The conversations about what has been lost in education over the past 6 months are hard to hear. It pains me to think of children who were already at a disadvantage losing the best access they had to education, food, shelter, safety, etc. As schools do their best to start a new year, for many with limited resources, the inevitable loss will only accumulate.
I’ve spent some time pondering the losses and gains that have occurred directly as a result of COVID. Here are some of my recent musings.
The biggest loss for me has been the sense of community that is easily built when you can see faces, hear spontaneous laughter, watch children grow physically and emotionally, and simply be there. Whether with students, families, or other staff members, no matter how many blogs I write about making it work, the community aspect just won’t be the same.
Routine has been another loss for me. As I wasn’t setting up a classroom in the traditional sense, the picture memories on my phone popped up to remind me of the various classrooms and students I was once welcoming this time of year. I took for granted that every year I would improve, set up, take first-day photos, build trust, and create a home away from home with students. It makes me wonder how this might change in future years as well.
Then there are the goodbyes. Last year I had no idea that Friday, March 13th, would be the last day kids were in school. We said “see you soon,” hoping we would make our way back to the classroom, community, and routine where we had spent the previous 5 months. We didn’t know that if we didn’t get that last handshake, high five, or hug, we wouldn’t have another opportunity. The end of the year, usually a time when we celebrate accomplishments, congratulate growth, and look forward to a new year, was met with questions and fatigue like I’ve never seen or known in the classroom. Kids, teachers, and families fizzled out earlier than usual and it felt like everyone dragged themselves through the last couple of weeks.
I once heard someone reflect on the quote, “When one door closes, another door opens.” He said, and I’ve seen the same sentiment attributed to many other famous folks, that the struggle for him was that when the first door closed, he often spent too much time looking at the closed door, wishing it would still be open. In this way, he didn’t take the time to turn around and see another door had opened.
Thinking about the past 7 months and COVID in education feels the same. It is easy to see the loss, to see the closed door. I think it is just as important to see the doors that have opened. For me, personally, working at home meant I also spent a lot more time with my 2-year-old. His daycare closed so we were spending all day, every day together. Was it challenging? Oh, yes! And yet, I got to witness his first jump. I saw him start to string words together into sentences. We planted a garden. We ate the tomatoes we grew in that garden. All those moments would have been missed if we were still living life as normal.
I’ve also seen, in families I teach, that they have come up with their own creative ways to live a new reality. Families from all backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and work situations have reflected how they got to know their kids in a much deeper way than ever before. Instead of just learning how to read, write, and do math, kids were cooking, learning how to connect in new ways, taking time to sit still, gardening, doing online yoga with their family.
The greatest challenges of our society have been brought into a glaring spotlight through this pandemic. While we can mourn the academic loss that might be facing students now, we can also take action and think about the inequities built into our current systems. We can rethink education in a new way – what do we really value when it comes to the next generation. Hopefully, this will be our biggest gain.
As you make your way through this new school year, what are your losses and gains? What doors have opened for you?