Executive Director Dr. Kathy Wiebke, NBCT, reflects on the challenges of 2020 and looks ahead to 2021.Dec 16, 2020
My mom passed away on January 5, 2020, at the age of 85. At the time, I knew the year was getting off to a rocky start, but I didn’t know just how rocky it would become. I remember when my mom passed away a tremendous sadness and emptiness. However, I also found great relief. My mom had always been an active and vibrant woman. The 18 months prior to her death took a toll on her both mentally and physically. I remember on December 31 of last year, when she was hospitalized again, our family shared with her that it was okay to stop fighting, that as a family we would grieve but we would remember the good times and they far outweighed the bad. She had a long and healthy life. I remember being grateful that we had time to prepare for her death. I also remember watching her suffer and thinking death was far better than the life she was living in her final months.
At the time, cases of illness from the new coronavirus were isolated to China and, then, the state of Washington. I watched news stories thinking this will be like a lot of other things that come to us, not a big deal and we will find a way to combat it. That was naïve thinking. By the middle of March, we were lock downed. Masks, something I never dreamed of wearing, became something I would now dream of not wearing. I stayed home, limited my interaction with others, and embraced curbside pickup.
At the same time, like teachers across Arizona, we reimagined our work at the Arizona K12 Center. I remember being skeptical of our ability to pivot and provide quality professional learning in a virtual space. I was impressed at the steps our staff took and what we were able to deliver. I really did think that this pandemic would be over by the end of the summer. Here we are almost 10 months later, and we are still in a virtual learning mode. While it is not ideal, we certainly have gotten good at it.
While we were shifting how we did business at the Arizona K12 Center so were teachers across Arizona. Their lift was far greater because of the many variables out of their control. This pandemic exposed the serious inequities that exist amongst us. Not only did many of our students (and I suspect their teachers) not have access to the right equipment, let alone good equipment, many did not have access to Wi-Fi. Teachers all of the sudden had to find a vacant space in their home and turn it into their classroom. I think, like me, many thought that the new school year would be back to normal. By August, we were anything but normal. We had teachers teaching face-to-face, online, and, what I suspect is the worst of all possible options, online and face-to-face simultaneously. With a cacophony of mixed messages amidst a rising number of COVID-19 cases, teachers moved forward and did their best.
While I am exhausted from the heated debates, the lack of leadership, and the rising deaths, nothing can compare to that of our teachers and school leaders. They are the true heroes here, and yet many of them have been vilified for advocating for the safety of their students as well as that of their family and their own. They have been forced into a situation no one prepared them for and have cobbled together a solution. There have been threats of violence and name-calling as well as doxing home addresses and picketing in neighborhoods. People question their commitment to their students without understanding that teachers think of their students as their own children. They would do anything for them, but to that there is a threshold. We have lost so many good teachers this year who walked away when the situation became untenable.
This has been a year of too much death, too much sickness, too much divisiveness. Too many people have lost loved ones. I often think about the passing of my mom. I was prepared for it. In fact, on her last day, I spent the major part of it holding her hand and sharing memories with her. I think of all the people who were robbed of this opportunity. My heart aches for them. We have lost teachers, parents, and students this year. And, for the survivors, we still don’t fully understand the long-term effects.
Yes, 2020 has been a year for the record books. But in it are glimmers of hope. Front line workers in our hospitals became our new heroes. People came together to stand up for justice for all. We voted in record numbers. It was also the year vaccines were created to fight this pandemic.
On the horizon, I see hope for 2021. Hope that we will heal as a nation. Hope that we will stave off this virus. Hope that we will once again experience the joy of teaching children and not just subjects. Hope that we will emerge better humans for this experience.
It is my hope that we use this experience to remind us of the delicate nature of our democracy, the importance of the human connection, the moral imperative of kindness, and the fragility of life.