Please don’t make me finish the title until the last second has ticked off the clock. I may have developed a defensive outlook about this trip around the sun. While I know this Gregorian Calender measurement of time will soon be in the rearview mirror of our lives, it is still a battle avoiding the queasiness and wincing that come when I think about all we have been through in 2020. Can resolutions be far behind?
Dang! I just wrote 2020
My understanding, perhaps acceptance, of this year is coming into clearer focus. It has been an extraordinary year on so many levels, and thus a great opportunity for personal growth. It has also been an educational year because, dang, I learnt a lot.
Dang! I just wrote ‘dang’ again.
I also taught a lot, and despite it feeling like a roller coaster ride from hell along the way, it meant that there were many lessons for me as an educator in 2020 too. Which made me happy to find this quote below after thinking I made it up myself.
“If you are not learning, then you are not teaching.” Vernon L Smith*
A wise and gentle reminder that there was always something new to learn about ourselves, the students we teach, and the world around us during periods of unexpected loss, labour strife, professional uncertainty, and a global crisis. Smith’s words echoing loudly as I type. Here’s my version of it à la René Descartes.
I learn, therefore I am a teacher.
So here is what I learnt from hindsight/2020:
- Take time to grieve and offer comfort first when students/families are hurting. The lessons can wait. It hurts to lose a student to senseless violence. Our school felt this very deeply last January.
- Sometimes governments do not have the best interests of the population in their actions. Standing up to malfeasance and legislated tyranny is the right and a responsibility of all educators.
- Mental health matters more than marks. Students/educators who struggle will not miraculously get better after a call to a helpline or a conversation with a social worker/psychologist. It is a process that takes time and patience before progress. I learned that there is much more to learn in this area to better support students, colleagues, and myself.
Remember that no matter how many times people tell you to take care of yourself first, there have to be reasonable boundaries and supports to make that happen. An encouraging message from admin, a Board Director’s email blast, or the Minister of Ed is not going to suffice. Set your boundaries. Do what you can do within them. Take time to be still. The work can and will wait.
- Equity in schools needs to go way beyond a single day in the classroom, Orange/Pink/Purple shirt days are great starting points, but most not become performative events, but rather actionable beginnings to build on everyday in classrooms. There are so many amazing inclusion and equity resources being shared via school boards and social media for educators committed to allyship and activism in areas of Truth and Reconciliation, anti-black racism, LGBTQ2+, and culturally responsive relevant pedagogy. I learned that words in a classroom mean very little if they are not accompanied by opportunities to critically engage learners to become agents of change.
- I learned not all educators are ready to confront their privilege and unearned advantage. I also learned that acknowledging my own privilege comes with the responsibility to examine my pedagogy and practice. It is a chance to unlearn, learn, and then teach.
- If you are going to move into emergency distance learning within a short period of time, take it slow and make sure you have an ergonomic work space for those extended hours of screen time ahead. I learned that not all students have the same amounts of available space or bandwidth required for virtual school. I also had to accept that some students checked out the moment learning became asynchronous.
- Rethink, question, iterate, bend, blend, and break everything you have done in the past to teach. Say goodbye to “we’ve always done it this way thinking”. Reimagine your reading lists, your math instruction, your use of worksheets, your classroom management, and your assessment approaches. This will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Embrace the discomfort. Learn from it, and then teach forward knowing 2020 taught us all so much.
Thank you for a wonderful year at the speed of education. Please feel free to add what 2020 taught you in the comments below. Cheers to you all, and to a safe trip around the sun in 2021.
* There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.