By Morgan Floyd Williams
In this blog post, guest blogger Morgan Floyd Williams shares her experience of being a teacher and parent navigating the Coronavirus pandemic while also dealing with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
I have been in the world of public education my entire life. I am a third-generation teacher currently teaching elementary school in Harrison County, West Virginia. I have a bachelor’s degree in Education from Fairmont State University, a master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders from West Virginia University, and I am currently working toward a master’s degree in Leadership Studies from Marshall University. When I am not a teacher or a student, I am at home with my husband, my 6-year-old son, and 4-year-old daughter. Being surrounded by children seven days a week, 24 hours a day certainly keeps me on my toes, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I suffer from clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, so one can only imagine that serving as both a teacher and parent during a global pandemic has contributed to a heightened sense of an impending apocalyptic catastrophe as compared to my usual glowing doom and gloom personality. I wish I could compartmentalize my experiences, but I can never fully turn off my career and decide to just be a parent.
I was already feeling rather emotional during the week of March 13. My son was on his third kindergarten teacher this year and I was worried he was going to be behind. That Friday I was supposed to sign up my youngest for preschool; however, it was canceled due to the impending pandemic and while preschool is not necessarily required, it certainly helps as a “jump start” to the whole school experience.
After a highly challenging new student joined my class, I decided to take my first day off for my own mental health. That afternoon, I learned that students would not be returning the following week. It was something I had tried to mentally prepare for, as there had been talk of school closure. Due to my generalized anxiety and Type A personality, I thrive on schedule and routine. So, despite my best efforts to wrap my head around a potentially indefinite school closure, I found myself in complete denial. I kept telling myself, as many parents and educators did, this would all get sorted out in a matter of weeks.
I tried to take each day at a time; managing suddenly having my children home with me 24/7 while trying to adapt my interactive lessons to a virtual platform. But how can you make art projects and fun activities around read aloud and children’s books successful virtually? In a frenzy, I found myself making parent how-to videos for every digital platform you can think of and talking parents off the ledge at midnight, all the while worrying about the safety of my children and family and navigating my son’s virtual schooling. It was overwhelming and triggered deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy.
March quickly turned to May and my vibrant, four-walled classroom quickly dwindled away to a single computer screen. When our Governor confirmed school closures for the remainder of the year, I sent a tear-soaked virtual goodbye to my students and their grownups that I never thought I would have to give.
Now, here we are in the fall and nothing much has changed. I’m anxious about my students and my children’s education. Many of my students attend daycare or are watched by grandparents who struggle to utilize technology, thus there is poor attendance for my live sessions. My own children fall into this category as they spend the days that my husband and I are working with their grandparents. As a parent, it’s difficult knowing they may be missing out on an important piece to their lesson or interaction with their peers.
I feel as though I am failing to provide a rich virtual experience for my students because I am having to assign so much work to make up for lost time. When I am not grading the online assignments, I am curating them for the following week. It’s a cycle that does not let up and leaves me constantly wondering, “Am I doing enough?”
My attention is always focused on my work, sometimes at the expense of my home life. I have leaned on several coping mechanisms to get me through on a day-to-day basis, such as taking my medicine, watching that same episode of Schitt’s Creek for the hundredth time, or listening to music. These are successful bandages for me, but panic attacks don’t occur on a timetable. After several months, I have come to the realization that I cannot recreate the traditional school experience, no matter how much time and effort I am expending.
The first grading period ends in two weeks and I have only seen my new students a handful of times. When I do see them, putting bandages on bumped knees and giving hugs to students who don’t get any at home now carries with it a feeling of life or death if I get too close. I am second guessing everything for fear that one of us will be sick. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of all is not being able to smile at my littles. As a person who never wanted to stick out in a crowd, life behind a mask has made anonymity unbearable.
I keep telling myself that my students, who are aged 6 to 8, have adapted better to these challenges than this 34-year-old teacher who is supposed to be their leader. All I can do is keep trudging along for their sake and the sake of my own children. If anything, this profession has taught me that losing battles isn’t the same as losing the war. Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for and perhaps I am as well.
Morgan Floyd Williams lives in Fairmont, West Virginia, with her family. In her free time she enjoys watching comedy in all forms and reading.
Thank you, Morgan, for sharing your story of perseverance under the most difficult of circumstances with our readers. We commend you for all you are doing to make sure your students and your own children feel safe and cared for during this pandemic.
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