‘I Had To Learn How To Protect Myself’

Elementary school teacher Mel Georgiou created a club for gamers to help her students connect and discovered her own value as an educator.

A portrait of the author with script in the background
Courtesy of Mel Georgiou. Illustration by Jessica Martinaitis.
A portrait of the author with script in the background
Courtesy of Mel Georgiou. Illustration by Jessica Martinaitis.

‘I Had To Learn How To Protect Myself’

Elementary school teacher Mel Georgiou created a club for gamers to help her students connect and discovered her own value as an educator.

A year ago, I was packing up lunches at my South Side school for what most of our staff thought would be a few weeks of shutdown.

But not me. I knew the history of pandemics, having taught it to middle schoolers. I predicted we’d be out for probably a year — or more.

This whole year as a teacher has been very educational. I think it’s important to recognize what you learn out of any situation, good or bad.

I learned a lot about valuing my own skills as an educator. I very successfully led two classrooms of fourth and fifth grade students to learn a great deal about the world around them.

I helped students connect with others and supported them through a very difficult time with grace and courtesy. I advocated for their representation and well-being.

I created the first-ever gamer club at my school, and have been having a blast sharing my hobby with like-minded students while watching them enjoy socializing with each other.

Some lessons have been more difficult to learn. I am disgusted by the choices made by the city of Chicago government regarding schools and reopening — teacher’s safety has not been a priority.

So I had to learn how to protect myself.

I’ve been able to set clear boundaries and have taken a leave of absence this month to prioritize my physical and mental health. I used to sacrifice my time — and my well-being — for my job. Now, I have a new perspective on what’s actually worth protecting. I love myself at a higher level.

Since the start of this pandemic, I’ve learned how strong I am. I’ve been a support for my friends, for my family and for my students. I trust myself and my judgment more.

About the author: Mel Georgiou is a nerdy elementary school teacher who has lived in Chicago for almost 10 years.

Mariah Woelfel produced this story for audio. Follow her @MariahWoelfel. Jessica Martinaitis and Mary Hall produced this for digital. Follow them @jess_morgan and @hall_marye.