Perspectives: My heart sinks for our schoolchildren

Posted 4/10/20

Thirty rescue animals, including two horses, and two foster children. A mortgage, three jobs to keep up and a husband working, full-time.

Somehow, we made ends meet, even after our own two …

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Perspectives: My heart sinks for our schoolchildren

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Thirty rescue animals, including two horses, and two foster children. A mortgage, three jobs to keep up and a husband working, full-time.

Somehow, we made ends meet, even after our own two children were born.

In 2013, it all tumbled down because I had lost my full-time job. My son was in kindergarten and daughter in 2nd grade. Being home with them for the first time since they were born was a new gift. I missed my kids’ first years of their lives, like many parents, trying not to lose it all.

I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class. What a struggle for the teachers and 33 students ­— a hard decision how to move forward with the children who got it and the children who just didn’t.

One Hispanic girl spoke no English, but she took every opportunity to read my lips and savor the chance to learn. Her drive and willingness hooked me. That summer, I took my tests to become a substitute teacher.

There were positives and negatives to this job. The positives: being around my kids, on their same schedule. If you had other jobs, a sick child home — you could take the sub jobs that morning or not.

Once teachers got to know you, they scheduled you ahead of time. You got to follow kids as they grew and changed, getting to know them, and them getting to know me. Year after year, in all of the grades, it made our days together easy. Knowing each other, both of our expectations were already established

The negatives to this job were the financial aspects. In seven years, substitute teachers have gotten no raises. We get no benefits at all. Substitutes deal with stereotypical behaviors and attitudes from students a bit more problematic than teachers experience.

The reality is that you do get to know the children well. Year after year. In kindergarten, holding their hands as they cry, for the first two months, begging for their parents. They learn to be mean and taunt and fight with kids who used to be their friends. They wear their hearts on their sleeves when they don’t make the team, or their mom gets diagnosed with breast cancer. You know their parents are separating when you see a normal, happy kid at a table “until further notice” because he’s acting out.

My 6th-grader worked hard for years. He had just tried out for and made the starting lineup for the middle school baseball team. My quiet, shy, freshman daughter, branched out in the spring and made the varsity tennis team. She was managing the boys’ tennis team, just passed her drivers ed test and had a birthday in a few weeks, then onto the driving part. Two of millions, of flourishing kids across this country, experiencing joy, disappointment ,and life, with spring activities, graduation, band concerts, college preps, too much homework. Normalcy, of the day in the life of a student.

The two weeks before our Chatham County Schools closed, I had subbed two days. The kids joked in middle school. They saw me, open-armed hugs, followed with, “Watch out! She could have ‘carona.’” Everyone laughed.

March 5th, the first middle school scrimmage: few parents talked about COVID-19. Their first game was to be the following Monday, March 9th. So many kids, with years of hard work in their back pockets. The first slap in the face came, as so many children’s hope and ambitions crumbled: all team sports, canceled. Reality just hit home.

The week before CCS’ shutdown, I’d worked three days in two different schools. Week before last, the atmosphere was different. A few kids, excited for the possibility of no school. More were distantly climbing into a shell — children that I have know for more then seven years, scared and concerned. None of these kids would know the dire extremes, of changes that would become in their new, safer world. I witnessed their last glimmer of innocence.

The last two days of substitute teaching, I watched the anxiety starting to creep into many of these children’s mind, knowing that this was the last day of what we’ve known as “school” for a while. My heart sank for all of these children, mostly for the challenge they all faced ahead.

I know for sure that every teacher walked out the door that day with shock, despair and more concern for these children then for themselves.

Monday, March 23rd, was a surreal experience as to the future that we are all facing. Driving up to our middle school, grade-segregated, loved teachers on the opposite side of cars, passing packets of school work, zip-locked computers.

Distance and gloves on, warmth, replaced with fear. So it begins, I thought. How do we all get through this?

On the first day of home schooling, a post from some of the parents, stated the obvious: “What the hell?!!”

Day two asked, “How are the new substitute teachers all doing today?” Comments like, “1-800-Netflix,” “Two-hour delay here, teacher and students no-shows,” and “If schools continue to stay closed, parents will come up with a vaccine before scientists do.”

We all need this light-heartedness.

Substitutes don’t get paid. We have no benefits, no insurance. I personally had 10 sub jobs scheduled over three weeks. Some substitutes had weeks or months straight scheduled. Substitutes cannot apply for unemployment, but the Governor’s office said apply anyway, things change constantly.

The opportunity of school not resuming this year — where is our income going to come from? Can we all get our children through this situation and keep them normal, safe, on task, educated, as they should be? It’s scary!

I want all of these kids to know this from Ms. Tracy: You are NOT ALONE, you never were. We are in this together. It’s going be tough, all around. Don’t take this time for granted. Take advantage of it! We are the experiment. The tested. Let others learn from your positivity.

This time is to learn from, grow from, and educate others. You will walk out of this being the teacher because of your experiences. Being a story teller. A more adaptable person, with this “new normal.”

Uncharted, you are still, your own future. Chart that path! Stay safe and well. You are all very missed. You’ve been my on and off kids for the last seven years. When we all finally come back, I am betting that the hugs won’t be allowed anymore, though. So perfect that elbow bump, while adapting to our new normalcy.

Tracy Magliocco (Rader) is one of the many substitute teacherss in Chatham County. She is also an executive chef, culinary instructor, wedding cake baker and food magazine author. She’s been in Chatham County for 30 years and lives here with her husband, two children and rescue animals.

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