March 13, 2020 – The Day America’s Classrooms Stood Still

Last year at this time, I was still teaching in a classroom with my students.  An ordinary event that only now a year later seems extraordinary.

I marvel at how that final week of me as a classroom teacher after 31 years transpired.

I find it fascinating how the last day of real school was a Friday the 13th.  If you wrote that for a movie, it would seem cliched.

Where I worked, it was the last day of the third quarter, a shortened day ending around 12:30 p.m., right before the start of a one-week spring break vacation.

For the past couple of days, rumors were flying that schools would stay closed an additional week or two, and that schools would not resume until early April.

Two unusual events happened to me during that last week.

On Tuesday, March 10, I had two guest speakers from Cal State Northridge give a one-hour presentation to my 10th grade English students about an upcoming concert that some of them were going to see.  “Violins of Hope” was a traveling exhibit from Israel which was coming to the West Coast for the first time.  Dozens of violins saved from the Holocaust and restored by a master violinmaker would be on display and, more amazingly, played in live concerts around the Los Angeles region.

One of the guest speakers was a violinist who played during the presentation on one of those rescued violins.  It was quite an emotional moment for my students and I.

What made the proceedings surreal was that a city official was invited to watch the mini-concert, and as he came close to me to shake my hand, I temporarily hesitated thinking about the news reports flooding the airwaves about the importance not to shake people’s hands since this new coronavirus spreads through contact.  Yet, shake his hand I did, more focused on not embarrassing him than my own health concerns.  As soon as I could, I sterilized that hand yet still worried throughout the day that I may have caught Covid.

Two days later, March 12, Glendale Unified held its last official school event, the Scholastic Bowl, where five-member teams from all four high schools compete in a game show-like setting on stage in a school auditorium answering questions from an array of academic categories.

I was the coach of Hoover’s team and, like another Hollywood moment, my students won the competition to cap off my 12-year run as coach—what a send-off.

However, a pall was over the two-hour proceedings because the district had announced that no one would be allowed to watch the Bowl in person due to virus concerns.  Only the parents of the students were in attendance to add their sparse applause to the cavernous auditorium.

Less than 16 hours, “have a nice spring break” would be the final words I would ever say to students in my classroom.

Now that is not a Hollywood ending to a 31-year career.  But who knew what was to transpire?

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