To Those Working in Schools . . .

On Friday, the day before Thanksgiving Break, I usually feel about the same as I walk out of my school. My voice is usually a little hoarse, my to-do list is usually a lot unfinished, and I’m usually — no, always — ready for a nap. I’ve been running alongside teachers and students and administrators since late August, at least.

This year is no different and also very different. I feel all of those things, like I usually do, but I’m also holding a sense of loss for things I can’t quite locate or name. I guess, head smack, that’s why loss is loss and holes are holes. You can’t find what you’re looking for; you have nothing around to fill what’s missing. 

Before I disconnect for the week, I’m feeling called to make a list to spite those final few feelings. To strike a match of sorts.  To not go gently . . . I’m feeling compelled to say what I believe to those working in schools: of course you can find what you’re looking for and of course there’s plenty around to fill what’s missing. Schools are endless in that way, in the meaning making way, in the joy whispering quietly humming way. We don’t always know why we’re going to school these days, whether remotely or in-person or in the hybrid mode, as we now call it. But if we go to school gently expectantly, without all the time filled in our agendas, and with our hearts and ears wide open, then there’s plenty to be found and cherished and heard. There’s plenty that shines and sings. 

This year, I was walking the halls at school and found a senior in one of the Biology rooms. After we talked for a minute, he looked out the window and said, “I took this class as a freshman. I just felt like hanging out in here for a little while and thinking about that.”

I met a really cool poet. He’s just a sophomore and we have plans to swap some books after Thanksgiving Break.  

While covering my colleagues’ classes when they taught remotely, I picked up a whole education in Environmental Science and Utopian literature. I’ve learned how to run discussions in new ways, how to connect with students in new ways, how to make material come alive, regardless of the medium. 

I’ve continued my four year conversation with Jake and Anthony and Karl and started a new four year conversation with Shea and Boris and Leslie-Ann.  Imagine a really great, really long Bob Dylan song that you’re hearing for the first time. That’s what these conversations are like.

I’ve had really hard conversations with colleagues as I hoped we would.  

I’ve seen each of my colleagues learn and grow and adapt, finding ways to cut through the fog of masks and COVID uncertainty and Google Meets and “you forgot to unmute” and dropped calls and mixed up schedules and plain old tiredness.    

Almost every time I plan a new class with my co-teacher, I’ve been surprised by laughter, the kind that forces you to stop what you’re doing because your body is shaking.

I’ve watched my students give brave speeches, submit incredible and thoughtful work, and ask enormous questions. I’ve seen the chat box in Google Meets overflow with thinking and jokes and kindnesses. I’ve seen online, student-led conversation circles about anti racism and the political climate in my country and how to disagree while still being civil. I’ve seen, in other words, the future. And it looks okay, inhabitable, humane.

And just yesterday, completely out of the blue, I talked with a student I’d known for a long time about her emerging dream of working on a farm. I’ll admit, I’ve been seeing her in a different way for the past few years. I thought she might study English in college. How wonderful, I thought, that her dream for herself is so much more original and interesting than my dream for her. 

How wonderful, I’m thinking, that this same thing keeps happening as long as we keep showing up, in whatever way we can. How wonderful to live again, in a new way, the great truth at the end of Wendell Berry’s appropriately titled poem, “The Real Work.”

The impeded stream is the one that sings. 

Happy Thanksgiving,

Steve

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