We don’t need to try to be the school teachers we are not, but we can try to be learners and thinkers who reflect on our experiences and are resilient and empathetic and loving and kind, and we can model these lifelong tools and values for our children here and now. No worksheet necessary.
Our children will not remember the classroom lessons they learned - or didn’t - in the time of the pandemic, but they very well could carry lifelong lessons in how we all treated each other and managed our way through it - human-to-human - even at a distance.
So, to my children, here are some things I hope you are learning in these first several weeks of a new pandemic reality:
Your education is far, far bigger than school.
There’s a lot to learn during a post-tornado, pandemic-driven quarantine when you live with a senior citizen and have family member with chronic “underlying conditions”. And, while, yes, I want you to practice your reading and keep your math skills fresh, it is a very different kind of learning that will turn tragedy into possibility as your life unfolds. These are times that help illuminate who you are and architect who you will become. Your education is a lifelong process most deeply rooted in presence with whatever life throws your way.
Every day matters, and you can’t count on tomorrow.
Some days this means you throw caution to the wind, and some days it means you proceed with all due caution. Some days it means you get a puppy. It’s part of your life’s journey to gain the wisdom to know the difference.
Your teachers love you.
And, your teachers miss you when school is out. And, they are not only willing to do what it takes to deliver your lessons but will even call you on FaceTime and chat for half-an-hour like you are lifelong friends who just needed to reconnect. What you talked about was not the lesson to be learned. That they called is the lesson.
Your teachers are creative.
Joy and creativity and good teaching go hand-in-hand. Your teachers often work in settings that limit their creativity and steal their joy by focusing their labor on Education rather than enabling their work in helping students learn. Those livestreams and videos and conference calls for you and your classmates are your teachers doing their work in new ways because their work matters to them, to you, to all of us. Their creativity matters - your creativity matters - and school should never take that away.
Your parents work hard.
(But, that doesn’t make us great teachers.) We work hard because we love you. We work hard because we want to provide for you. We work hard because our work is part of our sense of who we are. Hard work matters, no matter what that work is. If you are going to do something, do it with all you’ve got.
Help in whatever way you can help.
When you see a difficult situation, ask yourself: how can I help? It doesn’t have to be complicated. But, your ability to help starts with understanding the gifts you bring to the world and figuring out where those gifts can meet the worlds’ needs. If nothing else, you can always be kind. You can always listen. You can always treat others with respect.
Even if you can’t do anything, you can always say something.
When you don’t feel like you can help or don’t know how, dropping a note or a text and just saying something like “I had you on my mind. Sending my love” is good for you and good for whoever you send it to. Difficult times can make us feel alone and powerless. Your words can help remind you and others that we aren’t.
There’s always someone worse off than you.
So, there’s really no time or use for complaining. When you think of the frustration of a pandemic and how bad that seems for you, you can also think of your friend and classmate who lost everything in a tornado just weeks before. If you will pause and open yourself to empathy, you will always find someone whose situation makes yours seem relatively manageable. Then, you can ask: how can I help?
Our friends tell us something about who we are and where we’ve come from, and when our basic way of life gets disrupted and our sense of who we are and why we are comes into question, connecting with friends can be critically grounding. It matters even if it is virtual.
Physical health and mental health are closely related.
Getting up every morning feeling isolated takes its toll on a spirit. No amount of food or drink or vice of any sort can rejuvenate the spirit. Such things can soothe temporarily, but they cannot re-spirit us from the inside out. A few minutes of yoga, a walk, a bike ride, a short run, whatever it is - physical health doesn’t have to be long or complicated. Every little bit helps, and it helps our minds as much or more than our bodies.