Teaching online last term was something that I was absolutely dreading, a feeling that I know many of my colleagues shared. A common concern was the sense of personal connection, the building of a community within the classroom, that allows for the venture of dialogue, conversation, and learning. When it comes to Catholic education, which always has a pastoral dimension, incorporating this element in a virtual environment poses serious challenges. To me this seemed impossible to carry out online. What, in fact, I was actually confronted with was a completely different reality, one in which a ‘light shines in the darkness’.
For me, the light has come from the most unlikeliest of places, Zoom. OK, so this is perhaps a bit misleading in the sense that specifically I mean the interactions I have had with my students over Zoom. But nevertheless, I was not expecting to find remote teaching in any way life-giving. My students have surprised and inspired me in many ways. Although they have been under undue pressures, they have worked had to engage and foster a sense of community in class. They have undertaken actions for social justice and charity. For example, they have raised money through sponsored walks to buy gifts for impoverished children in Glasgow at Christmas, as described in Amelie’s blog post. In the Catholic Teacher Formation course, we began last term by reflecting on Laudato Si’ in light of Covid. Hearing how the students had found themselves taking pleasure in the simple life and in nature, due to the restrictions, and how this had made them reevaluate what they thought was important was inspiring. Many also spoke of how this had committed them to living in more ecologically viable ways from now on.
As our students have demonstrated, the pandemic has been a learning experience in itself, presenting us with its own unique pedagogy. This is one that has affected all of us. We are forced to question everything we have ever taken for granted and evaluate what is really necessary and what is spiritually valuable. In light of this we reflect on what we will be taking with us as we move forward, and what can be discarded. I believe this is a pedagogical moment of learning how to find the light in the midst of the darkness. The way in which our students have done this and shown such positivity has helped me to do the same.
The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland recent pastoral letter on the pandemic reflects precisely on this theme, allowing us to use this as a moment of opportunity as ‘God turns all things to good’. This is something they call us to especially remember in light of Christmas, in which hope becomes embodied in the world in the person of Christ. The letter describes how:
Many Renaissance paintings of the Nativity portray the stable in a ruinous condition, symbolising the state of the world. The message is that, even in a confused and chaotic world, there is now this Child. The seed of a better future has been sown.
We are already beginning to see the seeds of a post-Covid future being sown; the Bishops list numerous reasons as to why we should remain hopeful at this time. Covid has renewed and demonstrated our human connection with each other and concern for the vulnerable. It has shown a society united in ‘sacrificial love’. We have shown real solidarity and love for our neighbour. Ultimately, it has brought us back to the human level, offering a ‘hope for a flourishing of more natural and humane lifestyles’. These are the markers of the pedagogy we need to use to shape our future direction.
And in terms of my fears about being unable to build a community online, the situation has actually put us all in a position of equality and solidarity; rather than a teacher and her students, we become people undergoing the same pressures and difficulties of separation and isolation, brought together and united through a shared common concern. The way in which my students have been patient with my lack of technological skills has attested to their sympathy and understanding with the situation. Whilst it might seem that the pandemic has been the great-leveler, as Catholics this moment can help us remember and reaffirm that even though we may physically be apart, we are all one in Christ, the true equalizer. If we can remember and encourage this, the pastoral dimension to our teaching and learning is never far behind.
We’d love to hear your experiences of teaching and/or learning over the pandemic. Please send us your comments in the comment box below!