By Lisa Catterall
The past gets carried with us. It’s always there. – Ann Pearlman
Two days ago the sky finally poured a real amount of rain on our beautiful mountaintop school. The next day the sun shone brightly and the forest looked as if every twig was decorated with a tiny sparkling diamond. The moss was so green it seemed lit from within. During the last week before the holiday break, I always give myself permission to enjoy my students in a different context than the normal “delivering of curriculum and pouncing on the learning moments” that helps them to develop. We have time to simply be together. We can’t have a potluck and holiday movie this year, but we can certainly go for a walk.
I took my sixth graders to a clearing with rope swings suspended from one of the biggest oak trees I’ve ever seen, and as I watched them play joyfully, something began to settle back to normal for me. There’s no logic to feeling that way as the pandemic worsens, but perhaps I was feeling a new normal. That made me wonder what we will carry forward from this unusual year.
The sad thing would be to call it “baggage.” I’m hoping if we have baggage, it’s a lovely brand-new bag by our favorite designer or gear company, filled with goodies. I can already see some of the treasures in that bag.
The greatest treasure is appreciating coming together and gathering. Truly being grateful for it. I’ve always loved spending time with my students and colleagues, but I know that the first time we can do that with no masks and with freedom from worry, I will embrace it like never before. I know that I will have a lingering memory of this time of distance and when the pattern of this pandemic emerges in my thoughts or habits, I will be grateful it’s over, all over again. I will have many moments of simply appreciating the magic of things I never gave a thought to before. Like seeing my students’ full, present faces while I teach.
There are practical treasures. I suddenly work with a team of expert online teachers who are more creative and resourceful now than they have ever been. Together we will imagine new experiences and possibilities, and new connections we can make for our school community using an entirely new toolkit. We have all expanded our vocabulary and our language and we can talk about new ways of doing school that add to the old way.
Our school went back to in-person instruction, so we all found new ways to teach outdoors. We have a new amphitheater to allow our performing arts instruction to continue during the pandemic, and when the pandemic is over, I think we will use it every day.
If I get to return to my classroom one year after closing the door, it will feel like coming home.
There is a treasure in how this year has confirmed that curriculum delivery is one of the least important functions of a teacher. We know that we can be here for our students when times are hard, but this year we all felt it more deeply. Teachers who made it through this year did it for their students, because when all the tools glitched or quit, expressing compassion for each other was what was left. And it was just too hard, with too many obstacles, to do it for any other reason. Students and their families saw this, and expressed more gratitude and appreciation than ever before, and I believe that will not end when the world is vaccinated.
I was watching a holiday movie in which an eight year old goes shopping in a grocery store by himself. As I watched him walk the aisles I was thinking about the germs coming from the people he passed, not the movie, and I wondered if I will ever stop doing that. Maybe another treasure will be that we understand better is how to avoid giving each other colds every year.
Whatever happens, I have no doubt that schools, teachers, and parents will not go back to functioning together in exactly the same way. There isn’t a single person in any school community who was never touched by this, and most everyone was called to do things they had not imagined. I’d like to imagine that we will emerge from this year, and this winter, ready to carry forward, stronger and more compassionate.
Lisa Catterall teaches STEAM, math, science, and art at Mount Madonna School and is a senior associate of the Centers for Research on Creativity. She lectures and trains teachers and administrators on innovation in education in Beijing, China. Lisa has five children and lives in Santa Cruz County.