Have you ever been in a canoe in the fog? Paddling across a lake when it suddenly gets very misty and foggy and you can’t see in front of you, beyond a few feet? Your senses get all mixed up. The canoe rocks, and moves, but is it toward shore or away? You can’t tell. Time sort of stops. If the fog is very dense, it messes with your perception of up and down. The last time this happened to Hubby, he said he slipped down from his seat and sat in the bottom of the canoe. Feeling an odd sense of vertigo, not sure if he would suddenly tip into the lake, he just sat there quietly. He drifted in the fog, until the mist lifted a bit, and he felt confident enough to begin paddling again. Even the most competent and experienced of canoeists are messed up by fog.
That’s kind of what the pandemic has been like for me. I’ve been drifting in a timeless fog. In a weird kind of stasis. Not moving backwards or forwards. Drifting. Seemingly endless days rolling out in front of me. I can’t see clearly enough into the future to do any planning. Or much planning, beyond what we will have for supper. And when we should walk or bike this week.
Oh, I’ve edited my closet and planned lots of outfits, duly documented on my blog. Outfits that I might never wear. The term “ready to wear” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Ha. I know we’re going more places now that we are in stage three of reopening. And for that I am very grateful. But this summer the usual markers of time have been suspended. And some days I forget they even existed.
Each July, Hubby and I look forward to the Tour de France with anticipation. We follow it on television faithfully each evening, and are inspired to log more miles on our bikes during the day. Yesterday, when we were biking, I said in amazement to Hubby that we’d missed the Tour, and we hadn’t even “missed” it. If you know what I mean.
Each August Hubby and I make our pilgrimage east. And have almost every year since we’ve been together. Not this year. New Brunswick still has entrance restrictions on visitors from Ontario. I understand that. But still, this year it seems that I am longing for home, more than I usually do. And even though I’ve been waiting and waiting for the borders to reopen, it seems that time has passed without my knowing it. Like living in a time vacuum. The other day, I suddenly realized that Mum’s birthday is coming up soon. Her birthday usually marks the end of our stay down east. We have always made the long drive back to Ottawa at the beginning of the last week of August. In time to prepare for whatever fall had in store for us.
In the past, when I was still working, August would be a bit fraught. I’d be contentedly enjoying my time at home, and then remember with a jolt all the work I’d have to do to get ready for school when we returned. But once back, I’d throw myself into prepping, go into school to get my classroom ready, meet excitedly with colleagues I hadn’t seen since June. And, of course, shop for fall clothes.
Since retirement, most years after our September camping trip, I’ve been excitedly planning and packing for fall travel. 2014 Costa Rica, 2016 New York, 2017 England, 2018 Italy, 2019 Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 2020 was to be Africa. Sigh. Guess I won’t be needing that new safari jacket I was eyeing in the spring. Just kidding. Well, mostly.
But if August is tough for me this year, difficult to plan or look ahead beyond tomorrow, or maybe even next week, my teacher friends are having an excruciating August. Schools are scheduled to reopen in September. They are about to return to work, and what their future at work will look like is still very much obscured by fog. How their classrooms will look, how many students they will have, how much actual teaching they’ll be able to do is still most decidedly up in the air. And let’s not even get into the health risks.
Most of my teacher friends are secondary teachers like me. Secondary students in our board are to return for a half-time in-class schedule supported by on-line learning. Whatever that means. Will teachers have a small class they teach every other day, repeating the same lesson the next day to a different group, while students work on assignments during their “off” day? Should they forge ahead with the curriculum each day with 50% of kids in the classroom, and 50% of the kids following the same topic at home on-line? Should they cut courses to only the most essential skills necessary to move onto the next level? Will they need to double prep each unit for in-class teaching and on-line? So many organizational questions have yet to be answered before curriculum planning can begin in earnest.
And as my wise friend, and former colleague, Jo points out, teaching the grade level curriculum may not be teachers’ first priority. Students will have had vastly different learning experiences last school year. Some students completed their grade level course first semester, others had only completed a little over a month of their course when schools shut in March. Some kids continued to make progress, working diligently on their on-line learning in the spring. Others did not.
Some kids had an extended holiday, enjoying time with family, making TikTok videos, and baking brownies. Others were thrust into stressful, and even emotionally or financially precarious home situations. Parents and kids tried vainly to share the family computer, not to mention limited work space and privacy, to do their own work from home. Others parents lost their jobs, or perhaps were working every day in the front lines of health care. So helping kids to deal with the fall-out from last year, and navigate a return to school in a time of masks and constant sanitizing will be teachers’ first priority.
Part of me is very glad that I’m not still teaching. But part of me wants to roll up my sleeves, call a department meeting, and have us all work as a team sharing the work and supporting each other. Planning shorter units, culling others altogether, working the experiences of the past year into the curriculum. Scary change is not so daunting when accompanied by good laughs with colleagues, and washed down with a beer and some pizza afterwards. Enjoyed in someone’s back yard, suitable socially distanced, of course. I know I probably sound all Pollyanna-ish to those who are facing a return to work during this scary time. And I’ve not even addressed the health risks, the wearing of masks, and the endless sanitizing. And for that I apologize.
I know I can’t help my friends who are returning to work during a pandemic, but maybe I can steal some of that Pollyanna attitude for my own near future. Roll up my sleeves and do some short term organizing, and even a little long term planning, dates unspecified of course. Maybe that will help clear the fog for me.
I think that several issues have arisen during this pandemic that we can tackle even if we are still sheltering at home or wearing masks and staying six feet away from everyone. For instance, I’ve been researching which two Black Lives Matter books I will suggest to my book club on Saturday. We’re pursuing that theme for the next few months. I’m thinking we’ll be reading some wonderful books, and learning a lot together. I’ll tell you about the books we’ve chosen next week.
As for my fog-clearing planning, short term and long, I’ll get back to you on that too.
You know, I don’t mind drifting some of the time. Having the odd day of aimless reading and tea drinking is okay by me. Always has been. I used to be accused of walking around in a fog most of the time when I was a kid. My mind always wandering off to whatever book I was reading when I was supposed to be doing something useful… like dusting or peeling potatoes. I’m still like that. But there does come a time when drifting in a fog can be a bit much. And it’s time to move. Like Hubby in the canoe when the fog began to lift, I think it’s time I resumed my seat and picked up my paddle.
September has always seemed like more of a New Year for me than January. Time for new challenges. New adventures. And if we’re sad that the new adventures will not be like the adventures we’ve had in the past, well, we’d better get over that. Because according to a lot of really smart people we should probably start thinking about what a world after Covid-19 will be like.
The video below is Malcolm Gladwell talking about the post-Covid-19 world. I’ve not finished watching it yet. Have a listen if you’re interested. And you can watch and listen to all the Munk Dialogues here. They are wonderful.
So, have you felt as if the past few months have been drifting by, like paddling a canoe in the fog?
Note: The “schedule” of in-class learning combined with on-line learning for the public school board where my friends work was officially made public the day after I published this post. But I didn’t amend my post because, quite frankly, the timetable is so confusing, that it raises more questions than it answers. Like how in heck can teachers be teaching a class in-person when at the same time they are scheduled to be on-line assisting kids learning at home? Ha. Don’t ask me, I’m retired. As I said to my young friends at a socially-distanced, backyard drinks party last night: Just get through this. Survive as best as you can. So you can be around to help kids when things are more sane.
P.S. And if you want to help the people in Beruit, you can donate here.