It is Enough
Teaching in a COVID world.
The existential dread of the pandemic never seems to let up. We are nearing the two year mark under this cloud of uncertainty. Remember when we were sent home in March 2020 for two weeks? Right. It didn’t exactly work out that way. And as much as I believe in science, and I do, it has been disheartening to watch the CDC first get pummeled, and then basically… change their minds every few weeks on some aspect of this or another. What that tells me is not that they are disorganized, or demoralized, or mismanaged, or any of those things. What it tells me is the great and vaunted CDC is just not sure a lot of the time because… this one has no precedent.
So there’s that. And as teachers, we too have been whipsawed. First we’re home for two weeks, and then longer, and then we start the new year in HyFlex format, and then we go home, and then… on and on, back and forth. And our leaders on school boards are being berated by angry parents who do not like whatever decision they make. How do they think this is helping?
And our students! They have, for the most part, been such good sports about all of this. I have been most impressed by how they take every change with equanimity, and adapt. But there is no way this is not taking a toll on them. I remember last year, about this time, I realized I had to just let my students talk about what was happening to them. The stories were heartbreaking. It has been incredibly hard for them too.
And we are their teachers, and they look up to us. They want to see a calm sea, a teacher in charge who understands what needs to be learned and has a plan to get there by the end of the semester. And some days… we just can’t. Or at least we overwhelmingly feel that way. But our students depend on us, and so we get up and go.
Here is what I want to say to you, at the beginning of a new semester. You are enough. Whatever you can give is enough. Follow your instincts with your students, and it will be enough. This is not normal. This has no precedent. If you have a day where the total of what you can bring would have disappointed you in the past, give yourself grace. It is enough.
Reserve whatever you can for yourself, your family, and your students. Stay away from booze so you sleep better. Stay off social media. It makes us feel like we should be doing something more, saying something more, clicking that insignificant “like” button as if it will make a difference. The polarization, echo chamber, micro-celebrity, catastrophe-hyped world that lives there is not solving any problems. You are not missing anything by not being on it. It is not offering your brain a rest, but rather filling it with confusion and discord. It is too hard, it is too much.
Today, as you read this, I will be participating in an ancient ritual and finally lay to rest a dear, beloved friend and mentor. His name was Bert Womack - that is a picture of him, at work, above. A former Marine, cop, and priest. He was a surrogate grandfather to my children. A fiercely loving man who founded a homeless shelter to look after those less fortunate. Thirty years later, it still provides essential services in our community. He died in April, 2020 (not from Covid, but age). I loved him, very much, and he was the one I went to for the tough questions. He said to me once:
“Stay focused on the students, David.”
I have heard him say that - in his gravelly voice - over and over in my head since he died.
We have not been able to have a proper funeral for this great man almost two years since he died. We will do that today. I have my first class of the semester on Monday - it will be online. I will bring whatever I can to the enterprise. It might not be much. But if I stay focused on my students, it will be enough.
You are enough. Your students are enough. It is enough. Please remember that.
Letters of Recommendation
I have previously recommended George Saunders’s book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. It is a wonderful book that provides a rare chance to watch a great teacher teach what he teaches. Today’s recommendation is Prof. Saunders’s newsletter Story Club, in which he does much the same thing. Most recently, to a very short story by Ernest Hemingway:
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from the Korean-American author Min Jin Lee:
I’m not interested in living in the type of world where the winner takes all. I know the people of that world. I know why that world exists. I know the profits and the gains that a person can experience moving through the world with that kind of attitude. But I also know that it’s not a very fun world, and it’s not the world in which you want your kids to live in, or your neighbors, or anybody, really. So I choose to avoid it.