The dictionary defines paradox as a situation or circumstance that combines contradictory features or qualities. Without question, we find ourselves in a time of paradox. It seems that at almost every turn we experience yet another paradox in our lives during this pandemic.
Of course, the greatest, most pressing, and obvious paradox we face involves the need to cease engagement in many aspects of life to prevent unnecessary spread of the virus. We closed schools. We cancelled social and sporting events that would bring us into close contact with others. Work, as we have known it, has stopped or migrated toward arrangements with less human contact. On one hand, we accept that to prevent even wider spread of illness and death, we need to change how we live our lives, at least for now. On the other hand, we have an urgent need to re-open and re-start economic activity to limit damage to businesses and livelihoods and sustain our way of life. Finding a path to resolve this paradox will require careful thought, skill, flexibility, courage, and cooperation.
However, this paradox is only one of many that fill our lives each day as we make our way through this bewildering time. Educators are certainly experiencing more than their share of paradoxes. Yet, reflecting on the seemingly contradictory nature of life right now can offer some comfort, clarity, and confidence to help us find balance and hope.
Consider the paradox of an abrupt shift from in-person teaching and learning to remote, distance, and virtual engagement. The learning curve for many of us has been steep and, at times, overwhelming. Feelings of inadequacy and doubt are natural and predictable. Yet, this has also been a time of rapid, practical, empowering learning. Each of us knows and can do things we might never have considered just a couple of months ago. It has been a time of learning and it is also a time with so much more to learn.
Another paradox involves our relationships with others. On one hand, this has been a time of isolation and, at times, loneliness. We no longer routinely see and greet colleagues in hallways and classrooms. Students we could connect with in person are now available to us via camera and text. On the other hand, our circumstances have often led us to engage with greater depth and intention. We may have come to know colleagues and students in new ways. We may have even met and formed relationships with others with whom we might not have engaged before. It has been a time of separation and connectedness.
Still another paradox has grown out of what initially may have been confusing. Expectations changed, the context for our work changed, and many of our tools and strategies had to change. Yet, in the middle of so much change we left behind many of the distractions that competed for attention in our work lives. Commuting, highly structured schedules, supervision of student unstructured time, and spring social and athletic events disappeared. We can focus on our students, their learning, and their well-being. From the confusion and disorientation has emerged for many of us a sense of clarity and focus.
Similarly, the cancellation of so many spring traditions has left us with feelings of loss. Spring typically has a rhythm with concerts, athletic and arts events, promotion and graduation ceremonies, and other end-of-year activities. Still, for many of us, the disruption of routines and extra time has led us to reflect on so much that we still can be grateful for. Family feels more important. Reaching out to friends brings reassurance and comfort. Finding ways to help others lifts our spirits and gives a sense of meaning and purpose. While this is a time of loss, it is also a time for gratefulness.
Unfortunately, we may also feel regretful for opportunities we have missed and times when we could have reached out but we did not. It seems there is always more that could have been done, and thoughtfulness and care that could have been offered. Still, there is much in which we can take pride as we have faced the most disruptive and challenging circumstances educators have encountered in memory. So many students have been given the support and reassurance they needed. We have been there to listen and encourage when students and, at times, parents have needed our guidance. We may never know all of the ways in which our attention and calming spirit has given those around us courage and hope to keep moving forward. While we may have regrets, this is also a time when we can take pride in the difference we have made.
We should not necessarily think about the paradoxes in our lives right now as good or bad, or as either/or choices. They offer lessons we can learn. We can reflect and appreciate the experience. We will not be the same when this difficult time passes. Assuredly, it is the paradoxes we have faced and found our way through that will make us who we will be.