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Summer 2020

Empty Gutman

Illustration by Annie Wang

A Send-off, Then On to a New Reality

Lecturer Hadas Eidelman, Ed.D.’14, wrote this essay after the last in-person meeting of S030, Intermediate Statistics for Educational Research.

On the Thursday of the last week of in-person class meetings (March 12), I asked students in my stats class whether this would be their last class before the school shifted online, and most of them said that it was. I was already planning for some sort of closure to our experience, but it was sobering nonetheless to realize that for most of the students there, this was a very poignant turning point in their lives.

Matt Miller, dean for teaching and learning, had encouraged faculty to spend class time that day checking in with students, so I had planned to start class talking about how everyone was doing with the transition. If we also got some stats content in, then great, but we wouldn’t worry if we didn’t (and we didn’t). We had each person share:

- One thing they were nervous or worried about as we shift to online learning;

- One hope they had for this experience; and

- An intention or idea about how to support themselves or each other as we all go through this.

It was one of the most beautiful and powerful experiences I’ve had.

Some students cried and shared personal fears for loved ones, themselves, and for society.

They expressed disappointment at how their year here was not going to end the way they had thought it would. They acknowledged that there was room to grieve this loss, despite the concern that doing so might seem almost selfish or be in tension with the knowledge that we are all making a sacrifice in order to protect those more vulnerable than us.

They talked about the need to be kind and forgiving to one another and ourselves and to respect each other’s fears and worries.

They were hopeful that maybe some good would come of this, and that as a society we might reevaluate our priorities.

They talked about how this may seem unprecedented for many of us, but that there are groups of people who have been experiencing this sort of upheaval, fear for safety, geographic displacement, and other related circumstances as a way of being for a long time. They expressed both anger that it takes something like this for many people to take notice, and also hope that society will listen to the wisdom of those who have been ignored.

We did not do one bit of stats (although we did walk through a visual of flattening the epidemic curve and related the exponential spread of COVID-19 to the logarithms we’d — ironically — been studying in that unit). But it was a profoundly powerful experience that was cathartic and served as a bridge between our in-class learning and our move online. A few students were actually joining us virtually via Zoom during that last class, already in their safe places, and I think (minus some minor technological glitches) the experience of hearing their worries, hopes, and intentions was reassuring for all of us as a model of the connectedness we could hold onto as we stepped into this unknown.

I think that all of us in that S030 classroom — the students, our teaching fellows Jane and Rosa, and myself — were fundamentally in an experiential place where building connection and addressing our collective wellbeing seemed necessary. Not getting through the slides seemed small compared to the potential disengagement that could have resulted from not establishing our connectedness in a grounded and vulnerable way ahead of this shift. It was a powerful reminder of the centrality of relationships that always sits at the heart of teaching and learning.

After everyone had spoken, I wanted to share handwritten cards prepared for the students. The message was the same in each: thanking them for being a part of this course; thanking them for unexpectedly being a part of this new and unfamiliar experience we will share; letting them know that even though we’re disappointed, we’re also looking forward to finding new ways to be together.

Instead of just handing out the cards, it seemed more fitting to call each person’s name separately. Someone joked that it might be the closest they would get to a graduation, and it turned into a beautiful, campy, pseudo-ceremony. I’d call someone’s name, their classmates would cheer for them, we’d bump elbows, and then onto the next one. I think we all needed it.