We are living in a time that will change not only us, but society. So let's take a moment to take a breath.
As I lay in bed last night trying to go to sleep, my thoughts kept going back to not quite 20 years ago and the first society changing event in my lifetime. I remember my hair in a towel and the text from my friend on my taped together Nokia phone. I remember watching the second plane go into the tower. I remember wondering if class at UT was canceled. I remember going to campus anyway, so we could all watch news coverage together. We were broadcast journalism majors after all. I remember watching that plane crash into that building again and again until the networks decided it was probably the wrong thing to keep airing. And then I remember going back to class. I remember graduation. Walking the stage only a few months after 9/11.
Years later, on the anniversary of 9/11, I would look at my students and realize they had never known a pre-9/11 world. They would never know how it feels to be greeted by family at the gate when you get off the plane. They have never known a world where the United States is not in some sort of armed conflict in Afghanistan or Iraq. They will never know a world where you don’t get a finger wagged in your face for forgetting to throw away that bottle of water in your backpack. Ah, the days when your wine key would not have been confiscated by TSA. They will never know a world where Middle Eastern restaurants were actually labeled Middle Eastern and not Mediterranean because of xenophobia and discrimination (not that it wasn’t there pre-9/11, but it was surely stronger after).
And now we are here again – almost 20 years later – living through an event that will not just change the United States, but also the world. But this time, there is no getting back to class. There is no graduation ceremony. There is no vestige of normal in sight. Instead we are stopped. Inevitably paused while frantic medical staff fight something we do not understand. We are locked away in our homes, marinating in fear – for our health, the health of our family, our community, for our finances, for our economy, for the world we once had, for the future we may have wanted. And, in a way, we are collectively grieving something we can’t quite put our finger on.
So now I think about the students that the teachers I work with teach – the students of today. For some, their final year in high school is essentially over. No prom. No senior honors. No final softball game. They may not even get to have college orientation. Students thrown into an online, distance, remote learning world that none of them were prepared for. And their parents weren’t either. I think to myself – I’m an adult and have no idea the best way to navigate this. I have no idea how to handle my consumption of social media. I know I need to stop, but I am also drawn to it because I want to know. I try to get outside and run, but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. I’m an adult, so how are children even beginning to make sense of what is happening?
And the youngest children and babies – they will not even know or remember what the world was like pre-COVID-19. They will not know any better. They will accept the new “normal” as what it has always been. They will not have to grieve for the world that once was. They will also take for granted the hopefully good changes that come about. They will not understand that it took a pandemic for sweeping policy changes to happen (and I hope some happen).
So take a moment each day to center yourself, and help your children center themselves, because we are in uncharted territory. We are living through an event that will change society across the globe. We are living in an event that will create a new normal. So if at-home school, doesn’t look like “school,” it’s ok. If the schedule is off, and if schoolwork takes a different turn, so be it. What is happening now is bigger than a test, or an assignment, or an essay. If it all seems like it’s too much and it’s just crazy, it may just be. So give yourself a break. Give your kids a break. We will all navigate the world of education together when we can actually be together again.