“Awe is going to rush in... Accept reality as it is and choose to delight in the present moment. Stay anchored there. That’s where the peace is, and that is where we are saved.”
Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, shared these words last week as viewers across the country gathered behind screens and listened to a unifying message about searching for hope amidst these trying times.
This sentiment weighs on my heart and mind as we just celebrated Holy Week as a Church together in spirit but physically apart. The world is experiencing a grave situation as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt lives and create suffering. Yet in the midst of the brokenness, fear, and uncertainty, our call as Catholics is to always root ourselves in the presence of God. Our call as Catholic educators is not only to live in the presence of God, but to share Him with our students as well.
Adjusting to distance learning has been challenging, especially as the most meaningful aspects of our work involve the beautiful daily encounters with students. Given space and time to reflect, one of the biggest lessons I have gleaned in my first year of teaching comes from the tender hearts of fourth graders. The capacity of nine-year-olds to deeply feel the fullness of the human experience astounds me. Whether it is the joyful pride that comes from rushing to enter the classroom first, the tragic disappointment of dropping an Oreo on the floor, or the deep sorrow for societal injustices, my students teach me every day that our hearts are truly capable to hold it all. The Holy Spirit illustrates this through children so powerfully because kids have a simple yet enormous capacity for wonder. Their enormous capacity for wonder is the exact grace that we all need right now in order to sense God working in our lives.
Distance learning has provided a unique opportunity to radically reimagine learning and engage in this sense of wonder from afar. Assignments need to be accessible and simultaneously engaging enough to encourage children during such a stressful time. To build class relationships and fuel this engagement, I took my fourth-grade class on a virtual field trip to Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. Thankfully, Google Arts and Culture partnered with the National Park Service to provide a free tour of this Alaskan park. After providing instructions on how to navigate the site, students dove into an ice crevasse, kayaked between stunning icebergs, and witnessed a glacier melting! Students noticed how climate change affects the frozen terrain over time. Those who dream of traveling realized this desire by experiencing the adventure to see and appreciate this world.
And awe rushed in. They chose delight.
As they reflected on their favorite parts of the excursion, their reactions were priceless. Some submitted voice responses as they excitedly kayaked through icy waters and others exclaimed how nervous they were for the explorers leading the expedition.
Many of my students are extremely passionate about climate change, so seeing real-world applications greatly intrigued them. I found myself astonished as I was reminded, yet again, to delight in creation through the perspective of a child. One sweet student asked me, “Ms. Smith, when we come back to school can we take a real field trip there?”
This experience reminds me of the enormous gift it is to be a teacher, especially during this crisis. We get a front row seat to the beautiful perspective of God’s children, and we are honored to work with them to grow in both spirit and mind. This week I encourage all of us to slow down and hold all of the emotions that come with walking alongside our students on the road to Calvary in hope of the coming resurrection.
My students' ability to appreciate the little things in the present moment through a virtual field trip, even in a chaotic and confusing time, reminds me how God can captivate our hearts in the darkest moments. Through child-like wonder, God reaches us in the here and now. As we rejoice in the glory of the Resurrection, it is a wonderful thing to know that our hearts are God's work today, and in this time of social distance, we celebrate a God who knows no limits.
Children get only one chance at a great education. Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach.