August Angst

These are very strange days indeed, these brutal August days. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but clearly we are living in extraordinary times across the board. It is safe to say that no one alive on Earth has ever faced what we are now facing on the daily. How do we retain our sanity in the midst of such unprecedented chaos?

As I often do on this blog, I’d like to share a personal story of what’s happening in my own life at this moment. This spring, before the pandemic upended our entire society, I applied and was accepted into a Masters of Teaching graduate program at University of Colorado, Denver. I was scared, excited, and had to work through relentless mindtalk about my ability to accomplish such a massive undertaking. I’m sure that, for some, getting a master’s degree is simply the next item on their life’s to-do list. But not for me. I’ve sort of done my life in a weird reverse order in some ways, therefore working towards higher degrees wasn’t on my radar until mid-life. That’s where I am now.

The fall semester of 2020 started this week. After a very uncertain summer, the university decided that most courses would be held online, either asynchronous or remote, which means we all join a Zoom meeting once a week. I’m sure that many of you are experiencing similar ways of meeting, either as students, for your jobs, or by helping your children with their own online classes. Will this become the new normal for education? Nobody yet knows. We are going into this school year with myriad questions, but not many answers.

Four years ago, I returned to university to finish up my bachelor’s degree that I never completed back in the days of my twenties. For two and a half years, I loved going to classes, studying for exams, reading lots of books and scholarly articles, and writing many papers. I took classes I was interested in and enjoyed. School was great! I was actually sad when it was over. Then I took a year to contemplate what I should do with that degree, what path was next in my life?

https://studentlifethespot.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/10-inspirational-quotes-for-students/larson/

As I looked and reflected deeply within, the idea of becoming a licensed teacher kept coming up, and even as I shrugged it off or tried to ignore it, that invitation would not leave me. I used many arguments against the voice. What about my age? I’m not in my twenties and full of invincibility, I told it. Didn’t matter. What about all the crap that teachers have to put up with in public education? They complain all the time about the low pay, long hours, fights with administrators, and badly behaving students. Didn’t matter, the invitation remained. What about the amount of work it will be to actually do the master’s program? And the internships- I will have to borrow money in order to work for free at a school for two semesters? And the cost of grad school?? Yikes. My mind would spin out into these whining rants over and over.

And yet. Whenever I took a deep breath and remembered my students from the past year of being a literacy tutor, their faces, sweet smiles and stories would calm my mind. Every single time my mind would mess with me, then I’d think of those kids and drop down into my heart space. What I know, deep inside, is that those kids needed me last year. There will be others who will also need me to be with them, helping them to learn, to cope, to grow through their childhoods in good ways. If I give up before I start, I am letting them down. And I cannot, in good conscience, do that to them.

So, here I am, the first week of this crazy semester, trying to figure out how to get my footing as I begin this ascent. How to organize my time with four online classes? Only one has a formal meeting day and time for the 2 hours, 45 minutes of Zoom class (ouch). The others have syllabi, schedules for readings, assignments and due dates, and discussion threads. Without having to leave my apartment to go to campus and meet in person, it’s up to me to figure out how long each day should I devote to each course, to the readings (most of which are done on my laptop), and to taking notes (in a Word doc? In a notebook with a pen?).  Geez… I sort of feel like I’m back to the basics of how to do school. Then, there ‘s TECHNOLOGY.  Oh my goodness, it is more complex than ever!  The more apps and fixes and hacks the techies create (supposedly to help students) the harder and more difficult it seems to become. Oy.

As I struggle through each day of this longest, hottest, strangest summer ever, there are many moments when I either want to complain, give up or break down. At those moments, what seems to help the most is remembering that there are many millions of other people who are going through similar or way harder struggles than me. None of us are immune to the pain and hardship of these days. My heart is breaking for the folks in California, and my own Colorado, who are running from the wildfires during the extreme heat and dry winds of August. We’ve been here before, during the past decade of drought and extreme weather conditions. The global climate catastrophe hasn’t gone away just because the world is engulfed in the 2020 pandemic.

Dear Readers, are you finding good ways to cope with your own lives and challenges? This unusual summer will soon give way to perhaps a beyond unusual autumn. I wish you all strength, courage and loving guidance to be with you, as you traverse your individual paths and we collectively move into the unwritten future. Keep your chin up!

Our surreal reality show

Hey dear Readers, how are you all holding up? I have been struggling to find words to describe all the myriad feelings, thoughts and questions which come and go during these peculiar days on planet Earth. Tonight’s blog post will be a bit of a ramble, I’m afraid.

The reality show we call life is becoming ever more surreal with each passing day. One incredulous thing after the next keeps happening, with increasing intensity. More and more, the veils are thinning, and people are awakening to the nightmare we’ve been living under. Dimensionality is bifurcating, which is a crazy way of saying that awakening humans continue to ascend into higher dimensions, or frequencies on the cosmic spectrum of being. I immersed myself in the 10 day live event, The Harmonic Convergence 2020, from July 5 through 14th. No, I personally did not see starships with my naked eyes as I meditated in the park on the night of the 13th, although according to the organizers, lots of people did. This didn’t surprise me, however I definitely communed with benevolent and loving beings from some of the star systems in our galaxy. It was the highlight of my summer, given all the factors. Check out this link to learn more about ET contact during the Harmonic Convergence.

After the blissy Harmonic Convergence days, the past week felt like living in a foggy place, which is such a paradoxical feeling! How can one go from feeling so connected to the cosmos, the star nations, and higher realms, to coming down and realizing, “Oh right, but I’m still here in this reality full of Covid fears all around, political chaos and intrigue, and an ever encroaching climate crisis in full swing?” It’s pretty exhausting. Are you also feeling the confusion of this time, dear Readers?

I’ve been paying particular attention to the very bumpy plans for reopening schools here in the United States, and especially in Colorado where I live. The school districts are having a hard time sticking to a plan, since the numbers of people infected with Covid 19 keeps changing like the tides. As an educator who is looking for work right now, I’m especially interested in what school is going to actually look like for fall semester. And it doesn’t look good. There’s a long list of what will need to change to keep students and teachers ‘safe’ in school, and it’s heartbreaking. On the list are things like, No touching. No sitting in groups. All students must face one direction in separate desks. Masks are required, and highly encouraged for the youngest students. This means students and teachers won’t be able to easily read facial expressions, nor see smiles or laughter, scared or tearful faces. Schools up until now have been prioritizing Social Emotional Learning, which in my mind requires being able to clearly read other people’s faces, body language, and to touch each other when that is needed. How do school administrators expect young students to not play together, hug their teacher, or get along well in such a sterilized, anti-human environment?

It’s a conundrum. Perhaps one of the saddest items on the Forbidden list is “No Singing.” Whaat??  They might as well just flatly state: NO FUN for the school year 2020-2021. Because with what they’ve got planned, that is exactly what school will feel like for most. Teachers are afraid (some admitted they are terrified) of returning to classrooms this fall. Parents are confused and many don’t feel they have enough information yet to make the critical decision of whether to send their kids back into school buildings or keep them home and sacrifice in-person learning. Still others have no choice—the spring was a bust, and they need their kids to go back to school and be there all day for economic reasons.

There is no clear path forward during this pandemic for the majority of us. Those of us (myself included) who prefer making a plan and carrying it out, are confounded by current events. What are some of the major life lessons of this time? The old rules no longer apply. What used to work for getting by in life doesn’t work anymore. What once felt stable and reliable no longer exists. Our government leaders don’t have many answers, and many have shown their true colors as extraordinarily incompetent. Life feels more uncertain, and in some ways dangerous, than ever before for many people. The future is wide open for interpretation. Therefore, besides being extremely disconcerting, the moment we find ourselves in is also strangely exhilarating. Because it’s like the I-Ching hexagram—Great challenge is also great opportunity. For those who are visionary, brave, and creative enough, this may be our species’ defining moment moving forward. How do we want our lives on Gaia to be in five, ten, fifty years? Will we stand for authoritarian rule to become the norm in previously democratic societies? Will we choose to create a dystopian future world that nobody wants to live in? Or, will enough of us wake up just in time to stop the madness that is plainly on display by world leaders, and create a healthy, just and joyful future world for everyone? We are on the precipice of major changeover. What do you think? Where do you stand? What kind of future world do you wish for your children’s children?  These questions matter. If you haven’t taken the time to consider them deeply, now would be a perfect moment to do so. Thoughts are things, they create our reality. What reality show would you prefer to be living in?

The Value of Small Gestures

 

student_pajamas_virtual learning
This is how many kids are doing online learning during Covid days.

The end of this most unusual school year is finally upon us. Today was my last day of online tutoring . For the past five weeks I worked with students who bravely engaged with me through computer screens   Navigating through all this involved both huge challenges and delights. Along with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students, I learned two basic facts this spring: 1) we can teach and learn virtually–even with young children it is possible; and 2) it’s not nearly as much fun or satisfying to do school through computer screens (although it is nice to wear pajamas to school every day).

Society en masse experiencing shelter-at-home and safer-at-home orders has forced us to reconcile the lifestyle we all took for granted with a new way of living—apart physically, yet finding the most creative and innovative ways to still be together and connect human to human. We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable on the fly, and on all levels—mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. In my case, the emotional level has felt most extreme. Days and nights have been wide emotional pendulums, from feeling steady, happy, and even joyful at moments, to later in the day dipping down into anxiety, fear, and loneliness. We’re undergoing a grand human experiment of learning resilience in the face of adversity, and of experiencing grace under unprecedented pressure.

Through online tutoring, I observed that the kids adapted to the lockdown situation with surprising agility and often much less drama than many adults in the room. The biggest hardship for children, I’d guess, is their highly restricted social time with friends and limited opportunities for physical exercise. Teaching academic subjects is challenging enough through a screen; how PE teachers manage it is nearly incomprehensible.

Saying goodbye to my students, who are all between 7 and 9 years old, was an internal process that took many days. I realized anew how hard it is to say goodbye to people I grew fond of, and all the more so because of their innocence and vulnerability. The biggest learning for me during the past six months is that a caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Small gestures matter greatly—the few minutes that you give to really listen to a child so they can express what’s in their mind and heart will give them self confidence and trust in you.

This spring has shown many of us the value of small gestures. It has shone a spotlight on people that many of us casually take for granted—now deemed essential to the running of society. I believe that teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals, and school staff members are included in the group of essential workers for society. Although some parents and family members may disagree, I would argue that a child’s school community is a critically important part of their life, and what they experience within their school will either enhance their self-worth, intellectual, emotional, and social capacities, or do the opposite. Society as a whole must continue to support their local public education system, and not let corporate money interests dictate how the system is run.

As a last gift, I shared this music video with my students today. It’s an old song, and still sounds so good. I hope it brings a smile and few dance steps to your body, mind, heart, and soul.