Dear March 13th, 2020 by Renee Bowman
Given how much I’ve thought about you in the last year, I wanted to write you a letter in the hopes that it would be helpful to me. We have some serious catching up to do.
When we were last together, it was the final day that I was an in-person school librarian and the Title I teacher in a small town elementary school. I also didn’t know a single person with Covid-19 at that point. Which is probably what made the whole idea of temporarily sending all our students home barely believable. We all thought this idea of “virtual learning” would just be for a few weeks. Surely our little town wouldn’t fall victim to an actual pandemic? Pandemics happen somewhere else, not here, right? Our boys basketball team was well on their way to a possible state championship, we had St. Patrick’s Day decorations up for next week, and Spring Break was just around the corner. Our students were progressing academically. New friendships were continuing to grow. We had our eyes, our ever-watchful teacher eyes, on those children who weren’t flourishing.
And yet, my teacher eyes slowly adjusted to screen life. But as we all know, screen life certainly doesn’t portray real life.
Do you remember when I looked down at my teacher bag and wondered what to carry home with me? I chose a few picture books to read aloud, materials for next week’s small group instruction for my students that needed extra support, and of course, my laptop.
My fingertips adjusted to the wear and tear of click clacking on the keyboard, while my teacher librarian legs became lazy.
Do you remember the looks on the faces of the students?
Confused, happy, sad, perplexed, scared, to name a few.
Do you remember the questions the students had?
How and when will I return these library books? How will I get the sequel when I’m done with this one?
Do you remember the feeling of unease some students had in the cafeteria?
Drive-thru cafeteria lunch and breakfast options only work when you have a parent with reliable transportation and availability during certain hours in the middle of the day.
Do you remember the extra-long hugs we gave our students, those we feared might not receive another one until we were together again, whenever that might be?
These hugs felt similar to those we usually give on the last day of school, the kind when you use your heart and your arms to hug, hoping your students feel what it’s like to care deeply.
Do you remember the conversation in the library after school? Please say you remember. It’s one of the most important things about your day. Here’s how it went in case it’s slipped your mind.
Miss Anderson, Mrs. Russell, and I plopped down at a table in the library. Lots of sighing. Your day had been heavy and there were too many unanswered questions for chatter. Mrs. Russell said, “This place is too important to remain empty for long.” More sighs.
It’s important that you know what has happened in the year since we last met, March 13, 2020.
A lot has changed. I am no longer the librarian and Title I teacher. After 3 months of eLearning, with very poor internet at my home in the country, with two children of my own trying to do their school work, I didn’t go back.
There is a new school librarian and Title I teacher. One is a former student of mine. Time really does march on.
In the days that passed since you were here, Covid-19 really did come to our town. We never found out if that basketball team could have won the state championship. Many of those budding friendships fizzled without time together on the playground. Much of that academic progress fizzled too, without physical presence in a classroom. People died. People we know died.
Those bewildered looks and questions continued. It’s hard to know what to say to kids when you don’t even know what to say to yourself.
Miss Anderson and I still communicate. She’s young and I like to text her words of encouragement when I know the days are long. Mrs. Russell, the one that knew how important the library was, who knew that the books needed to be in the hands of children, is no longer with us. She already knew her breast cancer had metastasized on your date last year, but what she didn’t know is that contracting Covid-19 would dramatically speed up her decline.
I finally returned to the library last weekend to help the new librarian catalog all the books that were donated in Mrs. Russell’s honor. It felt as though the space was welcoming me home, as it whispered, again, “This place is too important to be empty.”
I’m working on my school librarian certification now and hope to pursue a doctorate. Before she died, Mrs. Russell told me that there is no limit to what I can accomplish. But some days, I long to be back in that important school library.
So, March 13, 2020, I will write to you again next year. And the year after that. I will continue to process your date and how it changed the trajectory of my life and so many lives since we met. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing the work you taught us, like staying positive, organizing book drives, and honoring those we’ve lost.
Renee Bowman is the co-creator of the blog for parents and caregivers Raising Real Readers. She’s twice been a teacher of the year for her district and was awarded the 2019 Samuel F. Hulbert Educator of the Year at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram at @RaisingRealReaders or on Twitter @RaisingReal.