by Julie Ruchniewicz, BSN, RN
Faith Community Nurse, HMA Executive Director

My daughter, Kelly, teaches fifth grade at a charter school in Chicago. Just like her colleagues across the country, she is educating her students via Zoom. In case you haven’t heard about it, Zoom is a virtual mode of communication, that (up until 8 months ago) these children and many teachers, had never even heard of. Both the instructor and the student are used to introducing themselves, every year in September. As Kelly said, “I have never met these children in person, it’s so sad.”

The other day Kelly was working, via Zoom, for the afternoon, at our house. My first thought was that the voices of the children sounded so young and vulnerable over the computer. My second thought was how proud I was of the encouraging voice of my child, being heard in the homes of these eager scholars.

As Kelly was instructing her class, I also absorbed some unexpected simple lessons:

  • Be courteous. Throughout the entire Zoom call, both educator and learners treated one another with respect and used “please”, “thank you” and “excuse me” in all the right places.
  • Be persistent. Kelly informed the kids that they should be on a page with 16 questions, and they should go ahead and answer them. One boy declared that he had 64 questions on his page (he was clearly on the wrong one). Kelly worked with him, and he persevered and navigated himself on to the right page.
  • Be patient. There was a discussion of what you want to be when you grow up. One boy, who speaks English as a second language, mumbled what his dream job would be. Kelly asked him to repeat what he said. Again, he struggled to get his words out and, again, Kelly gently supported him as he shared his ideal profession with the group. This young man’s dream job is to be a pizza maker.
  • Be encouraging. One girl periodically chimed in with a “Good job!” or “Way to go!” for her peers. How refreshing!
  • Be optimistic. The tone of the conversation was upbeat. There was structure, but there was also kindness.

I am not naïve; I am sure that there are many days Kelly, her collaborators and, yes, even the students do not feel anything but frustration and pessimism. There are times when there is no eagerness to teach or to learn; the only question posed is “When will the pandemic be over?” and the only possible answer is “We don’t know.”

Remote learning is out of everyone’s comfort zone and is so much harder than being in a classroom. They are all learning in the same space they are living in and trying to navigate distractions, fear of judgements, and new technology. This is all so much more than we would wish for a group of fifth graders (and their teachers).

As believers, we are always searching for insights from what we read and what we do. Self-help books teach us to love ourselves. In the Bible we are taught that one of the most important commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We observe others donating time, talent and treasure to those less fortunate, and we try to do the same. Those are all great ways to learn. However, on a gray November afternoon, as my daughter taught her students, I learned a lesson as well.

Simply by listening to one teacher instruct one classroom in one school in one city, I witnessed resilience. I witnessed possibility. I witnessed hope.