Ten years into this teaching thing, I should feel like I have it all figured out, right?

This year especially, I don’t. In fact, I feel like a first-year teacher all over again.

This has happened before. When I moved from Lancaster area to my current school district, I realized that the experience I had teaching in a city charter school did not translate very well to my new rural setting. My first group of kids here made that abundantly clear as they took every strategy that worked in my old school and turned them into disasters. Hilarious disasters, but disasters none the less. I eventually adapted and settled into my now surroundings, feeling like I’m doing pretty well, most of the time.

This year, learning a new grading system and taking over yearbook combined with the threat of the county going red hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles, I’m stumbling through reinventing everything I do. And that’s leading to rookie mistakes. Lots of them.

It’s hard not to get down on yourself when you’re fumbling through lesson planning and fire drills like you’re fresh out of college. Instead of sitting in a dark room cursing myself, I’m trying to take a step back and reevaluate what’s causing me to lose my focus.

This year, the first day felt like it was more of a first day than normal. I wonder if I’m not the only one who felt that way. This is a different year, after all. One that will be just a tiny blip in the entirety of my career, but it looms large in the here-and-now.

We’re back to school, and everyone’s wearing masks. Our custodians are doing heroic work at keeping the school clean and running. The office staff is juggling more than normal as they have to ferret out who is doing hybrid, cyber, or in-person schooling. Administration is thinking through every scenario and trying to find solutions, knowing full well they can’t make everyone happy. School counselors are not only fitting schedules together like jamming round pegs into square holes, they’re also catching up on the kids who need that listening ear they’ve missed since March. Substitute teachers are bracing themselves to go into schools with even more unknowns than they usually face. And the students are trying to balance following new rules with the excitement of being with their friends again.

And there’s Mr. Bundy, struggling to remember the new(ish) way we do fire drills.

Leading up to the first day, news outlets were packed with stories of teachers and students being afraid and unwilling to go back. Now that we’re back, the vibe I’m getting at my school is that everyone wants to make it to 180 days in-person, but they’re trying to make the most of the time we have now in case that can’t happen. Believe it or not, people are more in-the-moment now than I remember them being. Even I am, which is causing those problems I mentioned as I see familiar experiences with new eyes.

The funny thing about fear is that it is worse before the feared thing happens. Once something bad happens, it’s done, we know what it’ll be, and we can start dealing with it. Fear loses its power then. The first day with all its uncertainties and new schedules and people in large groups happened. And, yes, 183,000 deaths (at the time of this writing) is still a cause for concern, but the bald fact that we’re doing this thing anyway has helped us square our shoulders and dive in.

My classroom smells like disinfectant and the keyboards to my computers are sticky, but the chatter of students working is back to the way it used to be. And while kids may complain about living in a small town, our towns’ smallness will probably help shield us from a lot of the COVID-19 wrath. And despite my constant reinvention frustration, there’s one thing that’s clear.

I’m happy to be back.

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Andrew Bundy is a husband, father, teacher, writer, and nerd. You can reach him at bundycolumn@gmail.com.