On how to address the fears of students, families, and teachers after COVID-19

This notion of how we use this moment to transform education is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year. In the middle of teaching at Barnard College, my alma mater, not only did I get sick with COVID-19, but I had to adjust to teaching my students on a computer when my teaching is about creating a safe space in the physical classroom.

This is a difficult thing to achieve in the United States when there is so much division fomented on racial hate. One of the things this country has yet to do in its teaching is to acknowledge our complicated history.

Students have experienced trauma, separation, fear, and hunger as a result of this pandemic. I had students in an Ivy League setting whose families were hungry. These are first generation Mexican undocumented students or children of undocumented food workers from the Bronx and Queens who lost their jobs and suddenly there was no food in the home.

Our children are looking to us, and we need to show them that we are survivors, and we are vulnerable too.”

How do we talk about this and use this as a learning experience? How do we teach from trauma? Go into the center of it. Talk about it in our classrooms.

One of the other core issues that we as teachers have to get through is the massive amount of disinformation, lies, and untruths out there. We have to figure out a way to talk about this and address it in the classroom.

There is a saying from the first indigenous president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, that I love to teach: Respect for other people’s rights is peace. And so how do we understand people who, post-pandemic, say, “You can’t infringe on my rights. You can’t force me to take the vaccine.” One of the most important things is to acknowledge our own fear. I talked about my own vaccine fear. Giving it language and vocabulary is part of the healing.

How do we teach professors to acknowledge their own fears and their students’ fears? Our children are looking to us, and we need to show them that we are survivors, and we are vulnerable too.