Decisions Instead of Reason

Fully foggy tableau with faint, shadowy outline of a broad evergreen tree in the middle.
We’ll see. We’ll wait and see. (image: Spelic)

I run on feelings and language. Emotions and words. When we return to school complete with our testing regime and mask requirement I should feel if not safe, then at least somewhat protected. After almost two years it seems silly to worry now, after 3 shots of the vaccine. We’ve come this far, right?

Austria’s newly appointed chancellor (who replaced the previous super young chancellor caught in the middle of a corruption scandal) tested positive for Covid-19 today. During a press conference of the government’s Covid Response Team, the health minister who is apparently a physician, took down his mask and coughed into his hand, only moments after reminding his audience about the importance of maintaining hygiene protocols. I suppose it could be funny, if it weren’t so tiresome. There is no Schadenfreude to be had here. It’s all the worst kind of cabaret. Bad jokes in poor taste.

Feelings and language. Emotions and words. Everything matters even if nothing matters – this is a whole mood right now. Ski season can crack on while infection numbers ratchet up. But now we should wear masks outdoors if we can’t maintain a baby elephant’s distance. Absurdity can have a certain charm on the page or the stage. It upsets my reality stomach though. When reason becomes the thing we choose to finally abandon, what’s the basis for making reasonable decisions? Aha! In that case, the only possible decisions become unreasonable! Decisions without reason; decisions instead of reason.

I think I finally grasp wit’s end. The Austrian government seems to have reached it and we are all spectators. We the people become the very end of wit. Humor lost, trust broken. The government’s credibility has been steadily gambled away.

Feelings and language. Emotions and words. Let me get this straight: if you’re vaccinated and boosted (3 separate shots) in Austria, you are no longer considered a contact person to a covid-infected person and must no longer isolate. That’s a new guideline. But now that the chancellor has tested positive, the health minister who has obviously been in close contact has decided to voluntarily self-isolate for 5 days although he just announced that this is no longer necessary for working folks.

Decisions without reason; decisions instead of reason.

I know that school will resume for at least a week or two. And then we’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll watch and wait. See how attendance pans out. See what the test results tell us. Teach indoors, teach outdoors. Wear our masks. Carry on without carrying on. Do the deed. I’m bracing myself for not knowing. I’m bracing myself.

Emotions calling for words. Feelings overwhelming language. This is how I roll.

Three weeks in, I’m wondering.

low angle shot of green trees
Photo by Hoàng Chương on Pexels.com 

I went for a long walk this morning and for the first 5 minutes I wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. And what for? What’s there to cry about? It’s a gorgeous sunny day, I can leave my house and walk up into hills with lovely vistas, vineyards covering the landscape. I’m free to leave for an hour or more if I choose. My middle school child can manage his tasks well enough on his own. My spouse is working from home and is available if necessary. I’m not due on a call before 12 and it only makes sense to begin responding to my students’ responses to their posted assignment in the afternoon when most have had time to complete it.

My list of privileges is long. In this time of outrageous uncertainty, I live in a country where social distancing is well established and the health care system is both universal and functioning. My own teaching situation is advantageous to say the least. PK-12 1:1 devices, iPads, chromebooks or PC laptops. At the elementary level, lessons are currently asynchronous. We’re finishing our third week and considering the circumstances, I suppose we’re doing very well.

Nevertheless, as I continue to create short videos for my students encouraging them to stretch, strengthen, toss, catch, jump and balance, after a while it becomes hard not to wonder at the purpose of it all. Yes, it’s meaningful for students to be able to still connect with their specialist teachers in addition to their classroom teachers. I see it in the smiles and exclamation points that come back to me in response to the assignments I post. Yes, it’s a useful pedagogical exercise to consider the best ways to offer physical education activities that are creative yet simple to practice and differentiated for various grade levels. Yes, I’m learning as I go – about myself, about my students, about families.

That said, I’m still asking myself about what I’m doing; what all of this emergency distance learning is.

I create mini lessons that I upload onto a platform. These can be scheduled so that they appear in the student’s feed at the appropriate time. Sometimes I make a video demonstrating the things I want them to try. Other times I may create a slide that asks them to follow a video or two and then tell me which one they preferred and why. I try to switch it up and keep it varied. Novelty and surprise have a new role to play in sustaining motivation to keep tuning in.

What I create is a performance. A performance with an invitation. “Follow along!” or “Alright, everyone, try this at home!” Literally. I am not delivering content, per se. No, I am cultivating relationships with students, often with parents and caregivers, and it’s centered on presenting movement as enjoyable, valuable and familiar. I’m not trying to teach discrete skills. Instead, I set up possibilities for students to practice. In one video I pull out my imaginary jump rope, in another I show 3 kinds of target games that I played with my own son. You hardly see us in the video, only the socks and stuffed animals we’re tossing in our living room towards a laundry basket or bucket. As a response, I asked students to create their own target game and send a picture or short video. (I could not have predicted how much joy I would feel watching some of their game ideas.)

None of this is rocket science. I see the difficulties of my own child navigating this new terrain. Even with the most engaged teaching and class meetings per hangouts, it’s hard to stay motivated. Yes, we want kids to be able to keep learning but how does it not become a differently moderated series of homework tasks? Everything that students do now is homework because home is where we all are and the fact that tasks are completed in response to teacher assignments makes them a form of work. I’ve called distance learning with a device “interactive to-do lists.”  That seems unfair considering the remarkable work I know my colleagues invest in developing lessons that are engaging, topical and invitational. But from the child’s point of view, how does it seem?

I worry about our educator tendency to respond heroically to the storms with which we are confronted. I worry about our tendency to make lemonade out of lemons even if there’s no sugar in sight to sweeten the deal. I worry about the ways we rise to the occasion when we are also carrying our own children, elders, or other major concerns on our shoulders throughout. Our perpetual drive to remain productive poses a real risk to our health and well being over the long haul. These are not normal times. We are not simply having an interruption. The world is fighting a pandemic that ” is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways.

While my own family here seems safe, I worry more about family in the US where medical care and attention can be very uneven and likely, racist. While I think about what good my “teaching” may or may not be doing, there are other, deeper concerns that lurk in my mind. None of this under my control. Whether or not my lessons seem long enough or evoke enough of the right kind of engagement is not what I can or will fret over.

If you’re in a similar boat, and many of us are, let’s agree that we’ll take some deep breaths. Let’s steal some time for exercise in whichever ways we can, ask for help when we need it and even when we don’t think we need it (that second part is hard, I know). Let’s stop pretending that this is an occasion for business as usual. I’m not saying toss out routines or healthy family habits, I am saying please check your pulse and your blood pressure, figuratively and literally. Notice when you’re overwhelmed and spent and know that you have every reason to feel that way. If I go out for my walk and I need to cry, I’m giving myself permission, even if the tears won’t come.