented her first day back at Garfield High School. Here is her story:

My alarm went off for the first time in six months. Unlike most other first days of school, I was grateful for this awakening, not angry at the alarm for lifting me out of a beautiful summer slumber. I was going to see my co-workers and classroom and pictures on my desk again. For that I was excited.

The spring of 2020 offered me many gifts, such as drinking hot tea all day, petting my dog anytime I wanted, and taking my 40-minute commute and shrinking it to a walk down the steps. However, it robbed me of even more. Student smiles had become emojis, classroom lectures reformed into email attachments, and I spoke to my co-workers through text messages instead of visiting their classrooms.

I wasn’t going to get all of it back in the fall of 2020, but going back to teach in the actual school building was definitely a beginning.

After my alarm rang, I actually put on a dress. And makeup. And perfume. I even drove to work and said good morning to real, live human beings when I got there. It was glorious.

Setting up a ‘command center

But then I got to my classroom, and with the chatter of the main office gone, I was faced with 30 empty student desks and class files that would never hold folders with student work in them.

I ignored the silence of a classroom and set up my laptop, my iPad and my phone. It was a command center of sorts, but I was determined to teach through any technical glitch that might come my way. After 23 years of teaching, I still love it, and I wasn’t going to let an internet connection come in the way of me welcoming back my students after all this time.

I didn’t have a class first block, so I walked the hallways quite a few times. I needed a charger and then a bottle of water and then instructions of how to take attendance.  And during these walks was when I heard the magic: the magic of teachers doing what they were born to do — teach. From each classroom came the melodious sound of teachers teaching to computer screens and students shouting back greetings with excitement. These teachers were teaching with all the enthusiasm that always comes with the first day of school.

We were back, albeit remotely, but we were back. By the time I sat at my desk and logged into my first Teams meeting, I was ready to tackle this remote situation and give it all that I have. As I saw my students’ names and then faces pop onto the computer screen, I knew that this was the first step to really being back — a step toward being able to welcome a student to my desk for extra help with the essay he is writing or a time that my face doesn’t freeze and they can’t hear what I’m saying.

One day soon, those files will hold papers, and those desks will hold students. And I’ll still be an excited teacher on the first day of school who just may have gained a few new computer skills along the way.