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Taking Care of My Students, Taking Care of Me: A Teacher in COVID Time

A text by Michele Matthews

Autism Advocate, Aunt, Teacher

I was packing my instruments after my last Music Class on March 12 when the secretary came in my room to ask if I had travelled out of the country during March Break. I had, to Punta Cana. It was my first all inclusive vacation ever, but that's another story! A few minutes later, all school staff were told not to come in the next day. I was kind of excited to get another (what I thought would be) short vacation right after returning from vacation. None of us realized what would come next.

By Monday, everyone but essential workers was in confinement. Everything had changed in a couple of days. It was a bit scary; no one really knew what was happening or what would happen. We thought we would be returning to school by the end of March, but that soon turned into April and then May and we were still at home.

Now things were getting a little stressful. As someone who has difficulty with anxiety and depression, I knew I needed a schedule and routine otherwise things might get hard for me. I live alone, so I had no one to take care of. All my students whom I normally support all day were no longer around. I made more of an effort to take care of me. I went on walks a couple of times a day. It was a great way to get fresh air, exercise, listen to music and build that regular routine that was so necessary. I read a lot more, cleaned a lot more and cooked a lot more. Things were good.

When remote learning began, it was a new stressor. It was great to connect with the students again through Zoom and FaceTime, but once I connected with them, I also connected with their families. I heard from parents who were struggling with having their autistic child home all the time. Some children didn't understand and were extremely anxious that their routines had been disrupted. Some parents were overwhelmed with their special needs child and their other children at home trying to home school them and take care of them all at the same time. They had no reprieve. I started to feel their stress and wanted to take care of my students. I wanted to be safe and take care of me as well. Very slowly, I decided I needed to make my bubble a tiny bit bigger. In order to take care of me, I realized I had to take care of my students and their families. It was all intertwined.

It's almost August and there are still many unknowns with regard to 'Back To School' in September. Whatever happens, I know I will be here to support my students and their families, because ultimately, that's the way I take care of me. We will stay safe and healthy, and we'll all take care of each other. It's all going to be alright.

Michele Matthews

Autism Advocate, Aunt, Teacher

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