We texted, we called, we made jokes, we became angry and defiant, and then we paused and realized it wasn’t a game. It was real. The classroom and traditional education as we knew it, was stopping – at least in person. We were stepping into a pandemic and this was no snow day. We were angry, in denial, and ran forward and backwards through the stages of grief. In the panic of it all, some jumped in and blindly grabbed at the onslaught of free online technology to provide some semblance of order or to at least feel like we were moving in the right direction, and others retreated – not to be seen or heard from, in weeks – and some just stood in a daze and watched it all wash over them, absolutely frozen and overwhelmed.
Pain came in texts, memes, through anger, and swear words, “What do I f-ing do NOW?” “It can’t be done.” “If I can’t teach in the same room, I’m not going to teach at all.” “The students don’t know what to do.” “This is pointless.” And in the midst of the denial began millions of YouTube searches, discovery of online free platforms, finding virtual spaces, adjusting with media platforms, more texts, and complaints, but people stepped INTO.IT. Knowingly, forced to learn out of an immediate deadline and need that was given to everyone, by an invisible virus.
And in this terror and new reality, many found themselves as learners – adult learners – teachers, administrators, parents, school personnel – all found themselves on a continuum of learning. New learning. New relationships. New spaces.
As humans, we are all unique and every one of us needs different support. Every single learner is the variable because no person knows the exact same information as another, nor learns in the same way. Some adult learners began negotiating technology for the first time and learning what a URL was, while others learned how to provide support for their peers and guide with words and examples of what to teach. School administrators began to negotiate how to create a sense of order, education, culture, and care, in an empty, ephemeral space outside of the school walls – found somewhere between all students’ needs, equity and access, thoughts, computer screens, questionable Wi-Fi, the need for devices, and the vast open space of the universe and the larger unknown.
Hands shaking, tears falling on keyboards, swearing, deadlines of real work, walking away, hiding on calls, terrified…..adults became learners – every day. Some days better than others, some easy, some hard. Some overwhelming. Growth Zone, Comfort Zone, Learning Zone – we danced through all zones – some kicking and screaming and some leading with shaking hands, computers crashing, websites disappearing, docs not showing up, and words that made no sense…as brave teachers quietly revealed, “I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t understand.” “I’m so sorry – I didn’t want to ask in front of everyone else. What do I do?” “I feel so stupid, I’m so sorry for not understanding.” “Can you write that down for me?” “Can you show me.”
We. Adults. Are in the seat. The very seats that our original/traditional students have always lived in. Every. Single. Day. We are crying their words and phrases, feeling their fear, and living through feelings of loss.
In all of this, I’m wondering if we can now see and understand why students panic and cry, run away, make-up lies to cover what they can’t do, don’t know, or are just afraid to ask.
WE are that child, that learner, that student, that human sitting in a chair with fingers shaking or anger building, wanting to scream or run away as far as possible, as fast as possible.
Learning is terrifying – not knowing is frustrating – avoidance out of fear becomes overwhelming – and we are in it. We are feeling it all.
So may this historic moment in time – albeit a blip in the timeline of the expansion of our universe – be our reminder. A reminder to stop and reflect what it is to be a learner and to promise to use this new perspective when we look at the precious learners that will once again walk into our rooms. The scared learner, the angry learner, the student who shuts down, yells, or needs extra help. May we remember.
And the next time you hear a whispering voice asking, “Can you ask me that again?” let us remember our learning moments and to kindly and simply say, ‘yes’.