A few years ago, I was teaching kindergarten and everything seemed normal, except that I was having a great deal of back pain. I had an MRI done to see if I had a slipped disc and learned that I had a tumor the size of my little finger inside my spine. Needless to say, I was in shock. I was terrified about the surgery, but I was also worried about my students. I couldn’t go back to school but I didn’t want to just disappear and have them wondering what happened to me. Then I remembered the Duffy the Disney Bear that had been our class mascot that year. I took Duffy with me when I went in for the tests before surgery and my husband took pictures of him with nurses and doctors.
I wrote a letter a day from Duffy that would tell the students something like, “I saw Mrs. Litton yesterday and she is doing very well. She misses you and wants you to remember to practice your sight words.” I added a picture of Duffy at the hospital to each letter and then I emailed them to a dear friend, who would make sure that the substitute read a letter from Duffy each day. My kindergarten kids loved the Duffy Bear Project. They thought that Duffy Bear went to see me at the hospital after school each day so they began writing letters and drawing pictures for Duffy to deliver to me. Concentrating on getting the Duffy Bear project ready helped me by giving me something positive to think about during those stressful days before surgery and helped my kindergarten kids deal with the trauma of their teacher suddenly disappearing.
I highly recommend having a stuffed animal as a class mascot. My kindergarten kids already had a connection with Duffy from using him in class. He sat at the table were everyone was on task. My kids read to him. He reminded my kids that he had tiny little ears and they hurt when they were too loud. I never dreamed I would use him to stay connected to my kids when I was having emergency surgery, but I am so grateful that using him bridged the distance from my hospital room to my classroom.