I started substitute teaching for Frederick County Public Schools in 2018, taking several gigs a month around other work obligations. It lets me switch gears mentally and physically, while doing a little something extra for my family’s bottom line. In exchange, I provide an educator with an opening to take care of personal or professional business.

My last sub job before the world turned upside down was as a special ed aide at Walkersville Elementary School. It was on Friday, March 13, 2020. After dismissal, the teacher, the full-time aide and I prepped the classroom for the deep cleaning and sanitizing that was planned to go forward over the next two weeks. The optimistic intention was that during this hiatus, students were to complete take-home packets, as the school system tried to figure out how to resume business at the dawn of a deadly pandemic.

It turned out to be a late-in-the-year second commencement. Unable to bring the kids back to school, school was brought to the kids, as FCPS went entirely virtual, and remote learning became an ingrained part of life for over 43,000 students and their teachers and caregivers.

Since last spring, I’ve spoken with many parents, kids and educators about life in the varyingly all-virtual, sometimes hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous land of learning. For some it was a blessing, for others a stultifying challenge.

From all I heard, I was relieved, for once, to no longer have school-agers of my own to manage. I had enough trouble staying sane throughout roughly two decades of after-school homework battles. My imagination’s not vivid enough to picture what it would be like to have to monitor three children’s online schooltime while simultaneously running a home-based business. Without a doubt, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Once schools reopened to limited in-person attendance, I was hoping to return to subbing. As it turned out, circumstances severely limited my availability to take jobs; but I was able to accept one assignment as a special ed aide at Thurmont Elementary School. For a few hours, I was part of a brave new world. It was a real education for someone who’s been known to break into a cold sweat if anything outside the simplest use of technology shows up in the plans left by an absent teacher.

That April morning, I was awed by the cooperation of the students, and the patience and professionalism displayed by the two seasoned teachers with whom I worked, as they managed their hybrid classrooms. Minor technical glitches were calmly handled, and it was clear that a whole lot of above and beyond effort had become an all-round daily requirement.

From what I briefly witnessed firsthand, I’m convinced that among the heroes who emerged during the pandemic are both those who masked up every day and did all they could to keep our schools operating safely, and those at home who found themselves navigating through an unprecedented, extraordinary and stressful time. For more than a year, FCPS staff, students and families were engaged in a Herculean task, with a variety of mixed results but always with the goal of acting in the best interest of our community’s kids.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone involved has earned a solid A+ for effort — and maybe even a smiley face sticker or two.

Woodsboro resident Susan Writer is keeping her fingers crossed that we’ve seen the last of these strange and straining school days. Contact her at susanthinkingoutloud@yahoo.com. or visit her at Uexpress.com’s Ask Someone Else’s Mom.

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