By Karla Hilliard

I’ve been thinking a lot about something my maw-maw used to say. 

These five-going-on-six weeks of social distancing and wobbly online learning have reminded me of how I sometimes felt as a new mom—the overwhelming frustration and resignation when the baby would whine, cry, and fuss without end. 

If we were having a day like this, my new baby squirming out of my arms in supreme dissatisfaction, Maw-maw would nudge me, in the way only a grandmother can and say, “Well honey, how do you feel when you’re tired or hungry? You’re not very happy either.” 

I’m not here to talk about the heroic acts of teachers. You already know. I’d bet that you’re doing some heroic deeds yourself. 

I’m here to talk about squirming in supreme discomfort. 

Before we go any further, I’ve got to tell you that I’m a big fan of Dr. Brené Brown, whose work has informed some of my reflections in this post. She has a new podcast out called Unlocking Us and on the first episode Brené talks about something she calls FFTs or F-ing First Times. As a social scientist who studies emotions, Brené always seems to capture the really messy stuff in a clear, “I feel seen” way. In short, the FFT is about fear of the first times and the vulnerability that follows and is required to become braver. Listen to this brilliant first episode and then go here to read Brené’s encouraging follow up where she talks about teaching, distance learning, and parenting. 

And while my timelines and inbox have blown up with advertisements for free digital teaching resources, newly unlocked features, virtual tours and tutorials, and offers to “enhance” my teaching, and while I appreciate all that is now suddenly free and available, I have found myself squirming. Or, to borrow Brené’s language, “rumbling.” 

In a single day, I’ll feel like I’ve nailed distance learning and created authentic opportunities for students to enrich their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, but also possibly completely failed. 

I’ll feel connected to my students, colleagues, and friends, and at once feel totally alone. I’ll look at my children and think, “man, somebody ought to name me Mother of the Year” and throw a bouquet of flowers at me, and the next moment wring my hands over all of the many ways I am probably screwing them up for good. I’ll go on a five mile walk today and take up residence as a near permanent feature on the couch tomorrow. I’ll have brussel sprouts for dinner and chocolate cake for breakfast. The quarantine pendulum swings. 

And I’ve accepted it. I am rumbling with the discomfort, and I am seeking, always, the ordinary moments that make life joyful and meaningful.   

Teaching during a global pandemic is unprecedented and revealing, and the conversations happening as a result are difficult, uncomfortable, and necessary. They are issues we must face and rumble with. Perhaps you, too, have recently stumbled your way through frustration, resignation, fear, anxiety, acceptance, meaning, and even gratitude. Or perhaps you’re like me and you run the emotional gamut daily. 

Like Adrin, I’m learning. The past five weeks of parenting and teaching and living have forced me to do some internal work. And I am the most called by the following: 

  • Effective teaching is not a hustle, and comparison and perfectionism are unhealthy and unproductive.
  • Dr. Adam Jordan said what we’re doing isn’t distance learning; it’s “triage teaching” and I think he’s right. 
  • Distance learning shines a light on inequity that has always been there, and, if we were looking the other way, we cannot continue to do so. We cannot back-burner the conversation and treat equity as a one and done, plug and play PD. 
  • Teaching is hard and important, but so is every other job, and this pandemic has crystallized that.
  • Connection and community make us whole. 
  • We can’t expect students to behave, work, participate, communicate, and learn as if things are normal. Nothing is normal right now. 

There’s more, but the list above represents the endless loop of internal dialogue challenging me, asking me to rumble with discomfort, and helping me to find a path forward with more compassion and perspective.

It gets me thinking about my maw-maw and her question that would gently nudge me out of my own frustration and discomfort, “How do you feel when…?” 

WVCTE is wondering how you’re doing…how are you feeling? What are you rumbling with? Now more than ever, we are one another’s greatest resource.

Speaking of, if you have an idea for a post, a great activity or no fail lesson, if you have words of wisdom or a reflection you’d like to send into the world, drop us a line by email at wvcte15@gmail.com.


1 Comment

Tough Times And Even Tougher Teachers – The Bird’s Eye View · April 30, 2020 at 2:44 am

[…] Check out this post by your favorite teacher for some more wise words https://wvcte.com/2020/04/20/distance-learning-rumbling-with-discomfort/ […]

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