“Walking into Spiderwebs”
By Melissa Marcucci
...Sorry I'm not home right now
I'm walking into spiderwebs
So leave a message
And I'll call you back…
As those lyrics from Gwen Stefani of “No Doubt” rolled around in my mind, I realized that 2020 didn’t call back. It was a year of #unprecedented firsts in many of our lives. It was the year of #COVID19, the most popular tweet. The #Pandemic where we had to #StayHome and confront a #NewNormal. And #ThisHappened. We walked into spiderwebs.
For our students, many suffered in silence at home for months as we began Distance Learning. Some even suffered so much in silence that they took their own lives. For others, they began to speak out. “This is hard,” they said. “This is impossible,” they said. “This increases my anxiety tenfold,” they said. “This is depressing,” they said. “I hate this,” they said. “I just want to be back in school. I want to see my teachers, to see the school staff, and to see my friends,” they said. “I really value how much school helps me emotionally, physically, and mentally,” they said.
As for educators, many of us hit the ground running, asking for technology, innovative website subscriptions, Distance Learning workshops, and interactive curriculum ideas to help us be just as successful online with students as we were in the classroom. In August and September 2020, the answer was mostly “No” - the state had decreased educational funding. Many of us paid out of pocket in an attempt to make our Digital Classroom just as good as in-person learning. Soon though, those black Zoom screens and the silence of muted students made us feel like we were putting on an elaborate Broadway musical with no audience, no crew, no musicians, and no actors. Our classrooms were no longer a place of organized chaos where students were talking over each other, eager to share their Aha! moments, discoveries being shouted and shared across the room, and the buzz of what so-and-so did or said. We didn’t know if they were engaged. We didn’t know if they were interested. We didn’t know if they were happy or sad. We didn’t know if they liked us. In fact, we didn’t even know if they were still sitting at their computer! All we knew was that this wasn’t what we envisioned our Digital Classroom to be like. “This is hard,” we said. “This is impossible,” we said. “This increases my anxiety ten-fold,” we said. “This is depressing,” we said. “I hate this,” we said. “I just want to be back in school. I want to see my students, to see my coworkers, and to see my friends,” we said. “I really value how much my students help me emotionally, physically, and mentally,” we said.
It’s easy for many to say it was the “worst year ever” and maybe it was! But it was also a year of solidarity, as nearly everyone in the world found themselves enduring the same hardship. Our ability to understand another person's struggle became stronger. Maybe this was the year we could all relate to common trials and tribulations of isolation. Maybe this was the year that we all personally grew in character. Maybe this was the year we learned skills we never thought we would need and never had time to learn. Maybe this was the ‘reset’ year where we discovered who or what truly mattered most in our lives. Maybe this was a year of self-regulation and making priorities for personal health and well being. Maybe this was a year of reflection, meditation, and overcoming the odds to empower ourselves. Maybe our voices have become louder. Maybe our need for human interaction is greater. Maybe our appreciation for “the way it was” increased. Maybe our hearts are softer towards all human-kind. And maybe...just maybe, we have set our students up for their future.
Our superintendent asked us last year, “Imagine what the world will be like when our students are mid-way through their careers. What do we need to do to prepare them for that world, not today’s world?” Wow. Maybe we have done that through this pandemic experience. Maybe we will find that distance learning, as hard an endeavor as it has been for all, has better prepared our students for their future by sharpening their ability to ask questions, define problems, find innovative solutions, argue from evidence, construct explanations, and to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information. Our students may not be gaining all the scientific knowledge we had hoped they would during Distance Learning, but maybe they are gaining an adaptability that will help them be successful in whatever their future holds for them. Maybe they will be able to identify what career will work best with their skills and character, and when it’s time to change careers, maybe their resume will show a wide range of skills acquired, namely being knowledgeable and able to deal with adversity and diversity in new ways. Maybe, “Walking into Spiderwebs” will be an exciting, problem-solving endeavor that they will feel confidently capable of navigating on their own because we as educators have empowered them to manage these challenges through Distance Learning.
*Note: The title and opening lines are credited to the musical group “No Doubt”, Songwriters Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal, and are property of ©Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
Melissa Marcucci is the CASE High School Director and 9th Grade Physics of the Universe Teacher at Ceres Unified School District