“Trash Fire” Credit: My dutiful husband

A Trash Fire Day In NYC

Today I woke up and it was raining. No big deal normally, but since it was raining I chose not to ride my bike to work. And since it is a global pandemic with Covid rates rising north of 5% in my neighborhood of Woodside, Queens I chose not to take public transportation. That meant I must drive to work, pay for parking in a garage since street parking is impossible in Long Island City, and then pray to the parking gods that I find a Monday or Wednesday alternate side parking spot when I return home so that I don’t get a parking ticket the next day.

As I left my apartment building to find my car, that’s when I saw the flames. Right outside our courtyard gate. It shouldn’t have surprised me, being 2020 and all, but it was a literal trash fire. Not a dumpster fire- that would have been far too contained- it was a trash fire open on the street ready to spread to the parked cars nearby. So I called 911 as I hopped in my car to drive to work. I wish I had snapped a photo for irony’s sake but of course I work for the DOE and if I am just one minute late this behemoth bureaucracy is most diligent to dock my pay and put a letter in my file noting my tardiness and delinquency. Instead, I called my husband as I drove off hoping he would make sure the fire department arrived and no further destruction took place.

When I got to work I felt a mix of nervousness and excitement. The same mixture I’ve felt everyday I’ve gone in person this school year. I love my students and I love getting to see them and spend time with them in person but there is also the inevitable moment when they pull down their mask to let out an enormous sneeze or they start a coughing fit and run straight into my arms for comfort or when they excitedly tell a story or shout something out as their oversized mask falls down their tiny little nose and drops below their lips just in time for remnant spittle to come flying at my face. No big deal normally — after all I did know what I was getting into when I signed up to be a Special Education teacher working with kids with severe developmental disabilities.

Today was especially exciting because cohort A was in person for the first time since mid-November. My students with autism need consistency and structure to maintain a sense of calm and equilibrium. Now that they are back in the building I can finally give them that…right? I could certainly try — until 15 minutes into the first period of a highly structured art class routine when a fire drill commenced. We hurried outside, around the corner, through a mess of staff and students from the multiple schools in our building and after a few minutes standing in a field while it rained on us, we were ushered back inside to quickly clean up before the end of the period. “Just a quick movement break” I joked to break the staff’s rising tension and children’s confusion.

That was when the first student started to cry. Loud fire drill sounds, broken routine, not understanding why he must put his coat on in the middle of art class to walk outside in the rain for five minutes, being pulled through crowds of people on the stairwell — all this triggered his sensory overload. As my para and I rushed to clean up and help our student calm down another staff member popped into our room to inform us that two adults in the school building had tested positive for Covid, so we would be remote the following day, most likely back on Wednesday but be prepared for a snow day/remote instructional day on Thursday.

Of course. I’m so glad we all just crammed into a single stairwell to practice fire safety when the administration knew full well that members of the community had been exposed to Covid. Of course. Today was Cohort A’s first day back, tomorrow they will be at home, Wednesday we’ll be back again, then Thursday there will likely be a snow day. Of course our instructional schedule is determined by the hybrid model today, temporary remote model tomorrow, hybrid model Wednesday then fully remote model for the hypothetical snow day on Thursday. Of course. Parents have questions and we have no answers. Of course. One of the staff who tested positive is our building’s night time custodian- the one who visits every single room in the building to “sanitize” for the next day. Of course.

Any other year, today might have been a trash fire of a day. But of course today, in this year, my school administration, the DOE, the mayor and our governor keep telling me it’s no big deal.

Special Education Teacher, Psychotherapist, and New Yorker