I’m a teacher. My job is to teach children-teenagers-everything English. It is what I was called to do 10 years ago. So as I sit here in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I can’t help but think about what I will teach my students when we return to school and our new normal.
What can my English classroom offer a student who has possibly lost everything in a horrific storm? A student who is staying in a shelter wearing donated clothes because all he could carry out of his flooded house was a duffle bag and the clothes on his back? A student who has braved the tragic conditions to save others from their nightmare of rising water and tangible fear? A student who didn’t flood, but is watching his friends and family suffer the stress of life-altering devastation?
Staying indoors for 5 days straight offers ample time for reflection, so the answers to my questions have come. My classroom has not changed–it is quite possibly the one stable place that Harvey couldn’t touch. Not that he didn’t try. My classroom will remain a safe place for my students to write through the pain they feel. It will be a microcosm for the amazing unity we are seeing in our area. It will allow my students to talk to their peers about shared emotions. It will give students the opportunity to write to process, to share, and to unite. It will be a place where tears are shed and spirits are renewed. It will be a place where students can learn about compassion and what it means to be a community through real-world experiences right in our backyard.
I am not sure I could think of a stronger classroom than that.
And I will lead the way as I always do–through modeling with my own Harvey experience. And when I do, it will probably look something like this:
As I sit here writing these words, I am not even sure what emotions I’m feeling anymore. Fear. Shock. Disbelief. Fear. Sadness. Guilt. Fear.
I don’t think I will ever forget this storm. The fear I felt Saturday night as the rain and wind ripped through my neighborhood is indescribable. At one point, I just wrapped my arms around my sleeping three-year-old daughter and hugged her close to my chest- not to comfort her, but to comfort me. I needed stability because I had absolutely no control over what was ensuing outside my window.
Texts poured in throughout the night- friends and family checking in and reporting the surreal nightmare unfolding before our eyes. Water ferociously crawled up my yard, and I watched with panic. My Facebook newsfeed couldn’t refresh fast enough as I saw new friends reporting flooding with every second’s update. I finally fell asleep at about 4:00 in the morning as the howling wind died down to a soft roar, and the water stayed a few feet away from my house.
What I woke to on Saturday morning is what still sits in my gut. The national news channels- national, people- like CNN and The Weather Channel- were in a place so near and dear to my heart. The place where I went to elementary school. The place where I slept over at friends’ houses. The place my husband and siblings went to high school. The place that taught me what it means to be a teacher. The place I spent the first six years of my teaching career. The place where SO many of my friends and beloved former students live. The place that had been hit like a freight train by this natural disaster called Harvey.
There is something very eerie about seeing familiar places and faces on the national news.
I saw images of my friends on rooftops being rescued by more of my friends selflessly putting themselves at risk to save others. I saw even more of my friends and their babies, some only days old, riding in boats to their safety and riding away from the lives they had known before the storm. I commented on all that I could, but with each comment, my words felt less and less valuable. How many times can you say, “I’m so sorry. I’m praying for you.” before it means nothing?
I received more texts from friends and family far and wide.
“I saw Dickinson on the news. Are you okay? What can we do?”
The scenes I watched on TV and social media were shocking. But the weird thing was, I didn’t cry. All day, I held it together. Probably because I didn’t want to worry my daughters. And probably because I was numb to what was going on–I just kept saying that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Until one picture came across a text. My childhood friend had been out all day on his boat rescuing people in Dickinson and knew I would want to know how our elementary school, the school my two daughters currently attend, fared in the storm. That’s when I lost it.
Once the tears started, it all came rushing forward. I cried for my girls who no longer have a school. I cried for my friends who no longer have a home. I cried for my former students who lost everything. I cried for my sister whose husband drove her suburban up on a trailer at 2am as the waters rose fast beneath his feet threatening to enter their home. I cried for my family who no longer has a church. I cried for my coworkers as I read their terrifying scenarios of rescues from rooftops. I cried at the thought of the stories I haven’t heard yet. I cried because I am stuck at home, flooding all around me, unable to get to those who need me–even if it is just to give a hug to say what my words can’t seem to express.
But behind the tears is an incredibly proud spirit that knows we will bounce back–as a community, as a state, as a nation. We will pick ourselves up and pick up those who can’t find the strength along the way.
It is very easy to let the guilt creep in as I think about why my house was spared in the flood. But I have chosen to focus on the answer instead of the question. I know why I was spared- so I can help.
I will help my students cope through reading and writing. I will listen to their stories and cry right alongside them, all the time reassuring them that we will get through this. I will teach them that through dark times, we must look for the light. I will be that light for them if they can’t seem to find it anywhere else.
I will help my friends clean up and start over. I will volunteer my time to tearing out soaked sheet rock and ripping up soggy carpet. I will offer my home to the ones who are now homeless. I will hug them and catch their tears on my shoulders as they try to pick up the pieces and move on.
I will help my daughters clean up their school and the teachers there (one of whom is my sister) replenish their classrooms. I will help the school rebuild and crawl out of the hole of destitution Harvey has created.
And through all of this, I pray that I will help the world see that there is hope for humanity. If you can’t see it, just come on down to my community and watch because it is in full force all around me.
Now move out of the way, Harvey, we have work to do.
Bio: Megan Thompson is the Department Head of English at Clear Creek High School. She teaches AP Literature and Composition and Pre-AP English I. When she isn’t teaching, she spends most of her time chasing around her daughters, Aubrey (5) and Maycee Jo (3), and spending time with her husband of 7 years. Follow Megan @teacher_mmt