Part 2: Empathy for Seniors
Background: My husband is a high school Social Studies teacher. I am a Curriculum Coordinator at the same school. We have 2 high school children (a sophomore and a senior), who attend this school.
I’m thinking that this post is for teachers and parents of the Senior Class of 2020. I can only give the view of my senior and what I am noticing but I am sure that others can relate and surely have more to add.
There is a tradition at this school. Seniors write long letters, by hand, on their graduation cards to their friends, parents of their friends, and most loved teachers. They start writing these letters as soon as the grad cards arrive. Some write as many as 40 or more. Except for this year. The cards are sequestered in the high school office. The campus is closed to families for the remainder of the year. The school is figuring out how to get everything to the seniors.
This is one of many traditions at our school, but this is the one most affecting our senior. It is getting in the way of everything else. It is consuming his days and nights. Who can think about AP Environment Science or Calculus or English at a time like this? These letters must be written, revised, and written again on these special cards in the neatest smallest handwriting ever! Except for this year. Our senior is making his own cards out of cardstock he borrowed from my office. He is putting a lot of consideration into the design of the front AND back of the cards as well as what is going to be personally written in each one.
This is one reason that schoolwork is being put on the back burner. I have to let it go and let him come to grips with what he is prioritizing right now.
A Case of the What-Ifs
Our senior has known since November where he was going for university. It was his only choice. We visited last summer on a college tour and he knew immediately that Western Colorado University was the school for him. The campus is lovely. The people we met were his kind of people. It felt like a community and reminded him of everything he loved about his high school community.
Last month, he chose a roommate and they speak most days. They are getting to know each other, their histories, and their hopes as college students.
As the days have passed, though, the What-Ifs have started creeping into our senior’s daily thoughts.
What if we can’t move into our dorm in August? Where will I live? What will I do?
What if I have to live at home by myself? I’ll need a license. I’ll need a car. I’ll need a job. I’ll need to learn how to care for a house and myself. Should I get a roommate?
What if my family can’t travel home for Christmas because COVID is still around? I won’t see them for almost a year. I don’t have any other family nearby. I might not be able to travel east to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I might be alone for a long time.
What if I can’t do it? I can’t be that kid who still lives with Mom and Dad. You know, the one who graduated but still hangs out with the high school kids.
What if? What if? What if? What if? What if? What if?
This is another reason that schoolwork is being put on the back burner. I have to support him, his worries, his reality, and let him come to grips with what he is prioritizing right now.
There’s No Cap on Empathy, Right?
Are his classes important? Yes. Is this experience showing us whether or not he can be a successful independent learner or a responsible adult? At first, I would have said yes. I no longer believe that this experience is actually telling us anything about who our kids are as independent learners or responsible humans any more than it’s telling us where we fall on the continuum of perfect parents or amazing teachers. We are all just trying to survive.
What IS important right now?
Loving our children. Loving our students. Showing grace.
I have received a few emails from teachers over the last few weeks about our senior’s missing assignments or projects. I am so impressed with the care they have shown; the patience they have. I have so much empathy for all of these teachers- they did not sign up for this. I also have so much empathy for our seniors- they did not sign up for this, either. I just hope that there isn’t a cap on empathy.