Another candidate might be added to the list: Could this virus inspire new commitment to our education system, much as the 1918 influenza pandemic galvanized the science of vaccine research? Think of all the parents now home-schooling their children, helping more with homework, creating resources to assist them, setting up classrooms in their homes and apartments. A New York friend sent me a video clip of his daughter-in-law showing off her home school setup like a real estate agent pointing out the features of an in-home movie theater.
And I can relate. After all, it was motherhood that prompted me to become a teacher after years of searching for “the real me.”
I never considered teaching when I was in college; and before I had children, I worked briefly as a copy editor, a translator and an investment banker. It was when our younger daughter, Natalie, started second grade that my future career was born. Seeing her blossom under the inspiration of Helene Granof, an award-winning teacher at our local public school, I became as motivated as Natalie was. When I learned that this devoted, energetic educator had become a teacher only in middle age, as a second career, I decided I wanted to be just like her.
So I enrolled in a master’s program in teaching elementary school. It was geared toward older students like me, with classes scheduled mostly in the afternoons and evenings. While my two children did their homework, I sat right beside them with my books and notes spread out on the carpet next to theirs. Alongside their book reports and science fair displays, I created some projects of my own.
And after graduating, I loved every minute of my new career (okay, maybe not the bus duty on rainy mornings): I loved the students, each one an individual puzzle to be unlocked; I loved crafting lessons to bring a subject to life; I loved finding resources to supplement the county’s curriculum.
And then there was my all-time favorite challenge as a teacher: how to keep learning going during Washington’s 2010 “snowpocalypse” — a week-long snow day. We didn’t have video conferencing then, but we kept in touch over the Internet, with my first-graders writing vivid stories about their snow-steeped experiences to share when they returned. That “disaster” lasted only one week, and I was responsible for teaching only language arts at that time, but I think it’s at least partly analogous to what’s going on in nearly every home in America with school-age children now.
And just like we dug out of that snowstorm, we will eventually make our way out of this, and reclaim and rebuild our lives, and let’s hope we will take a lot of lessons from our experience.
That silver lining, the one I’m especially hoping for after all this is over, is this: If you found it rewarding to be home with your kids, if you found stores of patience that you didn’t know you had, if you loved reading “Hatchet” with your boys and girls, if you demonstrated a math concept with the candy hoarded in your cupboard or exploded a papier-mâché volcano on the kitchen counter, think about a career in teaching. If you already have a career, maybe you’ll switch like Mrs. Granof and I did.
If we can take from this awful period a new appreciation of the importance of schools and teachers, of critical thinking and literacy — including media literacy — then we will have learned incredibly valuable lessons. We should now recognize that teaching has to rank among the nation’s highest-valued endeavors. We need knowledge to guide us through crises like this one, and we need to learn from history and the experience of others. Education is key. Let’s turn this cloud-covered period inside-out and embroider on that silver lining.