Academic and Social Absence

A dark image of a high school classroom that is empty except the teacher.
An empty classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Jo Ann Bell.

Jo Ann Bell works as an office manager and administrative support person in a private independent high school in Berkeley, California.  She is an avid reader, loves people and travel and especially the written word.  She is a 2010 graduate of Oakland Voices and after several years away has returned to join the Oakland Voices Alumni group. Below, she shares more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting her school.

The teachers at my high school where I work  have been remote teaching since the beginning of the shelter-in-place order. And although the closure was implemented quickly, they have managed to keep their smiles. During Zoom staff meetings you witness them joke. They laugh while they hold their own children; while they sip their coffee and discuss their students and teaching. They try to keep the staff meetings light but as full as possible as they try to keep whatever link to the physical school they can. All this while as they venture into uncharted territories: for themselves, their colleagues, their students. Teachers are preparing to teach, support, and provide for their students. 

As I watched them last week during a video staff meeting, I wondered how each one of them is personally handling this since they have their own families. They have lives; they have partners and wives and husbands; they enjoy the company of friends and pets. They have supportive lives outside that help them to return to the classrooms. I wondered how they are making it through this this unknown territory, one that we are all experiencing. 

So tonight as we ended the staff meeting, I asked them if they would send me one word, just one word apiece that would express their thoughts, their feelings. I hope to share their thoughts reminding myself these are the thoughts, expressions, and heart felt feelings of the teachers of today:











As the shelter-in-place and school closures are now extended through the rest of the school year, I found their thoughts even more profound and full of feeling since little did they realize at the time that the separation was to be extended. 

One of the staff members, Anne, is not only an administrative employee, but also drives for Meals On Wheels in her spare time. When I asked her about her experiences, challenges, fears, and hopes she was kind enough to share her thoughts. “I’m a Sagittarius, so I like new experiences and trying out new things. I’m also an optimist so facing all the changes we’ve been confronted with has been something of an adventure for me. I don’t mind working from home and finding new ways to do my job. But I know I’m more fortunate than most people. For one thing, I have a job that I can do remotely. I have a home, a loving, supportive family, and enough food to eat. So knowing that I have so much, I try to help those who aren’t so fortunate. I’ve been volunteering for Meals on Wheels for the last couple years. Food insecurity is bad even in good times, but it’s been made much worse now. I’m glad I can continue to deliver meals to homebound seniors, and I’ve begun volunteering at a nearby school to pack and distribute lunches to low-income families. Working with other volunteers who come out day after day to make sure people are fed gives me hope. We’re going to face some very tough times ahead, but I know we’ll be looking out for each other to help us through.”

For high school junior Jasmine, I asked her about how she was feeling as she responded with the one work “reflection.”  She further shared, “The biggest challenge for me has been the social distancing part. I love interacting with other people and FaceTiming with others is just not the same. I miss hanging out with people more. I have a weird and selfish fear that this shelter-in-place procedure is going to negatively affect my grades and my score on the AP exam. There have been some good aspects. Firstly, I have gotten to do some songwriting, and my brother put together a beautiful video of me performing. And I have been able to watch movies long movies, which I would otherwise not watch. It has nonetheless been confusing times. The first thing I am going to do when this is over is spend time with some friends. Maybe I will go to the movie theater and have dinner at a restaurant. “

My personal thoughts are: make every minute count. These are just one of the many thoughts that I have experienced since the shelter in place started. I go from frightened to resigned, to confused, lonely, and ultimately annoyed. I am at times resentful of being alone, which brings more feelings of fear. This is such a foreign and unknown feeling and I am too old for this kind of confusion.

It’s not just the virus that I’m afraid of. It is this human contact that has made me realize and admit it’s the solitude that I am afraid of. The admission that I depend on touch therapy. Yes, I depend on people therapy, and people interaction, and the stimulus that I received often just by brushing against someone in the supermarket or from saying hello to the teller at the bank or the ability to walk into the grocery store the car repair, the hair salon, the book stores: all of these little things that I as a person who lives alone, take for granted. Those contact opportunities were my compensations for being alone. This experience, this isolation, this mental entombment for me has been more than just an awakening—it’s been an epiphany.   

I watch the news constantly and am touched deeply at the dedication expressed by responders and health care workers but I am also saddened when I hear about those victims who have died alone.  

A recent post said it all “I think that when the dust settles, we will realize how little we need, how very much we have, and the true value of connection.”

Author Profile

Jo Ann Bell works as an office manager and administrative support person in a private independent high school in Berkeley, California. She is an avid reader, loves people and travel and especially the written word. She is a 2010 graduate of Oakland Voices and after several years away has returned to join the Oakland Voices Alumni group.

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