There is, generally, within a disaster, some small yet distant point of light along the horizon. Katrina, Irene, and now Harvey have that in common: the disaster and the light. Although my Vermont school community is not directly affected this time, their personal memory of Irene has spurred empathy and compassion for the residents in Texas hit hard by Harvey. On our first day of school there were whispers which grew to serious conversation until an unified plan took shape to support the relief efforts. As we are hundreds of miles away, raising cash seemed best.
I don’t often write about being a teacher, or my students, or my school. Certainly this is because of privacy laws and more so out of respect for those young beings with whom I spend my days. But as I enter my 25th year there are some aspects of my day to day worth noting. Like yesterday when students came to my classroom to make their contribution. Perhaps a hallway banner to publicize a #HarveyRelief fundraising endeavor? we decided. I stood back to watch them grapple through collaboration just how best to craft their statement. Questions of where to find paper and markers, questions of what idea to spell out, questions about where to place the collection jars, questions of where the cash would be best used, all the stuff a group sorts out these seniors maneuvered through, on their second day of school, with skill. I listened as they revealed their weaknesses and added their strengths. I watched them navigate complex words formalized into a simple message. I watched as they divided up the tasks. They were laughing. They were curious. They were doing something new, taking on new roles, at the start of a new school year. I handed out markers and scissors. I pointed to rulers. I directed them to poster paper. I supplied a time check. All the while I felt gratitude.
Watching them leap into action, at the onset of this disaster, I feel something more than hope. I see the past work I have done with them, that many teachers have done, that our school, our community has done with them. That listening to each other with responsibility to the world, to the tenets of cooperation, are all at work here. I have no doubt, witnessing their passionate convictions, they will make our world a better place. One with kindness.
I asked my TA student to identify a key value: they echoed exactly what I observed. Their vision for a caring community, where honesty, trust, and creativity are valued equally, building motivation through support and understanding. This is the reason I walk into my classroom each morning. This is why I ask students to group together, problem solve, and work together. This is why I ask for intellectual curiosity everyday. And in this moment, with disaster in the headlines, they are struggling to calculate their part in the solution.
During our first back to school week, I am in awe; I must thank my students and this community, and your students and your community, thank those manning the rescue boats, those lending a helping hand to the stranded, and those mobilizing relief efforts: thank you to all united in caring. They is why, even in a disaster, when together, we find the light.