A year ago, if you had told me I would now be an online teacher, I would have laughed in your face.
You see, eons ago, in normal life, I am an outdoor educator. I teach middle schoolers climate science, botany, and why our world needs protecting. I work on site, in the forest with my students, who oftentimes have never left the city before. I get to see the wonder in their eyes as they hold a rough skinned newt, or catch a glimpse of a barred owl. I witness the worry they experience when they learn how fast our topsoil is disappearing. I watch as each week, 100 sixth graders are turned into environmental activists, climate scientists, and zoologists. And now, I have to do it through a computer screen.
It seems impossible, turning a 24 hour, 6 day a week program into 45 minute long Zoom sessions, but somehow, my wonderful bosses did it. Four days a week now, in regular office person hours, I work on preparing lessons, and I get the opportunity to teach my students.
And it’s hard, trying to engage with 11 and 12 year olds suffering from Zoom fatigue even worse than mine. Making true personal connections is something that will have to wait for the future. I can’t seem to get them excited about moss through the sheer force of my own enthusiasm anymore. But somehow, something is still working.
Today, as I was teaching about pH and river pollution, I got a message in the chat: “This is nightmare fuel.”
I grabbed hold of that message like a lifeline. Because it is nightmare fuel. When the pollution from a mine turns a river so acidic it no longer registers on a pH scale, we should all be having nightmares. But this student’s comment was more than just a statement of fear. It showed that they cared.
That message was the closest I’ve seen to the look of dawning understanding in a child’s eyes in over a year. And it gave me hope.
Even in this strange, scary digital world we now find ourselves in, our children still care about nature. They still care about the barred owl and the rough skinned newt, even if they haven’t met them yet. Our children are our future. And we need to do our best for them while we can.
Because they don’t need nightmare fuel. They need hope.