A few days ago, a new student arrived in my EAL class in Peru ( EAL- English as an additional language.). The new student speaks Korean and Japanese, and has studied a bit of English; all of the classes, though, are taught in English, except the Spanish class. So, picture yourself in that situation: You are new to an English speaking school in a Spanish speaking country; you are about 12 years old; you speak two languages that have little to do with where you are now. Difficult, to say the least.
To begin the class, I asked students to introduce themselves to the new student. My students are very welcoming so this was easy for them. They clearly tried to make connections with him as they mentioned music, games, and other cultural ideas that he might be interested in. Then, one of the newer students introduced himself saying something like, “I am also new here, not quite as new as you, and I found it easy to make friends here. I hope you also are able to make friends. I will be your friend.”
I will be your friend.
Imagine the world if this is how everyone received new people, immigrants, refugees, the stranger, the unknown. It could happen.
I will be your friend. This gives me hope.
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.
Today is Election Day in the United States. Please vote. And when you vote, please consider your beliefs, your values. When I vote, I tend to think about the greater good. I think about the people who have not had the luck, the blessings that I have had. I consider the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor, the impoverished. Who would create conditions and policies that would favor them?
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.
The COVID-19 quarantine began here in Lima, Peru six months ago, on March 15, 2020. While the restrictions are in a constant ebb and flow, one thing remains clear: The danger is real. Recent data for Peru tell us that almost 750,000 people have tested positive and more than 30,000 have died because of COVID-19. Of course the burden falls heaviest on the impoverished.
Teaching for me is still online. I still don’t like it much when I compare it to teaching in person, but I consider myself extremely lucky that I can work from home and my students can learn from home. In the process, I am learning much about online education and video creation. (I love the creative part of all of this! One of my videos has over 1,400 views!)
What will the future bring? In reality, no one knows. There will be more deaths and more people infected. Eventually a vaccine will prove safe and effective. Eventually more activities will return to nearer-to-normal with increased capacity in restaurants; international flights are scheduled to resume in mid-October.
Is normal, though, what we want? How can we take what we have learned about family time, a slower pace, and cleaner air into the future with us? I hope that we can hang onto the positive changes that this tragedy has brought.
Viktor Frankl reminds us that meaning can be found through love, work and suffering. If we cannot avoid the suffering, perhaps we can find meaning in it, if we are open to doing so. This pandemic has caused much suffering. I truly hope that we can find meaning in the suffering and make improvements in our lives and in the world. May the new normal be better than the old normal. It is up to us.
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.
a migrant child in foreign lands
an unplanned birth, the world expands
to join with ours his storyline
unite the human and divine
yet still we struggle, cannot see
divine-ness in humanity
so Christmas comes, we try anew:
see you in me and me in You.
When I wake up in the morning, sometimes I think, “Today will be the day!”
Today will be the day when the president of the United States says, “See how easy it was? See how easy it was to take a nation and lead its citizens down a path of fear and scapegoating? To prey on your insecurities? See how easy it was to take a nation, desperate for a hero in the age of Marvel Comics movies, and get you to follow me, look up to me, be afraid of me? Did you see how I quickly made our friends into enemies and our enemies into friends? Now do you understand how other countries allow despots to rise to and stay in power?
“Vilifying the other is easy. I showed you that, and you need reflect on your response. Now for the hard part- loving our neighbor. Now that I’ve got your attention, let us work together to find common sense solutions that will bring us together. Let us remember the values that make us who we are. Let us remember our common humanity, knowing that by working together, with and through our differences, we can find common ground for the common good. That is what my leadership is all about. Life is not a zero-sum game where there are only winners and losers. Life is about becoming, becoming better tomorrow than we were yesterday, seeing the other as ourselves, and walking together.
“I invite you to walk with me down this bumpy road. We make this road by walking, just as we create the world every day by what we say, what we do, and how we treat each other. The power is in our hands to become, to grow together, to share our common humanity.”
Unfortunately, today is not that day. Maybe tomorrow.
Did you ever notice that houses and factories have chimneys that carry the smoke, the exhaust, the fumes up and away from people? I noticed the same thing about cars- no company makes a car with an exhaust system that brings exhaust into the car. We do these things because no one wants to breathe in the toxins that are created by combustion and burning. We know that toxins are poisonous, well, by definition. Can we agree to this?
If that is the case, that the toxins that are created by combustion and burning are poisonous, then what if there were a way to avoid the toxins? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to not create the toxins? There is! There are ways to create energy that do not pollute and those ways are becoming cheaper and cheaper through economies of scale. There are now more people employed in solar energy than in oil, coal and gas.
We also know that not all resources are renewable; someday oil, coal and gas will run out. If we are smart enough to prepare for a winter storm or a hurricane, we are also smart enough to prepare for a world without fossil fuels.
Maybe you do not believe that the earth is warming or maybe you believe that the earth is warming but that it isn’t caused by human activity. (My reading and my personal experience tells me that the earth is warming and it makes sense to me that 7 billion people could be contributing to it.) Either way, if we don’t want poison in our houses or our cars let’s not put it into the air. If we know that fossil fuels will run out, then let’s get ready for what is next. There is no reason not to.
A few days ago I received a phone call from a friend of mine. He had recently learned that he and his mother will receive their social security cards and residency papers. They will be able to stay in the United States. Wonderful! We are lucky to have them- good, caring people; hard working people. Gentle.
This family was forced from their home country by negative situations beyond their control. They moved to the US only to live in the shadows, experiencing violence both personal and systemic. When you live in the shadows you cannot fully participate and share your gifts. You live in fear – fear that you will be sent back, you might lose your job and a thousand other fears. Those fears, though, are nothing when compared to the lived experience that sent you away from home.
Now there is hope. There is hope of permanence and pertenencia, belonging. Having grown up in the only city he has ever known, he will now be able to participate fully in all of the rights and responsibilities of belonging. Moving out of the shadows. May we hear the same positive news for many other immigrants so that they, too, may move out of the shadows.
This blog was started about 5 years ago as an Advent gift for a 12 year old. The waiting of Advent has come full circle to an emerging from the shadows: Resurrection.
You always belonged. Now it’s official.