Teaching in a Pandemic: Epilogue
It has been just a weekend since this pandemic school year ended. I would hardly say that I am in “summer-mode.” My body is conditioned to wake up at the same time every morning. I have felt clenched for so long this year that it is going to take more than a weekend to fully unclench and begin recovering from teaching in a pandemic.
I have tentative plans for my summer vacation. Foremost is self care. I plan on doing all the things that bring me joy and peace: spending time with my family, mediating, reading, writing, hiking, and drinking bourbon.
I could not have survived this pandemic without my family. We all need a support system that we can lean on during difficult times. My wife and three children were my support system and I was their support system. We helped each other. Every day after school I would come home and help my kids with their own remote learning school work. I would troubleshoot any technology issues and help reinforce all that my wife did throughout the day. I would listen to my wife tell me about the day, and in turn, she would listen to me recount my day.
Family dinnertime became an important ritual in our family. We would gather and share highs and lows and gratitude with each other. We would play music and sing and dance with each other. We nourished each other and supported each other. Even though my kids are entering adolescence, family time will continue throughout the summer months. It may be challenging to get my pre-teens to the table, but in the end, I am certain that the work we did together this year will pay dividends in the future.
My wife has been trying to persuade me to meditate for years. It only took a global pandemic and the most stressful and challenging school year of my life to finally get me to establish a practice of mindful meditation!
Meditating every day with my students changed how I handle stress. It helped me be more present with my students. It helped me gain perspective and put daily stressors into a larger context. It helped me be more human in front of my students. I am certain that not all of my students meditated with me every day. However, by modeling a practice of breathing and holding a space for myself, I believe that I helped my students. I plan to continue this practice as often as I can, and I definitely plan to incorporate meditation in my classroom next year.
I have a stack of books on my nightstand that I have saved for once the stress of this school year has dissipated. These include books for fun and books for learning. Here is a partial list of what I plan to read this summer.
Think Again by Adam Grant
I have already started this book and am loving it. Adam Grant does a great job of mixing narrative storytelling with sound research to tell compelling stories. I particularly appreciate how personal and vulnerable he is in this book, describing how he challenging his own preconceived notions and learned knowledge.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. — Maya Angelou
I am really excited to improve my own practice of rethinking. I want to bring this into my classroom for my students so that they can know better and do better.
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I need something fun to read this summer. I had heard great things about Night Circus and was excited to start this mystical love story. I was hooked in the first 25 pages! I really hope they turn this book into a movie because I think it would be fantastic. Truth be told, this genre is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I think it is important to stretch myself in what I read. Plus, if you are an audiobook fan, like I am, you should pick it up on Audible. It is narrated by the incomparable Jim Dale.
African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, Edited by Kevin Young
I always read a fair amount of poetry throughout the year. I have been saving this one for the summer because I want to get lost in the depth and breadth of this tome. Kevin Young is a fantastic poet and professor. He is currently the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I have no doubt that each of these poems was chosen with care and intentionality.
Otherful: How to Change the World (and your school) Through Other People by Mike Kleba and Ryan O’Hara
I participated in a workshop led by Mike Kleba at South By Southwest EDU in Austin, TX (BTW: SXSWEDU is the best conference I have ever attended!). Kleba’s enthusiasm and creativity are infectious and I was so excited to get my hands on this book. He is as serious about disrupting public education as he is intentional about his methods: inspiring others to greatness. I can’t wait to crack open this experience of a book!
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson is the next book in my stack of books to learn from. After reading The Warmth of Other Suns, I knew that I would be a lifelong fan of Wilkerson. I love longform storytelling and her narrative prose is detailed and expansive. I am looking forward to learning (and unlearning) more about racism in the United States through the lens of caste systems throughout history.
Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America as told to Horace Traubel, Edited by Brenda Wineapple
I love Whitman! I stumbled upon this book when I learned that toward the end of his life, Whitman was visited daily by Horace Traubel. Traubel became a confidant and friend and documented their conversations. I feel like I am in need of some sagely wisdom this summer.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going, recommends this book. Since we both love Thoreau, I can pretty much guarantee that I will love any book he recommends! In an April 2021 blog post, he discusses the difference between languishing and dormancy, which really resonated with me during this school year. This school year felt incredibly long and I am curious to read May’s treatment of difficult times and how they can be used to spring forth creativity.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith
I have been following Clint Smith on social media since I saw his TED Talk: The Danger of Silence. I love his 2016 book of poetry, Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. This book is important. As Kayti Christian, Editor at The Good Trade, says, “Long-form storytelling is a powerful and transformative education tool.” I love when books ask me, as the reader, to question what I know as a white male and learn from other perspectives. These types of books take effort to read and I am ready to read this book.
Whiskey Master Class: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, and More by Lew Bryson
I have to have at least one whiskey book on my summer reading list. I love learning more about Uisce beatha (Irish pronunciation: [ˈɪʃkʲə ˈbʲahə]), literally water of life, especially its American sweet cousin, bourbon.
I believe that books come into my life at the exact time I need to read them. I’m sure there will be other books added to my pile, as well as diversions and tangential reading that occurs this summer. I’m looking forward to it all.
I love to write. If you have been following my Teaching in a Pandemic posts, you are aware that I used writing to reflect on the most challenging year of my career in public education. I try to write every day.
Early in the pandemic, when everything was shut down and we were all quarantined in our homes, I wrote a book. It was one of those Jerry Maguire-manifesto moments where I felt like I needed to get my heart on the page.
Once the school year started, I shelved the manuscript and began blogging about my experiences in the classroom teaching during a pandemic. This summer, I plan to incorporate the two and restructure my book around the theme of perseverance with humanity and vulnerability. I believe that I have learned more about myself in this past year than I have in the whole of my career in education. I would love to share it with the world. Hopefully, I can find a literary agent that is willing to help me publish.
I will continue writing poetry. I’ve been writing poetry for twenty years. I have no idea if it is any good, but I love writing and I love the writing community I have found on social media. They continue to encourage me.
Early in the pandemic, my family and I started hiking. We have lived in Colorado our entire lives and never fully took advantage of all there is to experience outdoors. Slowly, we began exploring different trails and fell in love with immersing ourselves in nature. There is even a term that I absolutely love: shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”). I observed the healing effects of walking outdoors on everyone in my family. We all found it therapeutic. I foresee lots of forest bathing in my future.
I love sipping bourbon in the quiet of the late afternoon. I love learning about the history of bourbon in the United States. I love learning how to smell, taste, and observe bourbon. I am more of an amateur affectionadeo, but I definitely plan to spend time in my backyard listening to my kids play, chatting with friends, and sipping some bourbon or enjoying a delicious whiskey cocktail.
If you are looking to learn more about bourbon, check out Neat: The Story of Bourbon. It is an amazing documentary!
Despite what non-educators say about teachers during the summer, I plan to embrace this time to myself. I am lucky that I will not have to work this summer, and instead can focus on spending time with my family.
What are your plans for this summer? How do you self-care? After this year year many educators feel demoralized and burned out. We were all asked to do more than ever before with impossible constraints. I hope you all find time to rest and recover and come back next year with a stronger resolve.
I’d love to hear from you with your self-care plans. Feel free to reach out and share with me on Twitter.