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?
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!