As 2016 draws to a close, I think I have figured out the motto of the year:
"What just happened?"
It has definitely been quite a year. Upheavals in a variety of political realms and the seemingly unending stream of shocking celebrity deaths alone have left my head spinning. As a child of the 80's, I have seen an unprecedented number of childhood heroes (and villains) as well as inspiring artists pass away.
This summer, Brexit had me curious at the new shape of Europe. Like the media and large portions of the world, I watched as Donald Trump became president- despite all evidence seeming to indicate Hillary Clinton would win.
And my Texas A&M Aggies went from earning a spot in the playoff to a lackluster 8-5 season.
I like to reflect this time of year. Sort out the good and the bad, engage in a bit of nostalgia and a healthy dose of "good riddance." As I was reflecting, trying to make sense of things and thinking "What just happened?" I realized something profound about the state of education.
It is is our job as educators to help our students try to make sense of things.
Sometimes, we have to try to make sense of long division, or syllables, or scientific method, or 1984. Students get this new material, and many look around bewildered, wondering "What just happened?" We think of this as what we teach, but I bet we don't often think of the importance of these skills with the same weight we think of "real life" issues. But for our students, these things are "real life" issues. They may not carry the emotional impact of learning that Alan Rickman- our Severus Snape- has died, but struggling with those concepts has an impact. It is our job to show our students how and WHY these academic issues are powerful.
Other times, we help our students make sense of current events. I couldn't wait to talk about Brexit with one of my students who is quite an Anglophile- to get his perspective. The day after the election, I had students in tears because Trump won. Others were excited at the new possibilities. I had to help both sets of students make sense of the new reality. Because if they could not figure out "What just happened?" they were never going to be in the head space to learn academics.
In the same way, students are often blindsided by life- and loss. As I write this, the world is still reacting to the loss of Carrie Fisher and a day later her mother Debbie Reynolds. Both were shocking, and I cannot imagine what their family feels right now. Statistics show that it is highly likely you will have at least one student experience the death of a loved one this year. While our students are navigating new waters of academia, they get blindsided with a loss that leaves them asking "What just happened?" We don't have a teacher's edition for this, with the answers clearly defined, but we must make ourselves available for our students who are, for lack of a better word, attacked by life.
Our job job as educators is to help make sense of life. And life is political upheaval, loss and geometry. We don't understand politics or loss- and it's ok if we don't always get geometry or Shakespeare. If we let our students see that we too sometimes look around and ask "What just happened?" we might just learn how to connect with the students who feel lost in life. And together with our students, maybe we can make sense of some of the politics and loss and even physics. That's what learning is. A collaborative effort, leaning on each other to understand this world together.
2016, you have been a pretty crazy year.
But thanks for for teaching me this lesson.