Showing Up as a Teacher and a Student

Ivory Bennett shares the challenges of being a teacher and college student during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of Ivory Bennett

My name is Ivory Bennett. I am currently 29 years old. And I spent roughly 17 years of my life in foster care because of my mother’s extreme mental illness. At this point in time, I am a high school English teacher and a cheer coach, all the while being a full-time graduate student in two programs. By the end of this year I will be a professor, a principal, and have earned a master’s degree in education administration … or, will I?

I should also note that this is the first time in my life where I have felt any semblance of stability. In the months prior to COVID-19, I felt safe. I felt moderately sure of what I could expect in the future. And I felt hope that I could attain some sense of normalcy. After almost 30 years, I finally felt like I had a handle on life with an undeniable sense of power and agency over my life and whatever direction I wanted to take it.

Let me also add that I have a wonderful fiancé. He is Nigerian and currently in Nigeria. He is the most kind, attentive partner I have ever known. And we were at the final stages of receiving a visa – until the embassy shut down and Nigeria shut down any flights departing from or arriving to its borders. I’ll get back to this a little later.

In 2019, I was on a roll. I had a 4.0 GPA. I was on track with my Type 1 diabetes (That’s juvenile diabetes, not to be confused with Type 2 diabetes.) I had been accepted as a delegate into the 2020 National Foster Youth Institute. And I was making personal and professional connections that would undoubtedly catapult my career in a beautiful, meaningful direction. The year 2020 was my year. My decade. My roaring 20s. My Great Gatsby.

Then, January arrived. The longest January I have ever experienced. I fell ill with the flu for a few weeks. Then, I developed bronchitis with another unknown, acute viral infection. To be frank, I felt like I died at least three times in my bed. I was also stressed missing work and accruing medical bills, even with my health insurance. My health insurance sucks, by the way. I am grateful to be insured, but I wish it was of better quality. As a T1D with no financial support system outside of herself, health insurance and access to medical care is always on my mind.

I have said it before, I will say it again: I would have made different choices in life if I did not need to take care of such an expensive disease. And let me just say, I am very healthy. Most people do not know or forget that I live with a chronic, autoimmune disease. I would like to keep my health that way forever.

Nonetheless, I walked away from the flu, bronchitis and an unknown viral infection with an inhaler, some breathing treatments, and a cocktail of medicines to soothe the symptoms and sufferings – all of which cost a pretty penny. I say all this to say that I think I was one of the Americans who had COVID-19 before the actual pandemic declaration. Hopefully, I have some immunity established to carry me through these uncertain times.

At the time I’m writing this, there are almost 500 cases in Dallas County, with roughly 10 deaths. (Today, those numbers are 1,537 cases and 25 deaths) I have been self-quarantined for roughly two weeks. My introverted nature is well-equipped to deal with the limited interactions with the outside world. I would even argue that my time in foster care – being ripped away from familiarity and thrust into unknown settings roughly 12 to 15 times – prepared me for such a time as this. Dallas has issued a shelter in place until April 29. But it still looks and feels like most people are not concerned about the seriousness of the pandemic and the precautions will likely be extended.

Moreover, I have had to transition my ninth graders to online learning. I teach at a historically failing school, so this has been no easy task. All the while, teachers are being held to the same ridiculous standards of classroom teaching; none of it truly makes sense and none of it feels realistic. Also, my four graduate classes have been kicking my butt. I am so behind in my work. And I am an extremist. If I can’t give it my all, I have a hard time showing up. These last few weeks I have felt like I’m doing nothing right and it truly hurts my soul because I pride myself on my resilience and success. I am trying to push past feelings of exhaustion, mental strain, weirdness and uncertainty to show up as a teacher and as a student. Wish me luck.

Furthermore, what will become of this year? Will I be able to take my necessary state tests to become a certified principal? Will I even get to walk across the stage for graduation? All this hard work and sacrifice … what will become of it? Everything that I have been working toward and excited about has been postponed or canceled. It is truly sad.

And last but not least, my fiancé. I finally found my person. The one who loves me fully and freely for me. His family loves and supports me as well – I met them all in Nigeria last summer. When will we get our visa? Forget the visa, when will I get to see him again?

COVID-19 has definitely triggered many feelings of being a child in foster care. From food insecurity to financial uncertainty to feelings of abandonment and ostracization. It has been a strange, uncertain time. Fortunately, I have one of my best friends here. I have a great emotional support system with my friends and siblings. I have healthy coping mechanisms and good ways of dealing with stress. And in spite of the many uncertainties, I know I will survive. And I hope to thrive.

Ivory Bennett is a self-published author with a sincere passion for the creative arts. She has a dual degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Africana studies and English literature with a minor in theater arts. She is currently enrolled at Concordia University where she will graduate in December with a master’s in education administration with a principal certification; concurrently, she is a student at Texas A&M University – Commerce, where she is completing her professorship credentials. Bennett currently works as an English teacher and cheer coach. Outside of work, she has a strong commitment to volunteerism via her roles as a teacher ambassador with Give More HUGS, a foster care alumni mentor with Fostering Change Network Foundation, and as a 2020 National Foster Youth Institute Congressional Delegate. In her free time, Bennett loves experiential learning and being immersed in other cultures – she has a goal of visiting a new foreign country every year of her life – which is how she met her fiancé. She eagerly awaits her wedding and buying a French bulldog puppy.

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