Teaching by Halves

I can only do things by halves – maybe not even that.

In class this week, we’ve been reading Nina Cassian’s poem “A Man.” If you have never encountered the poem, here’s the gist: a man has lost an arm in war and fears being only half of what he was. This man lists the many things he can only do by halves – until he realizes that his attitude determines his success.

Last week, schools opened entirely online. Due to restrictions placed on local districts, I have spent the past two weeks teaching 160 students through an online-meeting app. Many friends and family have asked me how it is going. They want to know the struggles, the challenges, and the successes. As I reflected on these weeks and the man who felt worthless, this is what came to me:

With my wings tied down by invisible string, I see only the faces of those who want to be seen, not the ones who need to be known. I hear only the tapping of fingers on keyboards, not the whispers of confusion seeking clarity. I reply to the ones who speak up, not to the ones whose faces I would read if I could. I struggle to translate paper and pencil and magic to screens and slides and virtual reality.

I am a resounding gong, my voice echoing off the walls of an empty classroom.

My garbled voice and glitchy movements mirror our lives: blurry echoes of what it was like before.

When I let my mind fall into the abyss of frustrations, my emotions follow. In this time where the list of closures and mandates is seemingly infinite, it is easy to let my mind wander away from me.

On Friday, I sat in my parked car, my face mask in my fist, and I cried. My shoulders ached and my body clenched with stress. Tears flooded my eyes, tears for my own boys, glued to screens we never wanted them to have, missing friends, missing teachers, missing the normal day-to-day tests of childhood. Tears for my students, stuck at home in bedrooms, at kitchen tables, on couches in their living rooms, navigating a labyrinth of new tools and new anxieties. Tears for myself, for the feeling of impending defeat and the inability to do my job well.

Then I remembered this one word: grace. Grace is with me. Grace covers me. Grace flows through me. I swallowed my tears and picked up my grace. I used it to unfurl the knotted string binding my teacher-wings. Then, I held tightly to that grace and walked with it into my classroom. As I opened that first meeting of the day, and 33 student names pinged into the waiting room, I whispered under my breath: Grace to you all.

2 responses to “Teaching by Halves”

  1. Love this, Babe !

  2. Oh Karen! Such GRACEFUL words to make sense of this upside down world we are in transit with. Keep you writing flowing. Its what is needed and calming. You are magical! My dear one 🥰❣️

Leave a Reply