We stand precariously on unstable ground that may crumble beneath our feet at any given time. Sometimes we ask ourselves why we even plan, making a vain attempt at control of a situation that seems to elude control.
We do stand, though, looking forward because that is our only option. At times, a fall below the ground where we stand seems inevitable, but there is no hope in anticipating this fall. Hope is linked to the future; it does not exist out of fear for the present.
The first week of school has come and gone. I never dreamt that my thirtieth year of teaching would commence with a regimen of sanitization, plastic shielding, and colorful face masks. I could never have anticipated that I would resign myself to planning for one week at a time for the foreseeable future.
I greeted the Class of 2021 with a cautionary enthusiasm, wary of covid transmission and tentative about beginning an in-class routine which may be moot should we fall back into distance-learning. Still, I wanted to put a smile on my face for my students, one that could shine behind a plastic shield.
I began class by putting my figurative "cards on the table." I told all of my classes about the emotions coursing through my body that day. I was beyond excited to be back in school but was concerned that meeting in person may not last long. I shared my fears, explaining that my wearing scrubs allowed me to feel more comfortable going home to my elderly mother. I asked them to help me uphold our safety protocol for not only my sake but for others who were concerned about their health. I dug deeper into how I felt last spring when our worlds changed abruptly and that I am still dealing with the loss of what made teaching so special to me.
I looked at the masked faces sitting in front of me as I wondered whether anyone out there was feeling the same as I did. Did anyone understand? It is so hard to read expressions that are hidden behind multi-patterned masks and dark gaiters. And so we wrote.
I took my new students on a path that began in the here and now. In an impromptu essay entitled "The Road Back," I asked them to write about what they were feeling at this moment. Were their emotions the same as mine? I turned on Carolina Story's "Wildflowers" for some background music then walked around the room as all of my students wrote. Five minutes later, we journeyed to last spring to examine how they felt not returning to finish their junior year in person. Were they angry? Lost? Happy? Ambivalent? I played Hayes Carll's "Times Like These," and they wrote even more. We finished the reflection with a final paragraph about their hope for the future as a really nice version of "Country Roads" by Whitney took us home.
I felt good talking with my students about how our past experiences greatly influence the current state of our hearts and minds. Yes, it is perfectly fine to have all of these different emotions, and, more importantly, it is vital to give them your consideration. The wonderful aspect of this moment was learning that behind their masks many students feel the same as I do about this world right now, and I honestly believe we found some hope for the future together.