Mad Libs and Pandemics: A Schoolteacher’s Musings
April 6, 2020 § 18 Comments
By Ann Klotz
Most of what I’ve been writing for the past three weeks are letters to the parents and girls of the school I lead. At the Governor of Ohio’s order, we closed the school right before Spring Break. Way back then in the middle of March, we imagined we would be back in school before long. We’d have our vacation, do a few days of distance learning. Then, poof! Back to normal.
Instead, we know now we are in this for the long haul. This. Teaching and learning from our homes to our students’ homes. Teaching and learning that depends on strong enough WiFi, access to devices, spaces for learning that are sibling free, healthy family members, quiet dogs, cats who don’t crawl over the keyboard. In my home, where I set up a temporary office—really a card table and a standing lamp–I suffered yesterday from “internet instability.” From time to time, that diagnosis flashed across my screen. Those on a call with me would say from their Hollywood Squares cubicles, “We’ve lost you, Ann,” and I would bleat, “But I’m still here.” My husband, tech wizard and fixer of all things, grimly connected my laptop to a cable roughly the length of several football fields. He plugged the epic cable into our router, moved a few plugs around, and said, “Call me before your next Zoom call.” I was stable all day. Well, the internet seemed to think so.
My writing these days feels perfunctory, mechanical. I think about what needs to be said, offer as much information as I can, struggle to reassure but not to over-promise. I long for words to flow from my fingers to offer comfort, to soothe my community. When my children were babies and toddlers, my off-key lullabies gently lulled them to sleep; it felt miraculous to me that my voice—an embarrassment to my mother whose unself-conscious perfect pitch reproaches me even from her grave—could be so comforting. In the gray light of these chilly March days, my words feel less useful than bedtime melodies.
What I want, I told some other women friends of mine who run schools, is a crystal ball and a heaping portion of patience. The unknown and mysterious is fine for writers, good, even as we plumb the depths and shallows of our psyches, but to dwell in limbo stinks for people who lead schools. Most schoolteachers like control, like to know the answers, like to parse out learning. Classrooms are our kingdoms. As a lifelong English teacher, I know the answers about the length of an assigned essay, the correct way to cite a quotation, to craft a thesis. I know when papers are due, what the homework is, and why we have a special schedule on Wednesday. I know about comma splices. Teachers know stuff. And we like it that way. This pandemic, thrust upon us, has upended my sense of control. Everything feels muddled, cloudy. I seem to have lost my certainty, my clarity. Fear licks around me in headlines and press conferences and whispers.
I have lost track of time except that March seemed to drag on and on. Briefly, I considered making a mark for each day on the card table I set up to be my temporary office. Zoom meetings make me want to cross my eyes. I try not to squint and am grateful for the chance to see my colleagues. I scribble notes on a pad of lime green stickies that migrated to my card table.
Adults and children in my school look to me for reassurance. I drag sentences from my fingers, send them out in countless letters, emails. The other night, exhausted after almost two weeks of what we ludicrously and oxymoronically called Spring Break but was really two weeks of hard labor as we pivoted to on line learning, I wrote a Mad Lib to entertain myself. Almost any principal or teacher in the country could fill in the blanks.
Any date between March 2020 and September 2020
Dear families/tuition paying parents/space aliens,
I write for the large number th time this week/month/hour to keep you apprised/abreast/aware of developments at school name regarding head lice/strep/recent pandemics. As I have written many times/often/so often that you are bored to bits, the safety and noun that means well-being of your spawn/offspring/little wretches/darling children is of utmost importance to us at school name. So, with recent developments mandated by the governor/the czar/some rando from whom we are taking orders, we have made the decision to close school name for the duration/until hell freezes over the foreseeable future/the moment.
Make no mistake. We will continue to be guided by our mission and values/what we read in the newspapers/fear. We remain committed to diving into the unknown and using your children as lab rats/delivering the powerful curriculum you have come to expect/making it up as we go. Our faculty stand at the ready/are completely freaked out/can’t wait to change up their practice and embrace creative risks in this new way of delivering curriculum.
I will continue to be in touch daily/every hour/when I feel like it. I encourage you to take breaks from social media/take up decoupage/become a hermit. Whatever you need to get through these stressful/riotous/ depraved/unprecedented times.
I know we have the fortitude to manage/lose it entirely/be more creative than we have been in the school’s whole history. We will get through this challenge/plague/apocalypse and be stronger/decimated/reduced to a carbohydrate coma for it.
Warmly/optimistically/too tired to think,
Head of Best School Ever
Words, it seems, can still amuse me late at night. I send my Mad Lib to a few friends, glad to make them smile. Relationship, I note, is still the most important thing, however uncertain I feel, however utilitarian my writing. Pandemic notwithstanding, connection is good.
Ann V. Klotz is a writer and teacher who lives in Shaker Heights, OH during the school year and in an obscure mountain top resort called Eagles Mere, PA during July, where she works — with varying degrees of ferocity — on a memoir-ish collection. Her work has appeared on the Brevity Blog, in Literary Mama, Mutha, Thread, The Feminine Collective, Grief Diaries and The Manifest Station. She’s proud that her chapter on becoming a teacher was included in one of the In Fact anthologies published by Creative Nonfiction. You can follow her on Twitter at @AnnKlotz or read her blog: www.annvklotz.com