Three weeks of frightening stories, face masks, hugs, tears, pictures of friends’ houses burned, and the new terms: #campfire, #paradisestrong, #ridgestrong #buttestrong. No one has been left untouched. My fellow teachers, most who lost houses, and some like me who lived in nearby towns, attended emergency school board meetings and listened to local press conferences. We were left wondering, “Where is school now when the town is gone, the students are scattered, and most of the staff are homeless too? Where do we go from here?”
Three weeks with no schools. Usually this would be a time of rest and rejuvenation, but this was forced school closure with fires raging, polluted toxic air, and worry all around us. Weeks filled with phone calls to families, hours on social media, visits to skating rinks and trampoline parks to bring students together who are still close enough to gather, and hugs for all.
So now what is the new normal? How will we rebuild when we can’t return to a town that does not exist anymore? It is like a ghost town of rubble, the aftermath. Most schools burned or were damaged. The main buildings of my school were saved by the firefighters, but our sixth grade teachers lost their classrooms and smoke has damaged what is left. We cannot return to gather personal belongings or school materials. Twenty-three years of teaching memories sit in room 101, awaiting my return someday.
Normal now: in one week, my staff met in borrowed schools, cafes, teachers’ homes, donated space in meeting halls, and at the food court of the local mall. How can we restart school when we don’t have a place to meet, let alone teach? And who will return to a storefront of online learning when students are living in motels, campers, friends’ homes and some in tents? I am hopeful that we will rebuild our student population even if we don’t have a structure to house us just yet. We look to the new year and January to see where we will land.
As the deadliest November came to a close, the rains came and brought flooding and more evacuations. While the water subsided, people’s fears had risen again. Uncertain what school will look like for us now, we prepare to teach online and tutor our students from a storefront in the local mall. And still I wonder, will we ever find normal again?