If you’re somehow involved with the field of education — students, teachers, parents — you know the pandemic has posed challenges we never thought we’d encounter. Students, especially younger learners, are prematurely left to manage their own schedules during the week. All teachers are in year one again in many ways, desperately trying to adapt to a new medium of guiding and encouraging their students. Parents are not only working their regular jobs but also all of the sudden expected to do what someone with a degree in education does. It’s a mess, and we owe each other so much grace.
I’m both a graduate student and a high school teacher, and I am so thankful I am not yet a parent as well. I have so many friends and colleagues trying to juggle being a parent and a teacher, and few who are graduate students as well. My heart just goes out to them. Everyone is doing the best they can, and I look up to my veteran colleagues now more than ever!
Even before the pandemic, I questioned my career as a teacher. I questioned if I was really fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. After sorting out some insecurities and struggles in my personal life [see 2019: A Year Without Social Media and I LOST 1/4 OF MY BODY WEIGHT IN 9 MONTHS], and quite literally letting go of some heavy baggage, I still had doubts about my career. Two of my close friends who started their careers when I did have since left the profession, and I’m up against startling statistics that say my generation will switch careers numerous times in our lives.
I want to see myself retiring from a long and fulfilling career in education, but my teacher tank is empty. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of student engagement, the nasty parent emails blaming ME for the “plannedemic” and our circumstances, the number of talented students dropping from my yearbook staff because life is hard right now has been too much. If you have loved ones who are students, teachers, and/or parents, tell them how much you love them and that the work they’re doing is important and appreciated. Trust me — they need to hear it.
Despite the difficulties I’ve experienced as a teacher during the 2020-21 school year, the Lord has been at work; one of my best friends gifted me Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human by John Mark Comer for Christmas, and the sermon at my church the following week was all about the work of ministry and referenced said book. So I opened the book and my heart, then prepared for what God wanted to tell me. Ultimately, I concluded that I’m right where God wants me to be, and my work as a teacher is important for the Kingdom.
However, despite reading encouraging words, my teacher tank was still running on E. I’m to the point where I don’t think I should be working harder than my students and if I see another email saying one of my students is switching to an online school option because public online school isn’t working for them, I just might throw my computer across the room… But then today I had a NORMAL, BEAUTIFUL teaching moment through the screen.
I teach two different levels of freshmen English — grade-level and advanced studies — and today, after widespread morning technical difficulties impacting my ability to get on Google Meets, I had things back to normal in time for my last two advanced studies classes. On Fridays, I typically don’t have anything new for my students and I leave the meetings open for them to ask questions. Today, one girl was SO excited to tell me her thoughts on the book we started reading this week: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. This is the second time I’ve written about Bradbury on my blog, and oh, do I see God’s hands in everything I’ve accomplished as an educator as I look back [To Live Forever: My Tribute to Ray Bradbury].
More mature in my own faith now, I’m not sure if Bradbury believed in Jesus, and for that I am sad, but I won’t know for sure until I meet Jesus myself some day. Regardless, I do agree with one of Bradbury’s sentiments: “I sit there and cry because I haven’t done any of this [he says when re-reading his work]. It’s a God-given thing, and I’m so grateful, so, so grateful. The best description of my career as a writer is, ‘At play in the fields of the Lord'” [CNN].
God gave me the gift of writing, but as I mentioned in my previous Bradbury-themed post, maybe I’m not the writer but instead one of my students will be. In the four years since I’ve written that post, I’ve learned that it’s not about me and my name living forever, but instead giving all glory to God’s name. I picked a hard profession in which to accomplish that, but I’m trying.
I’m in my third year teaching Fahrenheit 451, and I can’t recall most of the meaningful conversations I’ve had with 200 or so students so far. This book is IMPORTANT. Today I’m thankful that Bradbury used his God-given gift to write a novel that is still touching minds and hearts today, and I pray that no matter what happens next in the COVID-19 pandemic and no matter how that affects public school learning models that I am able to have many more conversations with my students about Fahrenheit 451 and the themes it presents.
When asked about school by the main character in the eerily prophetic dystopian novel, the 17-year-old character Clarisse says,
“I’m anti-social, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me means talking about things like this.” She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. “Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film-teacher. That’s not social to me at all. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not. They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. Or go out in the cars and race on the streets, trying to see how close you can get to lamp-posts, playing ‘chicken’ and ‘knock hub-caps.’ I guess I’m everything they say I am, all right. I haven’t any friends. That’s supposed to prove I’m abnormal. But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another. Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Part 1
Clarisse is wise beyond her years just as Bradbury was wise beyond his time. Bradbury predicted a world where people would gather but not talk. He predicted a world where education was hours spent on a screen leaving students so burnt out all they could do was cause chaos in the world.
- Before the pandemic, how many times did you experience or witness a group of friends around the dinner table with their faces buried in their phones?
- How much would you give to be able to meet up with your friends risk-free and truly enjoy their company now that we’re nearly a year into the pandemic?
- How successful and healthy are all of us trying to teach and learn by staring at the screen all day?
- Have you see the headlines recently?
- Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?
Now, I believe that even through the COVID-19 pandemic and whatever else might come our way, God has a plan. Even though it’s hard, we can’t stop working and moving forward. We can’t waste the gifts God has given us. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” We were made to work and take care of what we were given, and as John Mark Comer reminds us in his book, we were also made to rest (Gen. 2:3).
The pandemic has made rest easy, arguably easier than ever. For a while, many of us needed that; I know I did. But in our rest, I think many of us have become stagnant and sour. We’ve spent too much time on the screen and spent so much time away from others. We were not made to be anti-social, and we were not made for social distancing (long term, anyways); we were made to be like Clarisse or like my sweet student today who was so worried the morning’s technical difficulties would keep her from socializing with me and sharing her thoughts until next week.
If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451, I urge you to pick up a copy, and then go watch HBO’s movie version; it’s the best version there is, in my opinion, and Michael B. Jordan… need I say more?! After that, I’d love to socialize with you too.