School in Covid Times

The week has been a blur. The son bounced into lunch the other day, and said, “Do you have a meeting at 12:30?”

Seeing us shake our heads, he said, “Yes! Finally I have a zoom meeting at 12:30! Gosh – it is so good to have something to do again, right? I mean, I was always the vetti one.” (vetti in this context means jobless one)

I love it when Tamil words and phrases creep into their conversations like this, and I said so. The children scoffed. “Oh stop already with this know-more-than-English thing. Indian people are so annoying!” 

“Well, I know my Chinese friends speak Mandarin at home, and go to Mandarin classes. My friends and colleagues from Russia have their kids learn a smattering of Russian. So …” I said shrugging my shoulders. 

The children exchanged glances that said “Parents will be parents! Let it go!”, and I smiled.

School has reopened in completely virtual mode, and the children have been thrilled. I feel bad that the usual back-to-school euphoria is muted with zoom calls, and not the raucous meeting of friends after a long summer ritual. The children felt it too. 

“I would have liked to meet my friends and the classroom amma. I mean, now, it is like looking at our pictures instead of us – you know the people?”

I laughed at the description, for it was true. The e-world has managed to make two dimensional beings out of us. Entire personalities squashed into a grid on the screen. 

On the second day of school, he spent the minutes prior to the zoom call getting things ready for the day: A Dr Seuss book, one of his comic book creations (with illustrations of superheroes fighting valiant battles with super magnetic force-fields against a turbulent tornado crusher etc), an Avengers action figure, his microscope and binoculars.

I looked amused at this collection of objects laid out by his computer. He saw me looking at these and said, “Oh! The teacher said she wants us to know each other better. So, I am looking for things that best describe what I like to do.”

I gave him a huge smile and thumbs up and awaited the news at lunch time. Say what you will about the Covid-situation, I am grateful to be home when school is done. It is a luxury I have seldom had, and the outpouring of chatter when they let out has been marvelous for me. My own batteries are not drained by a meaningless commute eating into my day, and I am more receptive to what they have to say.

“You know how we were supposed to get to know each other and bring stuff that represents us?! One fellow brings a football, because he likes football, and then he brings a basketball because he likes basketball, and then points to his shirt – a baseball shirt since he likes baseball. Really – you like Sports, we get it!” he said and looking at the smile on his face as he said it, I could see he already liked this fellow.

“I heard what you told your teacher! Really kid?! Sour patch candies and Pirates Booty?!” said the teenage older and supposedly-wiser daughter.

There was a train of giggles at this and the fellow gurgled on about how his teacher asked him if he knew more than 1 language and told him to practice speaking Tamil at home, so he doesn’t forget it. The words of wisdom coming from a teacher’s mouth meant that he took it to heart, and I could see him sprinkling in a couple of words here and there. 

I spoke to my school teacher-parents later that day and told them how their teacher had tried different things to get to know them, and my father said, “Poor  teachers and students ma! Most dedicated teachers come to the profession because of the joy of being surrounded by young people: their energy and personalities are truly a joy to be with. To have that replaced by a series of zoom meetings seems so sad! It will be okay soon. Don’t worry da kanna – you will get to see your school mates soon okay?” the grandfather’s voice boomed over the oceans like a foghorn of wisdom to his grandson, and he smiled and said, “Thanks Thaatha! So, when are you coming here?”

Well, in the words of Miss Read:

“Life went on. No matter what happened, life went on … But somehow, in this continuity, there were the seeds of comfort.” 
― Miss Read, Emily Davis

While I sincerely hope the children’s social aspects are not unduly affected by social distancing, I am grateful for what interactions they do get. While I have my gripes about technology, I am also grateful for it.

Life is full of paradoxes and that is as it should be.

Teachable Moments

I was telling the husband casually about a friend of mine. “She is thinking of taking up primary school teaching.”

“Huh?! Really?” said the son, his ears twiddling, for the news interested him. He loved this particular aunt.

“Well – maybe I should tell her the best grades to teach then!” said he.

“What do you mean the best grades to teach? ” I said cautiously for I felt a moment to savor coming on in my bones, but acted as nonchalant as possible. “Elementary school teaching – doesn’t that mean kids in your school?”

“Well, you know how it is? We aren’t all just cute kids like you think Amma! There are some grades you want to be careful with.” he said with a meaningful look in his eyes.

“What do you mean? I’ve seen you children in Elementary School – so sweet you all are!” I said – knowing fully well the reaction this would elicit.

“Ha! Okay, okay – I’ll tell you. Kindergarteners are naughty, 1st graders are okay, 2nd graders are rowdy, 3rd graders are sassy, 4th graders think everything is lame, and 5th graders are okay.”

I stifled a hearty laugh for the moment, and asked him, “So only 1st and 5th grades are okay to teach huh?!”

“Yep! Pretty much! ” he said.

I gave into a full throated laugh, not for the first time admiring and thanking all the stellar teachers of the Naughty, Sassy, Rowdy, and Think-Everything-Is-Lame children. Somehow, these magicians strive to make students of them all.

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Later that evening, the daughter came moaning into the kitchen – “Gosh! There is just so much homework! I mean – these teachers think we are awesome, but we really aren’t!”

Coming hot on the wheels of the Elementary School analysis, this seemed to be something to be milked for its true worth. So I tried.

“Are you saying your teachers are poor things for trying to uplift you and so on?”

“Of course they are!” said she.

“Remember they were teenagers too once, and probably realize that teen potential is high. They do want to give you the best opportunity to attain your true potential!” I said, thinking of the stalwart teachers of the folks who make the 30-under-30 and 20-under-20 lists.

Yeeaaarrcccchhh!” she said. I am quite sure Yeeaaarrcccchhh isn’t a real word, but a guttural sound open to interpretation. After a moment she said, “I sometimes think to myself what my teachers must be like if they were teenagers today. ”

There was silence for a moment. A silence I did not break while she gathered her thoughts. This was going to be something, I knew. When the daughter thinks of smart-aleck moments, it is best for the waiting populace to take cover.
“My Chem teacher would probably be obnoxious, but not a super smart version of Sheldon. My Math teacher would be a shy but sweet kid. My history teacher would have been the low key popular kid who is friends with everybody.”

I laughed enjoying this analysis as she went down the list of teachers. And then, I asked looking as innocent as it was possible to be. “What would you think of me as a teenager?”

“HA! Not falling for that one – better luck next time Mother! Mother, who is long past her teenage years!” she said, ruffling my head like I was a cute dog, and made off for her room to tackle the oodles of homework her stellar teachers had set out for her.

As a child I was keenly aware of both sides of the coin. Both my parents were teachers, but that did not stop me from becoming a dab hand at imitating my teachers, and giving them fond pet-names when required. The father and I enjoyed the creativity there.

All in all, I know in the name of professionalism and growing up, we lose this marvelous trait of making light of things, but I wish we didn’t.

For those who enjoy light tales of children in their schools, these are all good reads and worth chuckling anytime one feels the weight of the years settling in on them.

Some whimsical poems here:

We-Are-Teachers.Com

Turtlish Thoughts

When the children are hanging out nearby, I am amused to see they take the phrase literally. I find them hanging upside down from trees looking like bats wondering why the world cannot be more topsy-turvy on occasion. One day, I found them on the monkey bars like this: one fellow upside down, the other swinging wildly. One child cart-wheeling on the floor, (hop, skip, jump, cartwheel),and chatting about Turtles. I don’t think they realize how the scene must seem to adults who have long given in to the expectations of the adult world, and walk upright at a reasonable speed and acceptable gait. I grinned at the unusual scene and they smiled and waved, before resuming their chats.

The scene reminded me of the Kung Fu Panda movie. Thoughts of Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane, Tigress , Shifu, Po and Oogway are always welcome.

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Sometimes, when a bunch of stuffed shirts are droning on in self-important tones at the tail-end of an exhausting meeting, I think wanly how much more fun it would have been if we had jumped up and down, cart-wheeled a few times and hung from tree branches while discussing ‘Strategic Improvements to Aid And Abet The Committee’. Every bit helps.

That night, with the wind whipping up a mean rhythm outside, I suggested visiting our old friends in the Valley of Peace, and embrace the challenges of the Jade Palace again. The Kung Fu Panda series has long been a favorite in the household, and we all nodded. Movie nights are never an easy democratic process, but I was glad we all agreed on ‘Kung Fu Panda‘ that night.

Oogway, the turtle, holds a special place in our hearts, partly because, measured and slow is not something we do – we are forever racing from one place to another, hanging upside down with friends on monkey bars, competing to deliver the quickest quips and generally making quick pests of ourselves in the home. Oogway, on the other hand is the coolest dude. The turtles: Oogway of Kung Fu Panda fame, Crush of Finding Nemo fame and Toby of Kindergarten fame, have all been much loved and have taught us so much.

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It was no surprise then that we reached for the ‘Always Remember’ book by Cece Meng and Illustrated by Jago.

It is a beautiful book that talks about an old turtle. After the turtle dies, all of his friends remember him lovingly in their own way. It is a lovely book showing us how far and wide our impacts can be by living a fruitful and useful life, sticking to simple tenets of compassion, loyalty and friendship.

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The marine worlds always make for the best illustrations, but even so, Jago’s work in he book is mesmerizing. The characters (dolphins, starfish, baby turtles, whales, sea otters) remember Old Turtle, the compassionate companion, the adventurer, the teacher, the explorer. We, by our very being, mean different things to different people and this beautiful multifaceted aspect is illustrated in pictures splashed across the ocean in hues of blue and green.

Side note: For adults, a similar book about the far and wide reaching impacts we have on others, is a book by Miss Read, Emily Davis. A school teacher by profession, her life is remembered fondly by those whose lives she affected. Often times, we think of these large sized impacts but the most powerful ones are right by us all the time.

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Our companions on Earth have always fascinated us. I remembered fondly watching a baby turtle sun itself on the rocks in Spring  a few months ago. A friend once told me that once we start paying attention to the world around us, it tells us in so many ways what we need to hear and how.

So, what does it mean when a turtle enters your thoughts so apparently suddenly and steadily? Does it mean that we need to synchronize our movements with the animal companions that are paying us visits? In this case, s..l..o..w……d..o..w..n ? Well, my turtle teachers will be proud of me indeed to see me following their example so well. I am sitting cosily in bed as I write about these dear creatures, and look forward to slowly drifting into a world of quiet contemplation, and gently falling asleep while the Earth slowly but steadily hums and thrums on outside. The flowers may bloom or they may not, the shoots may grow or they may not.

 

“Your mind is like this water my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear. “ – Oogway