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Chester County Press

Editorial: The gifts our teachers gave us

05/12/2020 05:31PM ● By Richard Gaw

Our normalcy is stumbling. The circumference of our family’s footprint has shrunken from the Big Top of activity and obligation to the distance from one room to the next.  Our routines have been rerouted, and most of that which we took for granted – even our children’s education – has taken on a new dynamic.

All across Chester County, in homes where children live, there is likely not a kitchen table that is free of school books, notebooks, pens and pencils and perhaps a laptop or two. By reason of necessity, our kitchens -- and our dining rooms -- have become America’s temporary classroom.

Suddenly, and with very little warning, parents have added “teacher” to an already packed logjam of responsibilities, and those once miniscule pockets of time that had been reserved to recharge are now spent at that table, poring over subjects they haven’t had to think about since they were themselves in elementary, middle or high school.

For many parents, supervising their child’s lessons – turning page after page and solving equation after equation – has renewed the sense of discovery they had when they were their child’s age, when everything learned was new and entered into their mind for the first time. It all comes back now: An equation listed on Page 134 of a mathematics textbook or seeing the Periodic Table of the Elements for the first time in decades conjures the inhale of memories: the scent of chalk, the beam of the overhead classroom lights, and the order and regimentation of desks aligned in rows, and the authoritarian voice of a teacher. They knew all of our names. They knew our strengths and our weaknesses. They wrapped their hands around our pens and our fears and our reluctance and pushed us forward. The best of those voices never relinquished the responsibility that they had been given – to join our parents in helping to lay down the bricks for who we would become, however hardscrabble or soft those pathways were.

In the very large and awful tenor of this pandemic, there is little to celebrate. We as a nation and a world are living in the thicket of questions that remain months away – perhaps years -- from being answered. It is too huge a question to ponder and its complexity is beyond our strength. We have returned to the close proximity of our loved ones, cobbling together a system of plans that holds our families and ourselves together. We live in our kitchens now more than ever; we have spread our children’s homework from table to table like treasure maps, and we carve out time that we never thought we had.

If there is a beautiful moment in becoming our children’s new teacher, it is that we have gained an appreciation for those teachers in our past who burn in our memory now, who took the time to lean down to our desks and walk us through every step of what we could simply not grasp on our own.

The best of those teachers, we remember now, never allowed us to give up. There is the problem, so how do we solve it? Perhaps the greatest gifts our teachers gave us were hidden in what helped create our pathways -- Resilience and Resourcefulness.

Both gifts are transferable, and we pass them on now, to those who are doing their school work at our kitchen tables.