Report from Louisiana: Closing the Classroom

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I went up to do my end-of-the-year cleanout in my classroom this week.  It was incredibly sad.

On a Friday morning at 10:30, second block should have been winding to a close and kids should have been anxiously waiting for the lunch bell at 10:40. The mid-day announcements would be coming over the intercom.

By the time I left, about 11:00, there should have been kids in the halls, duty teachers monitoring those kids, microwaves across campus warming up teacher lunches. The office should have been bustling, Mrs. Kiper, the secretary, laughing and lobbing wise cracks with kids and administrators. The library should have been filled with kids using the computers or playing board games at the tables. The courtyard should have been filled with kids burning off a little energy before third block. Teachers should have been making that last dash to the restroom before the long afternoon classes start.

None of that was happening.

The parking lot was empty.

There were ZERO students on campus.  My room was quiet as a tomb.

My room would have normally had a couple of kids in there eating lunch about that time of the day.

Instead, I found empty desks, library books abandoned in the baskets underneath.

I sighed, looked around, and went to get my things that I needed to work from home.

I missed the sound of kids, and the notes they would leave for me if they came by while I was out.

Every single kid was important to me, is important to me, and it just feels like we didn’t get to finish what we started. It feels tragic and sad…unfinished.

Their journals were still on my desk, graded, ready to return.

We left school on the Friday before Spring Break: March 6. My assignments from that day are still written on the board.

We all expected to come back to school when we left that day. Kids took library books home, textbooks, projects to finish, uniforms to wash, schedules to fill out for next year, and plans. They had plans for their graduation, prom, ring ceremonies, sporting events, and yes, academics. None of that happened.

So yes, all of that literally hangs in the air when you walk in the halls now. It’s a tangible thing.

I cleaned out the snacks I kept in my desk for kids that needed something to eat; that won’t keep until August. I took home my coffee cup, emptied the water in the Keurig. I looked through projects that weren’t finished, some that were, and I scored a bottle of GermX from my supply closet. I erased my board, bagged up things I needed to take home, and I turned out the light.

I am very curious, and perhaps nervous, about what school will look like when we return in August. While the Moderna coronavirus vaccine shows some early promise, there is still a long way to go before we have that option. A larger trial is expected this summer, but obviously won’t be ready before fall.

So, what will opening of school look like this fall? Smaller classes?  Online options? The typical high school classroom is not overly large and is usually filled with thirty or more students. Crowded lunchrooms, auditoriums, and even at university level, think of the crowded lecture halls. How are we going to manage these things?

Schools in Denmark opened several weeks ago with new distancing and hygiene measures in place and restrictions all across Europe are easing. Things such as staggered classes, sectioning off parts of campus, and no large gatherings are all options to consider. What of transportation? School busses filled with kids could also be a danger zone.

What are we to do? Hide from this virus? Wait for a vaccine? Or ignore it and get back to life as usual?

I don’t have the answers. All I know for certain is my own little world, my own small classroom, where sixty-five kids were upended in the middle of their academic year.

So much unfinished business.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

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