This being teacher appreciation week, I wanted to not only wish all teachers a very HAPPY teacher appreciation week, but I also wanted to send you a message of hope and inspiration, as we are in the middle of our unprecedented time in quarantine, and for many like myself, heading into the last few weeks of the school year
Like so many of you, I have had to adjust to this new type of at home learning. While many people call it home learning, or at home learning, or even online learning, I feel that these phrases and descriptions do not totally embrace what this really is: pandemic learning. The entire educational system has been disrupted like never before, and to describe it as anything less than that is truly doing us all a disservice. For some reason in education there is this tendency to minimize the bad and overemphasize the good. During these times, it does us a disservice, as so many of our teachers and students face dire life threatening circumstances. If its okay with you, let’s agree to call this what it really is; pandemic learning. Is that okay?
Now that we agree to describe this for what it really is; now what? We transitioned all of our curriculum to our online platforms, we have figured out more or less our zoom capabilities, we have tried and tried again to get our “teaching” practices online and have made assignments tailored to fit our new online mediums. But now what?
How do we continue on when kids don’t show up? How do we press on when not all of our students are responding to our various cries and pleas for assistance? How do we deal with unexplained death, sudden job loss, and students lack of participation or increased depression?
And on the flip side; how do we deal with students who are thriving in this environment? Those students who no longer feel the societal pressures of conformity and are free to be themselves within the walls of their own personal spaces? Students who’s anxiety and mental health issues are now expressed less, and who can now truly enjoy their education and learning, and who are possibly doing even better in this new framework?
The answer to each of these scenarios, or truly any of the situations that could be conceived underneath this new bell curve, is you. You are the answer to each of these situations, because YOU are the glue that is holding this all together. Let me explain.
As the teacher in the classroom, you are the direct contact between the curriculum and your students. Every assessment, every assignment is done THROUGH you. You are the ambassador of the curriculum and of the lesson as well as representing each of your students and making sure that the lesson connects with the students, and vice versa. You are on the front lines with respect to learning; the person on the ground that not only watches it happen, but makes it happen as well. And please do not downplay those teachable moments that were outside of the prescribed curriculum or lesson plan; those are probably the MOST important lessons of all. Those moments when you went off topic to correct a behavior or went off on a tangent from a student asking a questions; those are moments that turn into experiences. And those experiences are what makes learning and teaching so valuable, because those experiences are a direct result of you
And this is where you matter most
When your students used to walk into class, their enthusiasm and their desire to learn was directly connected to their relationship with you; because as the ambassador for the lesson plan and for them, your presence is what flavored each moment, and turned it into an experience. And it was the experience of YOU that made each class what it was. And this doesn’t relate or correlate to “good days” and “bad days”. Its difficult to quantify “good” and “bad”. Because i’m sure on your worst days, the kids might have surprised you and you were able to pull off a really good learning experience. And on your best days, I am 90% sure that you walked into the classroom fully energized and ready to have your students learn, for it only to go up in smoke and your plans totally destroyed or dismissed.
At the heart of what I am talking about is authenticity
Your best days in your classroom were the days when you were most yourself; when you were the most authentic, the most true to who you are as a person. The days when you had nothing planned, fell behind, but managed to pull it off were probably your best days because you were fully “into” yourself and were channeling the best parts of you. The days when you had it all planned out, but nothing seemed to work, were probably not your best days because it was prescribed; it wasn’t you.
And this is at the heart of what we are all missing; authentic moments. We are missing real interactions with our students, we are missing being able to feel the energy of our classroom, missing the excitement (or dread) of the day, and missing those few moments where we could catch our breath, and then jump back in. There was an aliveness, a rhythm, a heartbeat that we all experienced in the classroom. For better or worse we were ALIVE in the classroom! Sometimes we were barely hanging on before we lost our minds; but we were living, we were very much in the moment. And that authenticity, that presence is what our kids and us are missing.
Because now we are reduced to a clinical screen; an artificial window. We are Rapunzel in the tower, looking out, only there’s no fresh air to breathe, and there is no where to climb down or out; at least not clear right now. Our kids must feel even more helpless, as they too are dealing with the collateral damage, with more effects to come.
Right now more than ever, our kids need authenticity; they need to know what is REAL. They need truth and they need YOU!
They need YOU to be a present and authentic. They need you to laugh when something is funny (just like in the classroom), they need you to be real when you are feeling sad, they need you to be excited when something exciting is happening, they need you to be a PRESENCE and to be PRESENT
This is a golden opportunity for you to maintain those relationships in your classroom by being true to yourself, which is what they want also! Be that example! And while I know many teachers are going through very difficult times as well (none of us are spared from this scenario) it is more important than ever to share your story with them. Of course, share what is respectful and responsible as an adult with a child, and be age appropriate, but share your thoughts and feelings as to whats going on, not only with the lesson, but with yourself as well. Your authenticity MATTERS and YOUR PRESENCE MATTERS MOST OF ALL!
This is where teachers gets their true power; from their presence. The more present you are, the more authentic you are, the more your students learn. Why? Because you become not only an ambassador to the lesson, but YOU become the lesson. They learn THROUGH you and because of you, because you are real; you embody truth. And that’s something we all need, especially kids, who are themselves 100% present. Kids live NOW. They don’t plan; they are here fully 100%. They need you here with them.
As we turn the corner and head down toward the end the this school year, I urge you to let your guard down, be present. If you are feeling sad, be sad and let them know; if you are feeling happy, be happy and let them know. If your students are acting goofy, be goofy with them! If your students are feeling sad, be sad with them. If only for a moment, understand them and connect with them on that level. The lesson will be learned, the tasks will be accomplished, but we have a wonderful moment for authenticity and for us all to connect on a human level, regardless of the screen or the window in which we view the world.
Your Presence Is Your Power and Your Purpose
Your purpose is to be YOU! This is where your power is! Your power is in your presence!
And this matters because they matter; and so do you.
Now, more than ever.