Amid recent moments of crisis and upheaval, Harvard faculty member Timothy Patrick McCarthy reflects on how he and his co-teacher, Ph.D. student Ashley Ison, found the classroom to be a powerful space for hope.
We are living in the midst of so many dangerous disruptions — here in the United States and throughout the world. As much as we may have hoped for a change after an extraordinarily difficult year, the opening weeks of 2021 have proven to be no exception.
For those of us in education, people who care deeply about teaching and learning, this poses enormous challenges. It’s hard to know what to do in these moments of crisis, erupting more and more frequently these days, precisely because they are sometimes so unexpected, even unprecedented. There is no syllabus or lesson plan for any of this. So here’s my best piece of advice for teachers and students right now: Extend grace to yourselves — and everyone else in your reach. There’s not a person you know who doesn’t need it.
Last spring, when COVID hit and we all had to move online, I was on leave for the first time in 15 years. So far away from my students, at a real loss for what to do, I wrote them this love letter. I was struck by their response: countless emails and texts, love letters of their own, and many requests for meetings over Zoom (then new to me). They seemed to need me as much as I needed them. After a very difficult semester, my students honored me with a surprising request to deliver this graduation speech. Truth be told, I intended to use my leave to pivot away from teaching at Harvard. I was burned out, feeling stuck and frustrated, itching to do something else, somewhere else. But my students, in the midst of a global pandemic, called me back into the work I have long loved.