#PandemicEDU Learn Like Your Career Depends on It

Growing up, I would visit my grandparents on their farm in western Tennessee. Adjacent to the farmhouse was a “ditch”, a large, fairly deep pit that ran about 3/4 of a mile back onto the farmland and at its widest, was about a quarter mile wide. With all the vegetation in there, it was a cool, dark oasis on hot summer days. There was a little creek at the far end and reptiles and amphibians galore. We spent many a day lost in fantasy down there.

The only way to enter the pit from the house side was to slide down this steep incline covered in rocks, tree roots, mud and insects. My male cousins, rather naturally, found the seat of the pants method of getting down there the most effective. We girls were a little less inclined to roll like pigs in mud, but we managed to get in. At lunch time, or at the end of the day, when grandma or one of our mothers would step out on the back porch and call us out, climbing out proved challenging. Boys would push the girls up, girls would scream and cry as we slid back down to the pit floor. Muddy, slippery hands pulled each of us. It was something we’d discuss over our meal: there had to be a better way to get out of that pit!

But, I digress. This post is about educators sitting in a pit who have thought it through and are coming up with a plan to get the hell out of that pit.

The Learning Pit, by James Nottingham
As students, we sometimes get stuck. Finding a way to get “unstuck” is a sign of personal and professional growth.

The pandemic is almost over. Collectively, we slipped into the darkness of the pit where many of us lacked the skills to teach our students remotely or collaborate effectively. As we returned to our classrooms, new challenges presented themselves in the form of students who forgot how to be students, administrators who forgot how to administrate thoughtfully and respectfully, and parents who, because they got to be “pretend teachers” now want to direct change, but really haven’t a clue how to do it appropriately. We’re still in that pit.

Some of us have reflected on the situation, considered why we have chosen to stay, and know what we need to do personally and professionally in order to get out of that pit and pull a few of our colleagues out with us. We know what “normal” will look like in the future, keep the past in our pockets to pull out upon occasion to remind us not to “go there” again, and are facing forward, dead set on finding new challenges to overcome.

We are learning like our careers depend on it, because our careers DO depend on it. Yes, there is paperwork up to our noses in front of us. Yes, the children and their parents seem to be confused about their roles. Yes, admin is struggling on a different level and some of it is dripping down on us. All of that is peripheral however, if we want it to be. We are educators, we chose to stay, and we know, each of us, why we chose to stay.

So, we prepare ourselves to become the new leaders of the new normal. We have to be ready for the new crop of bright eyed first year teachers who have heard the war stories and are scared out of their minds, yet showed up anyway. We have to show those looking in that, yes, we are PROFESSIONALS and will be treated as such. We will push back and pull forward and set aside all the obstacles in our way. We will learn.

Since I’ve started my new job outside the classroom, it seems like every week since June 13th, I’ve learned something new. This is a very good thing, on several different levels. It works my brain muscle, which at my age is a very important muscle to exercise. It is providing me a skill set that I can apply in creative ways after I retire. (I like saying that word, say it with me, “retire”). It shows me what CAN BE, and how I can be a part of that transformation. I am clawing my way out of that pit that is “post pandemic shock” and squinting off into the future in search of the next challenge, the next pit to slip down into.

This post is for you, the future leaders of education, who were frustrated, worried, almost sick with irritation with EVERYTHING. Congratulations, you are making career choices that will pull you out of this pit and set you on a path of professional greatness. We will set the standard, provide the model, provide mentorship to the noobies, and teach the children. Our armor is strong, our weapons indestructible, our resolve unblemished. Our careers depend on our learning. Our careers depend on getting out of the pit. We do it for the children. We are educators.

Oh, yes, my cousins and I came up with a plan to get out of the pit easily. One of the boys found a sturdy rope in the barn, grandpa helped them put knots in it every few feet and they attached it to the root of the old horse apple tree that stood at the top of the pit. Climbing in and out became a breeze. I visited the farm, now with new owners, when my grandmother passed back in 2005. Our rope was still attached to the tree and neighborhood kids still climb up and down, enjoying the pit.

The Learning Pit: Growth Mindset
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