Learning from Uncertainty

The summer of 2020 reminds me of the summer of 2001, just before my first year as a teacher. I shifted regularly between anxiety, uncertainty and self doubt. Would I be able to manage a class full of unique personalities and needs? Did I have the required content knowledge? Was I equipped with the most effective instruction and assessment strategies? I was plagued by nightmares where a student would ask me complicated content-related questions and I would just freeze in front of everyone. I was equally terrified that students would simply ignore my efforts and run riot around the room. 

To prepare for these possibilities, I spent that summer going to classroom management workshops, talking to veteran educators, planning lessons, and reading, reading, and reading. By Labor Day weekend 2001, I was ready for anything. 


On the morning of September 11th, all my fears and anxieties evaporated. As soon as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center towers, nothing that I had stressed about and prepared for mattered anymore.   

In the days and months that followed, my students and I collectively shifted down a few steps in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Anxiety over essays and exams was replaced with anxiety about our safety. Suddenly, the most valuable skills I possessed became my ability to connect with students and my flexibility.

My Economics and Business Studies classes underwent major adjustments as I tried to balance the district curriculum expectations with the need to provide my students with a familiar smiling face, regular routines, and understanding.  

Here it is 23 days before the start of classes for the 2020/2021 school year. And like 2001, the world is in turmoil. There are still some significant logistical unknowns and grey areas stressing me out. What exactly will I be teaching? Will I be teaching in the same room? How will I use the whiteboard when desks are spread far apart and some students are out of the sightlines? What is the procedure for using the pencil sharpener? How will I greet students at the door? Should all classwork be delivered via Google Classroom?

But, unlike the summer of 2001, I am okay with the uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong – I am not going into this with my eyes closed! I am doing what I can to prepare – I am still reading, reading, and reading. But, I know things will be okay as long as I keep relationships and reassurance as the cornerstones of my instructional practice.

We got this!

Ed X!

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