“You’ll know it when you see it,” was obscenity defined.
If you have to ask the lawyers then integrity’s declined.
Unequal almost everything shows justice isn’t blind.
Clearly there’s some clarity distinctly undefined.
Beginnings and endings are wonderful times for reflection. Maybe you are starting a new job, making a new friend, or celebrating the birth of a child. Perhaps, on the other hand, you are leaving a country, ending a relationship, or mourning the death of a loved one. All of these events invite pause, reflection.
How has the last year and a half been for you? For many, including me, the arrival of COVID-19 brought change: Change in schedules, possibilities, health, and even brought death closer. I have been teaching from home since March 2020. Never in my life did I anticipate learning so much about distance learning, Zoom, and Google Docs. But learn I did!
In the hope of holding on to the good, the silver lining in a difficult situation, I offer the following related to online, distance education:
- Relationships are still key. Building and maintaining relationships continues to be the cornerstone of teaching. When I know who you are and you know who I am, we can work so much better together. I love seeing your cats and dogs, siblings and parents wander in and out of Zoom classes. I love that you notice my haircut or new glasses. I especially like it when, in the middle of class, you ask, “Can I show you a picture that I drew?” Maybe the timing isn’t the best, but you feel comfortable and that is worth gold.
- Distance learning tools are only tools. The real learning comes in the doing, the reflecting, and doing again. We can use all the wonderful apps and programs, but without the purposeful lesson design that gets students doing the work and open to new ways of seeing and doing, the apps and programs are worthless.
- Today is enough. Maybe I had plans for more or different, but student questions and interest and worries led us on a useful tangent. That’s OK. That’s where we needed to go today. When I am present to who you are today, right now, to what you need, right now, we will always move forward. I am not going to assign you the work we missed; I am going to adjust my teaching for the new learning that we will do tomorrow.
- There is no learning loss. Students always learn. They may learn what we teach, and they always learn who we are. There are all sorts of unplanned learnings that happen, too. Always we start from where the students are and move forward. If they missed something from a previous lesson or year we can sneak it in around the edges, in a small group or one-on-one. Anyone who tells you that the students learned less this past year and a half is mistaken. They learned a lot more, just maybe not what the curriculum guide says they “should” learn. There is always a variety of student learning in a class; there is always a variety of levels of understanding in every class. This year is no different. We move forward because students always learn.
Take a moment and think about what you want to take with you from this challenging year (and a half!), and what you want to leave behind. Move forward knowing that learning moves forward. We continue to become. So do our students.
On March 16, 2020 online, emergency teaching started at my school in Peru because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of right now, we are still teaching online and there is still a global COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, we are no longer in emergency mode.
I call it online, emergency teaching because, well, it was online and it was an emergency. There were no solid plans in place, no best practices, and we had never used Zoom. All of that has changed. We have solid plans, we have learned and honed our best practices, and we are practically experts in Zoom. I never imagined that I would have a YouTube channel, and that my one Zoom video would have over 2,000 views!
We have been very lucky. The school where I teach and the families I work with have the resources to make online school work. Yes, the teachers have worked hard to get up to speed, and the families have been incredibly supportive in the process. The students have rolled up their sleeves and rolled with the punches–huge learning curve, inconsistent technology, muted microphones, … Yes, the students, too, have been amazing. I am so thankful for the students, the families, my colleagues, and the leadership at school. Together we have made it work. Together we continue to make it work.
After a year of this, what have we learned? What have we reaffirmed? I have learned that technology is an amazing tool (when it works!) and there are some amazing technological tools that we can use. Some of my favorites are Quizlet, Kahoot!, EdPuzzle, FlipGrid, and Padlet. Technology is still only a tool. The foundation of all learning is relationships. This is true online or in person. When I know my students and they know me, we can learn from and teach each other.
When I first started teaching reading I knew almost nothing about it. (I had been teaching middle school social studies and Spanish.) The literacy coach at my school said to me, “To begin with, just listen to students and watch them. They will show you what they need. The theories you can learn later; the students will show you now.” Brilliant! Relationships still prove to be key and the students are still teaching me.
I have also learned that less really is more. Less content, taught more deeply, will actually be acquired by the students. I will never “cover” the material; I will teach the students.
Finally, we live in partnership with the environment. When we treat each other and the environment with respect, we all live better. I think Paul Wellstone said something similar.
A year of challenge has much to teach us. I hope we continue to learn its lessons. Thank you to all of the students, parents, and colleagues for keeping on.
Today is Election Day in the United States. Please vote.
I also think about welcoming the stranger, the migrant, and the children. Which candidate will create conditions at home and abroad where all feel welcome and safe? No one wants to be forced to leave home, but sometimes it is necessary for reasons of health and safety. Who will be welcoming while helping to create a world where migrating is a choice, not a matter of life or death?
I think about education. When quality education is available for all, possibilities emerge, futures are possible. Education never stops; we never stop learning. Which candidate will create conditions so that life-long learners have the opportunity to think critically? I want people to think deeply and from various perspectives. I want people to see the world in shades of grey while avoiding dualistic thinking. We weave the tapestry of the world with many colored threads. That beauty is diminished with either/or thinking.I think about the future. When we care for the world, the air, the water, we will preserve the world for future generations. No one wants to breathe dirty air nor drink contaminated water. Which candidate will promote healthy development so that the future is better for all? We know that some resources are non renewable. How are we preparing now for a future without those resources? Which candidates will help us create a better world for the future?
The world I long for, I try to help create everyday, sometimes with more success than others. In addition to the above, I think about rights and responsibilities, the dignity of work, health care, peace, and solidarity with the most vulnerable. My vote can help create that world. I will do my part.
Please do your part and vote your values, hopefully for an inclusive world built on solidarity, love, and hope for all.
(Clearly my first try to embed a podcast did not work. Perhaps adding a link is the easiest way. Let me try that.)
This story was written and recorded as part of a 6th grade unit on realistic narratives. Here is a link to the podcast/recording.
The headline in La República today says we will not go back into a quarantine. The president of Peru pointed out that the citizens understand the need to take precautions, such as using a face mask and maintaining your distance, so additional time in quarantine is not warranted. The newspaper also points out that the number of infections is rising again and that the hospitals are filling up, some of them are full.
I hope the president is correct–both about the citizens taking precautions and not needing to return to quarantine. My prediction is that decisions will be made as needed in order to keep people safe. I hope.
Earlier this week, president Martin Vizcarra’s new cabinet took the oath of office. Many of the ministers have previous political experience but are new to their positions in this cabinet. With this new group there seems to be a new focus on revitalizing the economy, especially in areas of extraction. Again, my hope is that decisions will be made in order to keep people safe. Far too often mining and logging result in environmental destruction and human misery. While it is very possible to mine in safe ways, governments often do too little to protect the health of the workers and the environment. Lead poisoning and unsafe water are all too common.
The combination of COVID-19 and economic problems can be a moment of reinvention or a time to double down on dangerous economic practices. People make those decisions; the future has yet to be written. I believe that we can care for each other and the environment as we rebuild a people-focused economy. We can, but will we?
In Peru it is National Teacher’s Day–Happy Teacher’s Day to all of the teachers out there.
For most teachers, I believe, teaching is a vocation. (Yes, vocation, not vacation.) I am sure there are some who teach so they can have summers off, or because they don’t know what else to do. The majority, though, teach because it is part of who they are. They love building the relationships with the students, building the enthusiasm in class, and building the knowledge/skills/wisdom of their students. It is our way of making the world a better place.
Does it work? I like to think so. One of the challenges of teaching is that you never really finish. An architect opens the building, a baker tastes the bread, a programmer runs the code. A teacher is never done; this year’s students move on, and the next year comes with new students. Occasionally we get a glimpse of our work when we see a former student on TV or in the paper (hopefully for something good). Occasionally, we receive a letter from a former student saying hi or saying thank you. Usually, we never know.
I was reminded of this recently when I received this picture of blueberries. About eight years ago my wife and I planted some blueberry bushes in the backyard at our house in Minnesota. These bushes take a while to grow and produce fruit. About five years ago we sold our house to a friend when we moved to Lima, having not tasted the berries. Today, that friend sent this picture and said there are more blueberries that she will soon harvest. That is wonderful! Who knew?
I knew when she wrote and sent the picture. If you are looking for something nice to do, try writing a note to that former teacher. Let him or her know that you are well, that you remember, that you are thankful. Your former teacher would love to hear from you, especially on this National Teacher’s Day, even if you are not in Peru.
Today marks day 100 that Peru has been in quarantine. In that time there have been more than 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 8,000 deaths. Peru even made it to #6 in the world of confirmed cases.
This is nothing to celebrate.
Through their actions, though, Peruvian president Martin Vizcarra, and his cabinet have probably saved many lives. For that, we can be thankful. The decisions by the leaders haven’t been perfect, nor have the actions of many citizens as they evaded or disregarded the precautions. In general, things could be much worse. The struggle continues.
As we mark day 100, my school year is ending. In 25 years of teaching, this is the first time I have been at one school for four consecutive years–actually 4 1/2 years. (I was in the St. Paul district longer, but at many different schools.) Ending a virtual semester brings the joy of accomplishment and the sadness of goodbye in an odd fashion: we’re not together in person. I miss being with my students and colleagues. Most of them I will see when we begin again, again virtually. Stay tuned to see when the quarantine ends and we go back to the brick and mortar.
A fond farewell to those who are leaving. I will be here. Online. Stay in touch.
As winter approaches, and the temperature slowly declines here in Lima, Peru, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has risen to more than 4,700. At the same time, some of the restrictions are easing for the public. A couple of weeks ago, children were permitted to start going on walks close to their homes with an adult. As of last Wednesday, adults are allowed to go for a walk or run. Requirements: three kilometers maximum distance, wearing a mask, five meters from other walkers/runners, one adult leaving home at a time. Restaurants have begun delivering food and some business are back at work. Such is the ebb and flow of this pandemic.
When I went for a walk on Thursday (at less than two kilometers, it was the longest walk I have taken since March 15), I snapped a picture of the butterfly in a nearby garden. Beautiful.
Of course not all is beautiful. Not here, as I mentioned, and not in Minnesota. In Minnesota the protests continue following the murder of George Floyd. I completely support the protests that challenge structural racism and racist violence. While I never condone violence, my experience and learning across countries and cultures help me understand from where the violence may come. How many quiet protests have you heard about? There are few example to point towards.
If the arc of the moral universe truly bends towards justice, we are headed for a better society. There is much work, though, before we get there. Perhaps, like the butterfly in the picture, we can go through change and emerge renewed, more loving, more just. Perhaps.
For the babies and the children
For the parents, and siblings, and aunts, and uncles
For the hospital workers
For the recently operated and the soon-to-be operated
For the at-risk with health concerns we cannot see
For the farmers and drivers and supermarket workers
For the families of the farmers and drivers and supermarket workers
For those who can’t work
For those who are still able to work
For those who have to work
For the grandparents who bring joy and tell stories
For the grandparents who support the children and the grandchildren
For the grandparents who carry the collective memories
And for everyone else
I will stay home
This is not about me and what I want
(I want to go out too)
My parents and grandparents and teachers taught me the dangers of being selfish
Together in community we all do better
I will stay home