When I said last week that there was nothing to be gained by worrying, I meant it. The rational and logical parts of my brain stand behind everything that I said 100%.
Unfortunately, the emotional part of my brain is not willing to listen to those well meaning rational and logical parts. The emotional part of my brain keeps kicking in every time I sit down to plan with questions that I can’t answer. Questions that leave me paralyzed. I keep wondering how to move forward when I don’t know which way is forward (or what will be there if I happen to arrive.)
Yes, I can distract myself and focus on other things, but the school year does not stop getting closer and the reality is that I have to plan. More than a have to, I also actually love planning for my class. Taking important ideas and figuring out how to share them is exactly what I’m passionate about.
But, I don’t love the panicky silence that pops into my mind when I try to act like this is just another year of school. I need a way to take some of the power away from the blanket of fear that is wrapped a little too snuggly around the world.
Let me start again, this time by acknowledging that I am worried (even though I know better). I’m worried about the larger issues of death and illness, but mostly my mind is buzzing with the logistical difficulties of keeping everyone safe and at a distance from each other (when I know in every fiber of my being that it is impossible.)
I’ve heard it’s good to acknowledge your feelings, but my feelings are now simply looking at me skeptically. Acknowledgement; check. Now I need the next step. So far when I’ve been trying to plan, mostly I end up freezing and getting nothing accomplished. My mind becomes so full of questions that all other thoughts get out of the way. I need a step that will not try to squash those ever present questions, but will allow me to move on whether the questions are there or not.
My next step ended up being to write down my questions to try to keep them from piling up in my head. There were lots of questions, but I just kept writing until they didn’t come anymore.
Then I really looked at my questions.
I realized my questions fell into 3 categories. There were questions that I needed answered by someone else, questions that had no answer and questions that I needed to problem solve my way through.
When I was first sorting them, I really thought that I was just doing the mental equivalent of moving piles of paper around on my desk, but when I’d finished there was actually less of a scattered mess than there had been before.
The questions that I needed answered, I wrote in an email and sent to my principal (OK, I didn’t send all of them at once because I like my principal and didn’t want her to feel under attack.) The questions that no one knows the answer to (how many students will come back? How much French will my students’ have retained? How will my hearing impaired student cope with not being able to see anyone’s lips?...) I just had to write them down and file them away in the wait and see category.
The third bushel of questions that emerged, were the most interesting. These were the questions that I realized were up to me to make the answers. Instead of helplessly feeling that I didn’t have any answers, I realized that the answers hadn’t even been invented yet. I will have to use my personal and professional judgement to do what I think is best in an ever changing situation. Not xactly a comforting thought, but more empowering than feeling like all of the answers lie somewhere out there beyond my grasp.
After all of that, I started to plan, but for real this time.
I decided to immerse my students into a theme for the first half of the year and looking over the curriculums I needed to cover, my theme became energy. This means that instead of teaching English, math, science, social studies, health and French individually, we will look at how they all come together in the experiencing, using, discovering and making of energy. We can come up with questions and explore some answers. We will look at how energy is used in our bodies, our schools, our communities and other communities in the world. We will look at different kinds of energy and their impact on the world. The beautiful thing about a theme is that exactly what we look at will be determined by what the students are most interested in. Their passion will feed our learning.
Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about feeding my students’ passion for learning. It’s not about catching them up in French, improving their reading scores or developing their math fluency.
It’s not even about Covid.
It’s about developing the skills, curiosity and resilience to make it through this period in time. These are the skills I have to work on with my students and the exact same ones that I have to keep building for myself.
Every new period in history requires adaptation and we may hate to change, we may fight that shifting spiral with everything we have, but the truth is that we are pretty damn good at adapting. If we weren’t, you would see humans on the endangered species list. If we weren’t actually good at changing, there wouldn’t be 7.8 billion of us.
I don’t have the answers, but at least now I have the questions. This doesn’t make it better. It doesn’t take away the threat of illness or the fear of the unknown, but it does empower me to know that I am not just a piece of sand being washed around by the tides. I am part of a period in history and I will keep breathing and doing my best because as a teacher that’s all I can do.