Sometimes teaching can feel like throwing a basketball against a backboard. It's a game of back and forward, on and off, call and response, action and reaction. It's fast paced, and I like it that way. Students ask questions and they expect to get immediate answers. Or teachers try and teach something and we expect to get an immediate response from students. I often feel rushed when I'm teaching. We've only got 50 minutes to get through all of photosynthesis! Sit down and hurry up or we won't finish the lesson before the fire drill!
But part of the work of teaching is learning to slow down. And for me, that has always been really hard. I'm somebody who moves at 100 miles per hour. If you've ever walked with me anywhere, you know I mean this literally and symbolically.
Then along comes a global pandemic, where for once the universe forced all of us to slow down. Suddenly all of our external distractions either were cancelled, shut down, or rendered obsolete in the face of social distancing. Suddenly all we were left with was....ourselves. Just ourselves. Stuck in a moment of personal and national pause. With nowhere to go and with no end in sight. It feels like the universe is slowing the f*** down.
However, one thing the pandemic has taught me is not to panic when faced with moments of pause. In our fast paced and competitive society, we don't like to pause. We don't like to think or slow down. We want things to change for the better and we want that change right now! But there is peace and even freedom in being able to find moments of pause and marinate in them. I stumbled on a quote by the Australian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl that I think illustrates this idea well.
It's such a simple idea. I have the power to choose the outcome. I have the power to choose how a stimulus will affect me. As a woman of color in America, I was often told to believe that I have no power, that my ideas are useless or even wrong. But there is so much power in the ability to stop, find those moments of "space" that Frankl describes, and choose a reaction that best serves me.
Take teaching for example. Say a student has an angry outburst in class against me. Unless I'm able to engage with a pause, it's likely that I will respond defensively or maybe even offensively (I am the one in charge after all, right?) Part of the work of becoming better at classroom management has been practicing slowing down and marinating in that space between stimulus and response. The student gets smart with me. Pause. Think, why might this student be feeling so angry? And then engage with that student by prioritizing problem solving rather than fuel a power struggle.
But what about a pandemic? Suddenly the world shuts down and we are all living in this liminal space with no end in sight. At first I panicked. Why did we stop moving? I'm not OK with this! When is the quarantine going to be over? The ongoing pandemic feels like a global pause between what was normal and what will be normal. It feels like that space between stimulus and response that Frankl describes.
Then some beautiful things happened: people took the streets, people started speaking out, and I personally became more comfortable living in this pause that the pandemic brings- where the future is uncertain, people are putting their lives on hold until "COVID is over", and we're just left with ourselves....waiting.
So with the first day of school just around the corner, and with so much current and future uncertainty, how can this pandemic make us better teachers? I can only speak about what the pandemic has taught me. And I hope we as a collective can use these quiet moments of quarantine to reflect on the things that matter most to us. Because our lives don't have to be on hold while the pandemic is ongoing. There will be a life after the pandemic, and it's up to us to decide what that will look like and when we'll be ready to face it.