Tag Archives: teaching

Age of Crisis


So you know how you can sort of measure how old you are — what generation you belong to — by the first national crisis you remember? (For me, it’s the Challenger explosion — I believe I was six at the time).

Teachers play a similar game, except we do it with our students. For example, it was a rough day for me when I realized that I am no longer teaching anybody who was alive when 9/11 happened. My students these days had not been born yet — weren’t a twinkle in their parents’ eyes, even.

Which had me thinking … well … where’s their first crisis moment coming? These things roll around generationally, so one seems due.

And it hit me. COVID is their crisis moment. It just doesn’t feel like one.

Think of your moment. It’s just that, a moment. The Challenger going up in two pillars of smoke in the atmosphere. The Twin Towers coming down. The carnage at the Boston Marathon. (Smaller scale, but still nationally covered.) Lots of souls, tragically snuffed out in an instant.

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster - HISTORY

With COVID, you can’t point to that moment. You don’t have that strong sense of memory burned into your brain, that piece of you that somehow always remembers I was sitting in the classroom, three rows back, when the teacher rolled the TV into the room and turned it on… Because COVID has been going for months. There is no moment.

But make no mistake. This is the moment.

Here in the ‘States we’re knocking on the door of 200,000 people dead from this thing. (Unofficial numbers are certainly staggeringly higher.)

Roughly 3,000 people died on 9/11.

COVID has given us as many deaths as sixty-six 9/11s, and it’s far from finished. Put another way, it’s giving us roughly one more 9/11 every 3-5 days.

A 9/11-level loss of life every few days.

How could COVID not be this generation’s crisis moment?

And we still have people in our country pretending it’s no big deal.

Maybe that is the real crisis moment.


Go Between


A student asked me to say “hi” to another student yesterday.

The student receiving the greeting is a student he had texted, from my classroom, only a few minutes prior — and one he would text again, later in the evening.

But he still wanted me to say “hi” to him when he came in the next day.

See, our school is doing this “hybrid” schedule where we essentially have two student bodies alternating days in the classroom, so if your last name begins with a B and your friend’s last name begins with a W, it’s entirely likely you may not see that student at school until January.

So now, like Juliet’s nurse, I’m passing greetings from one group to the other, relating stories of what happened on Monday to the classmates coming in on Tuesday… even though these kids are all in contact with each other at the jingle of a text message.

I guess there’s still something about the human contact. Something in the fact that even though they don’t see each other, they do still see me; they share that experience, at least, and that’s something. Kind of like knowing that your long-distance girlfriend is looking up and seeing the same moon hanging in the sky as you talk on the phone into the night.

Right before she hangs up on you and runs out the door with Todd.

WHY, SHEILA??


Air Bubbles of Happiness


I remember in the old-school Sonic the Hedgehog games, in the underwater levels (every game back then had an underwater level or six, didn’t it?), there was this great little mechanic. The levels were far too long to make it through on one breath of air (however long an animated supersonic hedgehog can hold its breath), so interspersed throughout the zone were little fizzing fissures that would occasionally burp up a hog-sized bubble of air. You’d jump into it, get a bubble-popping noise, and your little blue guy would have another lungful of air to press onward with.

The game design was great, too, there’d be a little number flashing next to his head to show you how much time he had left, and when the timer was almost out, the music sped up and got all panicky.

But you’d catch an air bubble, and it would sustain you until you could get back above water, or to the next bubble.

Or you wouldn’t, and you’d drown.

If Sonic Water Levels Gave You Lifelong Anxiety, You May Be Entitled to  Compensation

Anyway, in the few weeks since we’ve been back at school, I’ve had more than one student tell me that my class is the only thing making school enjoyable for them right now.

And I don’t tell them how much it helps to hear things like that, that I’m drowning, that the music is speeding up in my head and I’m panicking that I might not make it to the next bubble fissure.

But they tell me that, and I think of old video games.

My brain is weird.

(Edit: Turns out that anxiety over the Sonic the Hedgehog drowning sequence is a thing!)


A Quickie about Evolution


I teach theatre.

Because I teach theatre, I also teach a fair bit of psychology and sociology.

Because I teach a fair bit of psychology and sociology, I also teach a little bit about evolution.

Why, you ask?

Because it’s useful to know, as an actor, not only that a quick movement is more likely to draw the audience’s attention than a slow one, but to internalize the reason why (because we evolved, as all predators do, to zero in on movement). Or why the audience’s attention naturally shifts to the actor closest to them (because the person closest to you is the one who poses you the greatest threat — so it’s best to keep your eye on them). Or why it’s so important to use the body when telling stories (because we understood pantomime and gesture long before we developed language). Or any number of other curiosities of the brain.

And two things occur to me, every time I go down this road of teaching evolution in a theatre class:

  1. I am very likely teaching these students more about evolution than some science teachers ever will.
  2. There are almost certainly students sitting in my seats rolling their eyes because they have been indoctrinated to believe evolution is not real.

Both of which are pretty shocking. But because 1) is true, I think it’s vitally important that the kids hear it from somewhere. And because 2) is true, it’s important to expose kids to voices that don’t agree with them.

Plus, I just love to get on their nerves.

“Wait, I thought this is theatre — why’s he on about evolution?”

Because my job is to teach the whole child, kid.


In Times of Crisis, Set the Standard


We got a gut punch in my state last night. Teachers, students and parents got the unbelievable news that schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. For those keeping track at home, that’s the two weeks we’ve already missed, plus this week, plus six more weeks (and our “Spring Break” week is there too, which is just hilarious to me because it just means we’re home like we’ve been for the past several weeks already but nobody can go anywhere). Nine weeks of class time, of face-to-face interaction, gone.

I’m shell-shocked right now.

I have feelings about the closure. I’m sure you do, too. But they’re irrelevant. The die is cast.

All I can think about is everything that’s broken, now.

I think about the musical we were in rehearsals for, which will now not be happening. Six weeks of rehearsal and months of building and planning, for a show that, at least the way we envisioned it, will not happen.

I think about my seniors, who will now miss out on their senior prom and their senior graduation and their final performances and bows on our stage.

I think about all of my students who are suddenly, shockingly, with no forewarning or preparation, deprived of their daily interactions with friends and teachers and coaches.

I think about our parents, likewise deprived of graduations and shows and sports; and oh yeah, they suddenly have to figure out how to continue their kids’ education at home while also struggling to keep making money in our trainwreck of an economy at the moment.

And I think about my fellow teachers, whose plans for the end of the year are shattered, who now have to figure out how the heck to teach their courses at a distance (and a bang-up job they’re doing, despite everything).

I look at all that, and it’s easy to feel hopeless. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much to process at one whack; there’s too much pain and sadness and loss. We’re all sucker-punched, laid out on the mat, staring dazedly at the ceiling.

Good news is, everybody is laid out. Everybody is reeling. It’s okay to be messed up, blurry-eyed, exhausted, uncertain.

But we can’t stay there. We have to pick ourselves up off the mat, lace ourselves back up, and start swinging again. Even though it feels hopeless. Even though it feels like it doesn’t matter. Even if we’re just “going through the motions.”

At times like these, the motions matter. It matters that we get up at a decent hour. That we put some real clothes on. That we get a little bit of exercise, brush our teeth, shave, and put some work in. It matters that we set the standards for our students — for our children — not just in the form of expectations, that they still have work to do, but also that we set the standards in terms of how to act when things get rough.

Because, spoiler alert: we’re setting those standards anyway. When the kids see what we’re doing, we are setting the standard. When they see how we continue to put in work, continue to attack the day with energy, how we relate to each other with resolve and determination and hope (or how we don’t) — we are setting the standard.

We can’t forget that.

It’s okay to feel scared, to feel uncertain. It’s okay to take a moment while we’re down here on the mat to catch your breath, to reorient, to recalibrate. But even if we’re terrified, even if we give in to thinking that none of this matters, even if the best we can offer is to go through the motions, we have to go through the motions.

We have to get up off the mat. We have to keep punching. Even if we get knocked down again and again.

We have to set the standard.

The kids are counting on us.

Everybody in our lives is counting on us.


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