A Year Later: Teacher and Student

covid-19 vaccines

Since my post from a year ago, I’ve grown under the physical and emotional pressures of the pandemic.

The process of growing required breaking some things—as well as accepting I felt broken—which is, unfortunately, a common experience many of us experience(d) while navigating a worldwide crisis.

My students, as always, are an inspiration.

I can’t fathom how college undergrads are navigating their young adulthood years right now—during Covid-19—during political division—and during a widening wealth gap, climate change, domestic terrorism—when, instead, they should be focusing on discovering themselves. It’s a tall order for them.

My “nontraditional” aged students (26 and older) are navigating just as many burdens, and they’re just as admirable for gracefully (and sometimes not-as-gracefully) enduring them. Whether they’re parents pursuing an education, community members moving into a second career, or the overburdened ones—students who took a break after high school to help raise their brother/sister and/or pay bills, and/or who stumbled through the shadows of mental illness, and/or who had to multitask education with a tremoring life event—everyone has a story they’re fulfilling in the cacophony of a worldwide trauma.

That worldwide trauma is yet another tremoring life event.

That worldwide trauma comes with more anxiety, more stress, more loss.

That worldwide trauma is keeping families cooped up in homes.

It’s a ridiculously tall order for them.

So my students live stories of resilience. I love that I get to teach them how to write their voices on paper, because they have powerful things to say—they’re going through powerful experiences—which means I can tell them they’re learning life skills in my class: how to observe, document, and critically reason with this “New Normal.”

I don’t mean to paint the last year of teaching as inspiration overload. Breaking things, and seeing things broken, make us feel broken, so of course there are times of weakness and hardship, too.

I’ve met missed assignments with unlimited, penalty-free extensions on due dates—the due dates are more a formality than a pressure—yet students still occasionally drop out because we live in an era of darkness. I point them towards help. If they unload, I listen. But I can’t make the darkness go away. None of us can. The only way out is through.

We’re living through A Very Hard Time, which is why inspiration feels so bright. It’s stacked on top of the other A Very Hard Times that came before this A Very Hard Time: a layered cake of social, political, economical, and environmental turmoil that’s topped off with a corona, when so many of us were already quite exhausted with our family traumas.

Every day, I feel the pressing weight of gravity.

As a student, (I’m still taking as many classes as I teach,) I’m no longer interested in learning math. That’s one of the cracks I had before, and it’s re-opened.

I don’t know if the brain fog is my anxiety flaring—or if I’m struggling because of the dull-yet-enormous sensory overload that builds up from living in the same small space, with the same routine, and the same lights, and zero novel stimuli—or if, at some point, I was asymptomatic, and this is just the fuzziness of my life now; but my relationship with numbers is even blurrier than it used to be, and that’s saying something, since it’s been blurry since about tenth grade.

Studying programming, and the mathematical requirements for C++ courses, felt eerily like when I was learning statistics for psychology, and my math skills bottomed out—so I did like back then, switching to a more creative lenses.

I was a psych major in undergrad, before I changed to English studies, so this time, I moved from programming to web design, graphics, and arts. I still play around with JavaScript at home, but I’m hesitant to return to any math-based academic studies, given I’m happier when the numbers only show up in my element.

Creative practices also help with understanding the inner world, so it’s healing for C-PTSD and anxiety to focus on arts and design. I regulate better when I’m working with colors, sounds, and stories, whereas, when I’m with my video game project’s code, the variables and math functions ricochet off one another; it can take me an extra dollop of time to understand the numbers, and while I’m working hard with them, they don’t help me buoy my emotions within the turbulent sea, not like plot and characters do.

Speaking of a real-life character (who’s always worth getting to know), I talk on the phone with my dad quite a bit. I also talk on Skype with friends and with my sibling. We play World of Warcraft, and I solo Sims 4, mostly with tiny homes. I’ve read lots of books. I still see a therapist twice a month. I haven’t driven to family since the shelter-in-place orders were first advised; like most, I miss the face-to-face past.

I don’t know how to re-shape my life into one with less cats. I’ve grown used to having my cats around all day. I treasure the cats-cats-cats part of the last year; it’s another blinding light in otherwise darkness. I’ve developed a closer relationship with my parrots, too. It’d be rad if I could teach hybrid once this is all over (whatever “over” looks like).

My second vaccination is soon, and even if it doesn’t mark an end, it feels like a new beginning. I try to be grateful for what’s happened—because it brought me here—yet I’m even more thankful for the future. I hope to enter the future with the same resilience I’ve observed in my students, as well as with more self-love and gentleness about the fissures I’ve observed within myself.

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