School starts on Monday.  I love the first day of school.  It’s a new beginning.  A chance to start over.  The first day of school is full of new tennis shoes, new backpacks, new uniforms, new school supplies, new faces.  There are few experiences you can have as an adult that compare to the first day of school.

But this year is a little different. 

This year has had a bit of the joy sucked right out of it.  Instead of shopping for fresh school uniforms and new shoes, parents are also making sure their students have face masks.

Masks.  For school.

I’m still bumfuzzled by the very thought of it.  In our state, students in 3rd grade and above are required to wear masks.  Younger kids can choose to wear masks, but aren’t required to.

We had a meeting this week in which our P.E. teachers had to make sure it was okay for the kids they take outside to run on the track to take off their masks.  Seriously.  We can’t just assume common sense.  We have to ask permission to do something as “common sensicle” (yes, I know that’s not a real word) as taking off a mask to run outside in 95 degree heat.

There are so many unknowns this year. 48 hours from when I’m writing this, we will open our doors to students who are still excited to start school.  They won’t care that we will be constantly sanitizing everything they touch.  They won’t care that we are constantly reminding them to wash their hands and stay 6 feet apart while they’re walking down the hall.  They won’t even mind that someone will take their temperature before they are allowed into the building.

They just want to come to school.  A place where there is structure and safety and love and laughter and learning and friends.

I normally teach around 600 children from PreK to 5th grade.  I teach music and it is a joy.  We sit on the rug and we sing silly songs and we get up and dance and we laugh (a lot) and we learn about the orchestra and the 5th graders learn a little Italian so they understand music notation, and we talk about life and how music can affect you in so many ways.

It is the best job that anybody could ever have.

But again, this year is different.  In our state (Louisiana), we are currently in Phase 2 of the COVID-19 response.  In Phase 2, there can be no choir or band in the upper grades.  And even with my sweet babies, we can’t sing. 

In music class.

So I will be starting out teaching art to most of the grades.  Later, the older ones will be learning about different artists and composers.  I’m making cute shakers for the little ones so we can shake and learn about rhythm – without singing.  I will have to sanitize the shakers in between classes.  But I’m just glad I can teach them something about music.

We won’t sit on the rug because it’s hard to sanitize soft surfaces.  My beloved rug is rolled up in the back of the room – waiting for the day when we sound the all-clear and I can roll it out again. For now, we will sit in chairs spaced 6 feet apart.

Everything is different this year.

This is the time of year when I usually make a post asking for prayer for the upcoming year. 

This year, we need it more than ever.

I had a few quiet moments in my classroom yesterday afternoon.  I locked my door, turned out the lights, and I did what I do every year before school starts.

I prayed.

Because as hard as some people fight to keep God out of our schools, I don’t think I could survive if He were banished from my classroom.  I teach in a public school, so I don’t get to talk about God to my students.  But I can show them who God is by who I am.  And even if they don’t know I’ve prayed for them, they still need to be covered by God’s protection this year.

I’m very specific when I pray, because one of my favorite verses is James 4:2.  In part, it says, “You do not have because you do not ask.”

So I’m asking God to bless, not just my classroom, but all classrooms.  Because we need Him.

God, we need You.

If you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to pray with me.

Our health and safety.  There are so many scary things going on in our world right now.  COVID-19 is everywhere and it is relentless.  But so is God’s love and strength.  Please pray that my students and their families will be protected from this virus – that even if they contract it, they will be able to overcome it.  Please pray that our school will not be overwhelmed by cases and be forced to close.  Our children need to be with us!

Our virtual learners.  We have around 200 students from our school whose parents have chosen virtual learning for them.  I understand this need to protect children.  But please pray that we, as teachers, are able to still make them feel loved and safe and a part of our school family.  Please pray that these students won’t experience loneliness or feelings of isolation and that they will be successful in learning this way.

The doors.  Please pray that the children who enter the doors of our classrooms will feel welcome, safe, and loved.  Please pray that the darkness of negativity and self-doubt will be left outside our doors and that each child will be able to focus on learning.

The desks/tables & chairs.  Please pray that these little seats will be true centers of discovery for the children who sit at them.  Pray that the desks or tables will be arranged in a way that is beneficial to the children – so that everyone can see and hear and behave.

The walls.  Please pray that my classroom, from corner to corner, will be filled with God’s presence.  The children I teach come from many different ethnicities and beliefs, but I know that God’s love transcends all.  I want His love to wash over my classroom each day, bathing us all in His presence.

My students.  Please pray for my kids – face to face and virtual.  I would love to believe that each of them goes home to a picture-perfect family, full of love and support and a nurturing environment.  But that isn’t always the case.  There are kids with no furniture in their homes.  There is no electricity.  There are children who hungrily gulp down the free breakfast and lunch at school because there is no food in their homes.  There are children who never get hugs or kisses or kind words.  There are children who never hear English at home, and yet, they are expected to speak, understand, and use it in the classroom.  There are children whose lives I could never survive – and yet, they are expected to come to school and LEARN!  Please pray that our classrooms will be safe havens for them.

Their parents.  Please pray that the parents of these children will partner with us to educate their children.  Please pray that they will trust us and know that we love their children and want what is best for them. Please help them to be patient with their children as we all navigate this confusing and strange new reality. 

Me. Please pray that I will be sensitive to the needs of each child.  Teachers are with these children more waking hours of the day than their parents.  During the day, we are responsible for so much more than the subjects we teach.  In addition to math, reading, English, spelling, science, social studies, art, and music, we must also teach morals, manners, self-discipline, respect, and compassion.  These we must teach through example.  Please pray that I will be mindful of the many pairs of eyes that are watching and needing me to be the best person that I can be.  Please pray that the love of God will perfume my words, my touch, and my actions.  Yes, I want them to learn to read confidently, to add and subtract with regrouping, to learn the directions on a map, to sing confidently with their peers, to express themselves artistically – but more than that, I want them to learn to be good people.  I want them to care more about others than about themselves.  I want them to grow up to be self-sufficient, hard-working, successful adults – and I want them to come to know God.  Please pray that I will take every opportunity to plant the seeds of His love. He commanded me to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” My classroom is my mission field. If I can’t preach the Gospel in my classroom, I must BE the Gospel for these children through my actions. I may be the only Bible they ever see.

Teaching is hard. Even under the best of circumstances, it is a tough job. As physically tiring as it is (and it REALLY is), it is mentally exhausting. Teachers pour so much of themselves into the lives of their students and they do it willingly. They end up bringing work home because there aren’t enough hours at school to get it all done. They lie awake at night worrying about someone else’s kids! They cry and pray over someone else’s kids! They love someone else’s kids! Their own children grow accustomed to sharing them with hundreds of other kids. Someone else’s kids!

Teaching isn’t a job. It’s a calling.

I hope that you and your kids have a great school year!  God bless you all!

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