Gov. Roy Cooper announced stay-at-home orders last March. It has been a year of orders, closing and returning to schools, and several other mandates. Still hard to believe.
It sounds odd, but I feel I have achieved an advanced degree this year. As schools closed in the spring, I simply wanted to stay connected to the students in my charge. I learned how to use Zoom in order to connect with students, swim team members, and students involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. I never considered using Google Classroom before the shutdown but managed to receive a quick education in how the platform could assist the students. Learning on the fly ended up being one of the best educations. I learned because I had to.
Then, while teaching from home, I decided to take some online classes to improve my content and teaching skills. Many in the community think teachers have their summers off. Not so. During the pandemic summer, I took some classes and managed to coach swimming for a few weeks before the decision was made to close the area pool due to COVID-19. Those three weeks were an added salvation. Just to see the swimmers was fresh air for my soul. I got to leave home for a few hours during the week, stand on the pool deck and help kids.
At nights after practice and on weekends, I sat with my dog on the deck and tried to read something interesting. I enjoyed the peace of a book and a fine companion until I got sleepy. Between gaining some important skills in 21st-century technology, coaching young kids, and trying to obtain a small Ph.D. on the porch, I cooked some suppers, did laundry, and sent emails to students who I knew but did not have in class. My mission was encouragement, letting them know all of us were in the same uncertain boat navigating some new waters.
I believe I have asked myself some hard questions during this past year. Good questions, but hard. Pandemics have a capacity to either blow holes in purposes or strengthen them even more. As all of us have witnessed, challenges and trials bring out the character of many.
Looking back, I made a short list of the things the pandemic placed on my front windshield of life. I’ve never loved my family more. My faith has been strengthened too. The ability to share it with others in small and simple ways has increased my purpose. Family and faith added to feelings of perseverance. Knowing I am a resilient person gave me confidence that I could not only help myself but help others. I admonished myself many times to be brave; brave in the face of fear and brave in reaching out to others, but most of all — to simply have hope. There were times during the pandemic when I felt myself in a whirlpool; spinning at some rate of speed, wondering when this current difficulty might be over. Still, I did not allow uncertainties to change my fundamental attitudes.
As summer moved into fall, I continued to ask hard questions. To answer a few of them, I had to be vulnerable with myself and find truths. I realized if I was going to help some students through the stress and pain of hybrid learning, I had to be there for them, swallow some perceived prejudices and bias, and be the best teacher and mentor I could possibly be. I have not hit a home run each time in every situation, but I’ve stayed on the playing field and am doing my best to make a difference. In fact, I think I have done some of my best teaching ever at times, even if it has been to the smallest classes. Yet, I’d like to think the relationships I have built with the students — and they with me — have been the best of the work. We are struggling along together, and we know we don’t have all the answers right now.
Life is moving forward, although we do not know how long health scientists and government officials will be mandating mask wearing and social distancing. I miss holding hands with people at church or colleagues at school when we gather.
I am looking forward to some American Legion and professional baseball this summer. There is nothing like seeing the lights at twilight and hearing the roar of a crowd from my back porch.
Years from now, when my grandchildren ask me about living through the pandemic, I will quote Charles Dickens’ ”A Tale of Two Cities” and say, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Thankful to be alive. Blessed to have a classroom with kids. Grateful for another March.
Brent Tomberlin is a social studies instructor at South Caldwell High School and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org