An Invocation for Learning and Safety

Julie Gard pens a poem for academics across the country who are teaching during a time of crisis and uncertainty this fall.

September 18, 2020
 
 
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Let me be brave in this time when I don’t feel brave.
Let me focus on the students on my screen
as the dog barks madly at the mailman,
the neighbor mows his lawn for the third time this week
and another American city erupts in pain.

 

Let me be strong when I feel like a misplaced astronaut:
mask over mouth, face shield on forehead, voice amplifier on hip.
I could laugh or cry at trying to teach this way, so let me
do both, take three deep breaths and walk into the classroom. 

 

Let us acknowledge fear, suffering and how those
who were already anxious are even more so. Let us ask for help
and accept it, and encourage our students to reach out.

 

Let us invent new ways of connecting: each Zoom meeting
a portal, each physical classroom a changed but dynamic space.
Let us redefine what community means, what
coming together means. Protect us from each other
as barriers also come down. Help us learn to live with paradox.

 

Let our students remember to get out of bed and get dressed
before logging on to class, and may they keep introducing us
to their dogs, cats, guinea pigs and parakeets. Let us move close
to their words and ideas, though we are six feet
or thousands of miles away.

 

Let us look into eyes above masks, in pixels, for the first
or 500th time. Let us know each other through our writing,
codes and computations, and through the squint of a smile.
Let the physics experiment at home match the one in the lab;
let music breathe and beat and sway through microphones and screens.

 

Future educators watch current educators figure out how to educate in this time.
Future logisticians watch supply chains break and re-form.
Future lawyers and police officers watch -- and some take part in --
protests and social uprisings. Historians-in-training watch history take shape;
creative writers watch the lines between fantasy and realism
blur and blend until one is the other. 

 

So let us plan and improvise, pivot and flex.
Let us share, collaborate, mix and integrate.
Let ingenuity coexist with fear, compassion
with defense, humor with darkness. Let us be real
with each other, touchstones for each other.

 

And let us take care of ourselves. Bring on the lake,
the video games, the sourdough, the woods,
the Bach and punk; bring us everything that keeps
us going. And everything we wish for ourselves,
let us wish it for our students, and everything we wish
for our students, let us wish it for ourselves. 

 

To live an altered life that is still full of meaning,
to keep learning and dreaming in a time of crisis,
to let crisis influence us but not dissuade us
so that it’s not our roadblock, but our material. 

 

Let us continue this experiment together,
with every precaution possible, borne of commitment,
curiosity and love. Let us be open to transformation. 

Bio

Julie Gard is a professor of writing and associate director of the writing center at the University of Wisconsin at Superior.

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