I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be writing something related to what is working for me as a teacher during a pandemic right now. Or maybe I missed the deadline for that? I don’t even know anymore. It all seems a bit irrelevant now. Honestly, this isn’t the post I thought I’d be writing - but here we are.
I had a draft of a post from last week about how I was struggling to find the same sense of community that I normally feel in a classroom this year due to the hybrid learning model. I’m about to quote myself here, but bear with me. In my draft post, I had written “one of the things I’ve been struggling with is building a sense of community in the classroom - specifically a community that includes both our online learners and our in person learners. My personal teaching philosophy is pretty centered around relationships first - and teaching to blank screens and muted students is proving to be a challenge.”
I stand corrected. Rosseau Lake College is the strongest, most supportive community I have ever been a part of, and I felt that to my core this week. On Monday (which feels like 47 days ago but has remarkably been less than a week), our community was brought to its knees by an unfathomable tragedy. Our Head of School, Robert Carreau, is gone - killed in a terrible accident on his morning run. This week has been a complete blur of emotions - attempting to hold myself together while being there for our students and staff. I actually found myself googling, “will I eventually run out of tears,” and then laughed at myself because the science teacher in me realized how ridiculous my query was. But the community that I am a part of is incredible. The number of emails I’ve received from students asking if I am okay and how I’m doing - even from online students who never even had the chance to meet Mr. Carreau - is mind blowing. Working at a school where literally every student and staff member feels like a member of the family is such a blessing. Losing the father figure of the school is not. But I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more supported than I feel right now from these students. Thus, I feel like I can no longer write about my attempts to increase a sense of community between online and in person students. It seems redundant now - we are more than a community. We are a family. Again - this is not the blog post I thought I’d be writing.
I teach math and science - meaning I’m no English connoisseur. With the state my mind is in this week, I’m also certainly not the most eloquent, but I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together. Lately, I’ve just found myself thinking about mindset during this entire situation. Mindset during a pandemic. Mindset during a tragedy. Mindset during a bad day. This year has been hard - and I know I’ve probably been guilty of being a little more negative at times than I’d care to admit.
I want to change that.
I’m going to make an effort to see the good in every day. I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert, and what advice he might have in this situation. His ability to be both optimistic and realistic at the same time is something I’ve admired since I met him, and his insightful words often comforted both staff and students. So, here’s what I’m focusing on for the next little while.
1) Let go of expectations that things need to happen at a certain time.
Yes, we have a curriculum. Yes, it has importance I suppose. Is it the be-all and end-all of student learning? Absolutely not. Have I been focusing on it this week? Definitely not. Robert would always say, “they probably won’t remember the periodic table later in life, but they will remember how you made them feel, and those moments they had with you.”
2) Take care of yourself.
This was something Robert always reiterated to staff at the school. You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself. This week I’ve been trying to stay strong for all of our grieving students. But I haven’t been taking the time for myself. Yesterday I cried in front of a group of students for no apparent reason. Self-care isn’t a fad. It’s necessary. It’s also okay to not be okay. I admitted to the students that I wasn’t super okay right now, but that I would be eventually and just needed some time. I think that this might be just as important a lesson as math or science - maybe even more so. Being real, showing emotions, being authentic - these are how we build those critical relationships with students. Teachers are humans too.
3) Why wait?
Robert was never one to hesitate on anything. I recently read in his obituary that Robert’s X-ring had the words “Why wait?” engraved on it. That message is such a beautiful reminder to seize the day, and stop putting off those things you want to do. Next time I have some wild idea for a class that perhaps I feel like needs some more refining or planning, I am going to remind myself of this. Spontaneous field trip? Outlandish whole-school activity? Ambitious goals? Why wait?
4) You are not your resume.
Robert’s resume was beyond impressive. He completed so much at such a young age. While his accomplishments and achievements definitely impressed me - they are not what I remember most about him. I remember his ability to talk to anyone and make them feel like an immediate friend. I remember his tact for being able to break down the walls of kids who had them built the highest and the strongest. I remember his remarkable ability to wear so many different hats so well - to excel at so many things - and to remain so humble. I remember his singing, his laughter, his sense of humour, and how much he cared about kids - his own, and his students. I hope we can instill this lesson in our students. Grades don’t define you. Who you are and how you treat others is what matters most.
5) Even in the midst of a tornado of unforeseen circumstances, there is always something to appreciate in life.
We start every staff meeting with a moment to express gratitude towards others in our community. Even in the crappiest week, the shittiest day, the most terrible morning - there is something to be thankful for. I’ve started practicing more gratitude with my classes this week. We start our lessons with PearDecks, and the first slide is often “what is one thing that you are thankful for this week?” (I highly recommend it. It is completely anonymous if you use the PearDeck add-on for Google Slides, but everyone can see the answers posted. It is such a refreshing way to start a class. I wasn’t sure the kids were into it until today when I didn’t have the energy for a PearDeck, and a student said, “but I need to write what I’m thankful for today! Might’ve been the first real smile on my face all week.)
This week has been really really hard. But, I am so grateful to have met Robert 3 years ago, and to have had the privilege of knowing him, working with him, and learning from him since then.
We need Novembers
In one of his most recent letters home to parents, Robert put into words what I think I’m trying to say far better than I ever could.
“The truth is though, we need Novembers, and rain. We need setbacks and failures, stress and sadness, moustaches and bad hair days, tragedy and disappointment. We need these and all other challenges, not only because they make us stronger, but also because they allow the light in the rest of our lives to shine even more brightly.” - Robert Carreau, October 20th, 2020.
So at Rosseau Lake College, we are going to allow that light in our lives to shine more brightly.
We are going to support each other as the community - the family - that he led and inspired and cared for.
We are going to do everything that we can to heal, to grow, and to make this school even more remarkable than it already is.
One of my coworkers said it best when she said, “if we all strive to be more like Robert Carreau, the world will be a much better place.”