Our Students Will Be Ready When This is Over. Will Schools Be Ready for Them?

Pictured: Me (under boat)

I’ve got a really good feeling about what these kids are going to do when we finally do get them back into buildings full-time. I don’t really care how much work they got done this year. I don’t.

We always confused work with learning anyway. We always confused a lot of things with learning anyway.

Somewhere in the mess of what they learned this year living through this, and what they learned from whatever school was for them, I feel like they are going to come back ready to do amazing things, with brains so much more ready to be pushed, to push through things that before would have pushed them away.

This will be a generation of young people on fire, who will come back from this year and not accept a school that looks like the years before it. We won’t be ready for them, but I hope we’ll be ready to try.

In a team meeting the other day, on the twentieth minute of the sort of necessary logistical conversation that has taken up a ridiculous amount of our time this year, navigating through whatever immediate next thing. One of my colleagues paused to ask if we were spending so much time figuring out this year that we could miss out on making next year what it should be.

I nearly reached through my screen to slap him, because getting through this year feels like more than I can handle already. I’m already Vitamin D-ing and Happy Light-ing and exercising and too much coffeeing myself through February and it’s still kicking my whole ass. Next year? Really?

Annoyingly, though, he’s right. I’ve often heard of education compared to building a bike while you ride it. We don’t get to stop and think and design while we implement, because schools never really stop.

But this year, they did, or got as close as they’re ever going to.

We never stopped working, of course. This year has felt a lot more like building a boat while drowning. And now Mr. Coworker thinks we should look over at that island over there, start planning an irrigation system.

I hate that he’s right, but he is, as much as we can manage it, he’s right. We had a chance to try so many new things this year, to stop doing so many things we’d always done because we’d always done them. If we don’t take this opportunity for interruption seriously, that system is going to snap back into place before we can do anything about it.

In the worst parts of this year, we tried to recreate school without learning. There were lots of worksheets to do, things to check off, things that showed time spent and little else.

In the best parts of this year, we gave our students space and support to learn. We were flexible with how it looked and when it happened, we led with compassion and we treasured our connections. Next year, will they go where we put them and when and then stay there? Will they accept any lessons that ask them to be less than they are?

Without them in our classrooms, we missed all the pieces that make them people, their brains and not their obedience. When they return, we will have no excuse not to maintain those priorities.

We’re all drowning. I don’t know how to make that better. I know there are times, whole days sometimes, that I can’t find the energy to try to drown less.

There are other times when my head breaks the surface, when I have air in front of me and energy to breath it. In those times I try to remember that we’re not just here to tread water, we’re swimming, a whole lot of us, towards something. This boat is never going to float. We’re swimming and if we don’t figure out where we’re going, we’ll have no choice but to turn back.

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything. www.mrtomrad.com

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