As School Ends, Students Take Stock

May 21, 2020 — History teacher Chris Edler can’t remember where she heard this quote, only that it felt like good guidance for students and teachers going through coronavirus lockdowns and remote learning: “You have to see what’s there, not what’s not there.”

Edler co-teaches an 11th-grade course called “Shared Voices,” which combines American history and American literature with a focus on marginalized populations. As she and her teaching partner, English teacher Molly Lai, wrapped up the semester, they wanted their students to take stock. Find a familiar space and spend 10 minutes observing and listening to what’s happening around you, Edler prompted the class — and write it all down. Like most teenagers, she said, her students have gotten “so focused on what their lives are like, so focused on the computer in front of them. I wanted them to think about things a little differently.”

Edler’s students live in time zones all over the world — California, Russia, Taiwan, and Ivory Coast, in addition to the Eastern U.S. — which means that they have been attending her class at 6 am, 2 pm, 9 pm. “Remote learning hasn’t been anyone’s idea of fun,” Edler admitted. “But how do we look beyond the inconveniences and find something that’s valuable and important?” 

Here are excerpts from a few of her students’ responses:

Ollie ’21: “When we started online school, I was upset about the lack of time I got to sleep in every morning. I wasn’t appreciating how I got to see the sunrise every morning. I have seen the sunrise more times just in the past week than I had in my whole life.”

Julie ’21: “I am sitting in my living room. Everything is still and calm. One of the windows is cracked and I can hear the birds in my backyard. The next few months and the future are very uncertain and it’s important to try to stay in the present and take it day by day. In this time, a lot of people are frantic and wanting answers to something that is complicated and very unpredictable. But this time also allows us to focus on little things that we might have not have focused on before.”

Tram ’21: “For the past two months, with the stay-at-home orders still occurring, I've been spending a lot of time in my room by my desk. My room needs a little bit of cleaning, with a pile of clothes on one of my chairs, my bed unmade, and pieces of paper from my SAT work covering my desk. Music is playing softly in the background, as music has been a source to help me focus. Occasionally, the sound of pots and pans is heard as my mother experiments with another recipe she saw online. We all are yearning for this to be over and to go back to our normal lives, but I haven’t been home for this long before and I forgot how nice it is to be able to see my mom every day.”

Kai ’21: “It was 10 pm. It was quiet. The lights were off. I left the curtain to my window open so I was able to look out over the city lights of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where I live. One of my dogs started to bark from outside. I saw a chicken rooting around in the grass outside my gate. I watched this chicken for a little bit, wondering why he was not asleep. He didn’t make any noise, he was just pecking at something and minding his own business. You should appreciate what you have in front of you, and not worry or dwell too much on what you don’t have. Don’t be too upset if one little thing goes wrong. There are probably a bunch of things going right.”