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Coffee: A Teacher’s Constant Companion

By Paige Halligan

Consistency offers a certain sense of comfort during these very challenging and uncertain times. I’ve heard the state we’re in described as “fluid”, as everyone and everything is constantly fluctuating. I was advised to maintain a routine to keep myself grounded during my time in quarantine, so, naturally, I made a list. And what was the first thing I wrote on this new, life-directing list? Coffee.

Photographer credits: Haley Richter

Coffee has been an integral part of my daily routine for some time now. Before quarantine, I spent my mornings rushing around the apartment to put together a teacher appropriate outfit for school, brushing my teeth, taking my medications, and feeding my cat—the coffee machine already running in the background. Prior to that, I relied heavily on caffeine to get me through the long nights of graduate school. Now, I roll out of bed, put on my go-to slippers, and head to my bar cart which has transformed into an organizational system of jars filled with different coffee blends.

What was once a fixed pattern of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. has now become a scattered array of duties cropping up at all hours of the day. Instead of helping my students off the bus, I’m answering parent phone calls. Creating individualized lesson plans for each child and their complex needs has turned into figuring out how to translate motor-skill development and cognitive learning over a Zoom call. What was once the fixed hub of my day, i.e. the school, is now a Zoom conference room for the purpose of scheduling more Zoom calls. Meetings, workshops, parent/child learning—now these all need to be scheduled through a student’s guardian, who is also trying to find their own balance within this new normal.

Coffee is the one constant I find myself going back to amid all of the change. It’s become more than just a drink to keep me alert; it’s become a way for me to infuse a sense of normalcy into this ever-changing epoch. As someone with disabilities who teaches people with disabilities, I had expected I’d have been more equipped for the ever-changing status of things; that I would have been able to flawlessly adapt to this ambiguous landscape I now call Monday through Friday. Yet, I am doing what many other educators are doing: putting my coffee mug on a coaster and cranking out whatever creativity I can muster for the sake of the families I serve.

If you were to talk to any teacher in the midst of this global pandemic, they’d probably say something similar. Some even have to work a second or third job while they take care of their own kids and their homework after teaching students. We are all very, very tired. Whether you teach children, have your own children, or both, the need to feel grounded is important. This idea of stability is not just for kids—we adults need to adopt this notion as well, and I think now is as good a time as ever to find what it is that really centers us.

I’ve come to grow emotionally dependent on this odd, bitter bean juice. It was my companion during high school when I volunteered at the local fire department. It saw me through all-nighters during college. It has been my teaching assistant during late nights while writing lesson plans and grading papers. It was by my side when I got hearing aids last year, which suddenly granted me the ability to hear the gurgling of the coffee maker for the very first time, and it has gotten me through this summer as I wade through all the information on whether schools will reopen or continue to be virtual. Through it all, coffee has never wavered in its support. It has never let me down and does not mind being poured at 6 a.m. or midnight. For me, it has become a companion. Something steady. Every time I set my mug down on a coaster, I feel a connection to every other person out there trying to find new stability and hope, and I know that we are all in this together, one cup at a time.

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