By CHUCK MURPHREE, Prairie du Sac
I start my school day like normal: coffee in hand, looking over my lessons and getting ready to greet my kids. My anticipation is high because I am not going to see them come through my classroom door; instead, it will be on a computer screen. I had one week to learn how to become a virtual teacher, and a virtual special-education teacher at that.
Then one at a time, like someone is swirling a magic wand over the screen in front of me, they appear. At first, they look at me like I’m not real. Perhaps I’m an alien. One student yells out, “It’s Mr. Murphree!” Another yells, “Dude, what’s up?” My eyes well up with tears because I haven’t seen them for a couple of weeks already, and the realization hits that this is probably how I will see them for weeks, maybe months, to come.
Over the years, my students have saved me in many ways. They offer me purpose and a glimmer of hope when my world turns hopeless. See, I have depression and anxiety. I have been very open about this because if I can be vulnerable about my own darkness, then maybe I can help others with theirs. After all, we are all in this world together, and this pandemic has raised that awareness even more.
So as I sit at my desk – my new virtual classroom – looking at the faces of kids whom I care deeply about, they give me hope once again. Just to see them – knowing they are safe, hearing their voices, laughing at their same old antics – brings me gratitude. It sets my mind at ease that we will survive this, too, and possibly learn from it and thrive.
Day after day, week after week, my students show up on the device before me, eager to see one another and to see what crazy antics I may offer on that day. I may greet them with music and dancing, dressed like Dr. Suess, Axl Rose or Where’s Waldo. We give virtual high fives and have virtual dance-offs, and then we virtually laugh, and sometimes virtually cry. No matter how engaging I try to make it, school is not the same without being in front of, and next to, my kids.
When class ends and I have to push the button that will blacken their faces from my screen, I let out a sigh each time. It seems like too much power to just end something so quickly. I sometimes sit for a moment and just stare at the darkness before me, seeing only my reflection, and long for the next moment when they will appear before me again. I long even more for the time when I get to sit next to them once again – talking, laughing and fist-bumping as they go on with their day. My students: They are still there, somewhere out there, and they give me hope.