Monday 7 February 2022

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Thirteen


Today I complete my sixty-sixth year of existence. Sixty-six laps around the sun, as is my way of acknowledging the passage of another year. 

A bit about why I always acknowledge the birthdays of family and friends with “hey hey happy one more lap around the sun!!” A number of years ago a good friend was lamenting the fact of her birthday taking place; how, as a man, I did not know what it was like to “turn 40 and become transparent”. I agreed with her that I did not know, but perhaps we put too much stock in a birthday and what that means to us and others. It is, after-all, just another lap around the sun. I am long past feeling birthdays to be special, with parties and gifts and things; give me a good meal with the ones I love and that is plenty special to me.

I’ve heard it said that time is an abstract construct and that in reality clocks and calendars are mere conveniences and contrivances of the capitalist state. We’d be better off if we threw them all away and lived by what Mother Nature shows us. The sun in the sky here in the North has started to change already as that inexorable tilt begins to change. So, instead of it being “X hours in the morning”, it might be better to look at it as a time where the sun is just over the local church steeple as my stomach says it is time to eat. Or some other more natural agreement.

As much as I may wish it to be, the reality is that we live our lives tied to the needs of something and/or someone else. So I get up at 05:00 as dictated by my alarm clock. How I have to take my morning pills right around that time so I can have my breakfast beginning at 05:30, because the digestive tract of my body consumes those pills right around 30 minutes later and they will be effective against whatever ailment they are meant to treat. How the intervening 30 minutes I use up by reading the news, saying my prayers, shaving (only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, mind you) and other washroom duties. By 05:30 it is breakfast time and more reading about what was going on in the world while I was asleep. Catching up on sports, since 90% of what takes place I cannot listen to/see. Watching the goings on in Africa via the Namibia streaming cam (look it up on YouTube - strangely calming).

One interesting thing about reading about the news is that it is history by the time I read it. It is reporting on something that has already passed. I like Twitter for its sense of immediacy, but honestly it too is sending things that have already happened. I am a history buff and that makes this really a moot point, but at the end of the morning, although I have been caught up on what has already transpired, I am now more focused on what happens next.

Of course I am up so early to allow me to make it to school as early as I can. Up by five o’clock, out the door by seven-thirty. It takes me forever to get dressed to go outside, so I need the time to get to the school at my agreed time.

And it is a time I choose - the school opens its doors at 08:45, but I like to be there at least an hour earlier, to prepare, to get ready, to throw down the first cup of tea.

School has sort of re-opened in the week of 31 January. We had two professional development days to try to get all the gears turning in the right direction and then we started having classes with only 50% attendance. All to mitigate the risk of yet another COVID wave sweeping through the school and the community. If we were being truly frank and honest we’d admit that COVID has won and it is time to move on with our lives. Most in this little community will not follow the necessary protocols and make an effort to stay free of the virus; the lack of trust of the system that has hurt them and their families so much in the past will just not allow it. Then there is the very need to keep connected with those members of a very large and complicated extended family structure. 

To that point, I’ve only recently come to the realization that visiting with other members of your family is an essential element of good mental health. The people of Salluit don’t want to visit: they need to visit. As the winter months start to dampen down (and, trust me, it has been colder than  I have ever experienced, with more storms and high winds than I can count) it is becoming more difficult to visit. With the added necessity of being safe because of COVID you can see how those two realities come in conflict. We have had over 500 cases since October, in a population of around 1700 - nearly a third of the inhabitants had the virus. That didn’t happen because of someone bringing it in from the outside - although that was probably the original source, the patient zero, if you will. No, those cases exploded here because people needed to share, needed to visit and feel as one. They didn’t wear masks while visiting; hell you can see by the mask litter around the various community venues that wearing a mask is optional, that people never wear a mask until they are told they have to. Thus the transmission was inevitable.

Personally we have remained cautious and careful. We wear a mask wherever we are, in contact with people or not. We don’t wear them at home and we don’t have a lot of visitors (and when we do they are wearing masks when they come in the door), but we are still keeping to the necessary protocols. I am opening all of my classes with a little slideshow illustrating to them how it is personally important that we are all wearing masks. With a child at home with ITP and me being the old fart that I am, it is kind of important. So far the kids have been compliant; we’ll see how this re-start of school progresses.

And it really is a re-start. Having only taught 21 days from August to now, this is like starting completely over. With sixteen weeks of teaching left (not counting a week off in March - how/why? - and who knows how many “snow/cold” days) there isn’t much I can accomplish. I’ve decided to keep it as simple as possible, to more or less ensure that they have something artistically in their back pocket when they walk out the door in late May.

As to walking out the door, I’ve already committed to another year. I essentially did nothing this year pedagogically, so I feel I owe it to myself, my students, my colleagues, my school, my employer to re-up, to give it another shot. Sadly, most of my colleagues will not return next year. Although this is only my thirteenth year of teaching and I have seen some very weird shit over that time, this has been a teaching year like no other. For some it was enough to say “enough”. I don’t judge or blame them - they need to be good to themselves, to protect their mental health as much as they can. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill and, dare I say, love between staff and students that needs to be maintained; it will take some special people to replace them that is for sure (replace is not the right word, of course, as that will never happen). I am hopeful I will be one of them.

I know I will try.

I know over the course of time I will make the effort.

There is only so much time - best to make an honest use of it.

All blessings to you and yours; continued safe passage on all your journeys.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Seventeen

So, back to writing again. New position at the school has me writing a lot more than I am used to, so keyboard time is preoccupied with that...