During acupuncture once, my therapist told me about bamboo and how it rarely breaks because it just bends when it’s blown. She said I need to be more like bamboo and find flexibility in tough situations so that I don’t break.
At what point DOES bamboo crack, though? At what windspeed does a bamboo forest get taken down by forces it can’t control? What forces will break it, leaving it in disconnected (or barely connected) piles, unusable by anyone?
This is education right now.
Educators and administrators were hit hard in March of 2020. We were asked to go above and beyond our job descriptions, transitioning suddenly to online learning, something we’d never done before, in order to keep ourselves and our students safe from a virus that had already killed thousands. We took the summer to learn how to do what we’d done for 3 months better while still in crisis mode. We were tasked with learning new systems on the fly (some of which were being created on the fly too), creating learning opportunities out of lessons we’d only ever done in person, all while keeping contact with students and families and colleagues all while taking care of our own families and their needs.
And then cases began to drop. And we could transition again from fully virtual to cohorted hybrid, which was yet another system to learn and it was expected that we do it well, that we still show that kids made a year or more of growth despite everything we’d just been through. Gradually, most of us came back in person completely, with precautions in place.
Politics got involved throughout, telling us that we were harming the children we so willingly serve by asking them to wear masks, stay a distance away from each other, wash their hands more often, and be more careful with who they spend time with and how they spent that time. We were told to “follow the science” (which varies depending on who you are) so that everyone’s preference would be honored at the same time and that we were stoking fear in our kids and our families by supporting vaccines, mask wearing, and continuing the precautions we’d taken early on for the sake of consistency in working within a situation that is anything but.
And someone thought that throwing Critical Race Theory into the mix was a fine idea, creating yet another thing for educators to be criticized for. Few had ever heard of Critical Race Theory unless they’d gone to law school, but somehow it was “found out” that teachers were inserting it into everyday lessons–lessons about math, in the books they read with kids, science experiments, and of course, discourse about history.
Except we weren’t. None of us were teaching it. None of us were mentioning it. None of us were secretly weaving it into our lessons. Hell, few, if not none, had any background in it until we had to research it in order to defend what we were teaching. From a purely logical standpoint, does anyone really thing that a teacher would add SOMETHING ELSE into their units of instruction when we can barely manage to touch on the standards and skills that we’ve been asked to teach?
And here we are again, coming off of a longer break into the last stretch of the school year and all the state testing that will be required, with two new versions of the virus to deal with, politics being thrown at us left and right, being criticized for not doing “the one thing,” teach, that we’re asked to do while trying to juggle contact tracing, distancing, planning, arranging for coverage for classes when teachers are out, working with families to care for kids who have symptoms (or not) and may test positive who got sent to school, creating alternative work or making learning opportunities available offline for those who are at home for a variety of reasons, making sure that there’s nothing in our lessons that could offend someone, keeping kids distanced and safe and engaged, and trying to practice the elusive “self care” that the internet is so focused on while also caring for our own families.
Embracing the idea of bamboo and its inherent strength is especially difficult right now. The winds are sustained a eleventybillion miles per hour, with constant streams of hail, rain, snow, locusts, frogs, and apparently fish too. New things join the party every day it seems, everything from racial tensions, school boards and politicians focusing on the wrong things, loss of people from childhood, deaths and sickness of friends and family, and more innovative political swipes at everything education is from people who aren’t educators.
Last night over a frosty adult beverage it hit me why I am so irritated all the time lately; why I am exhausted, continually sad, peeved that I have to keep bending over backwards, and trying so hard to live my word of the year without much success, carrying an overall feeling of not doing well enough for anyone. I think many of us feel this way.
Bamboo can’t bend and flex forever. At some point it will break or bend to the point that it can’t become upright again. All of this seems like it will never end and a breaking point is near. We thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but like the false summit at the Manitou Incline, we were wrong and there is more. Self-care won’t fix it though it does help for a few minutes. There will never be “back to normal,” and while I know that crises like this are often catalysts for good change, the crises can stop piling on so we can work through one at a time with intention, rather than playing whack-a-mole and having no success.
There is no sage advice today. There is a request though.
Please, above everything else, be kind.
Be kind when they’re rude.
Be kind when they’re frustrated.
Be kind when they’re upset.
Be kind when they’re argumentative.
Be kind and don’t let the nasty words out of your mouth.
Be kind and set the criticism aside.
Be kind and do the right thing because it’s the right thing.
Bamboo can only bend for so long before it breaks.