Bread, fish and school that is alive

The coronavirus tsunami has turned the lives of students and teachers upside down. What do we do? Small steps, made up of computers and video-lessons, between doubts and attempts. And that screen that gradually fills up with faces.

When I started going to school, there were no pens or fountain pens. The janitor would come into the classroom and fill the inkwell on the desk with ink. Years have gone by, not exactly only a handful, and schools have now closed. The "physical" school: the building, the classrooms, the laboratories, the gym. Books have stayed in lockers, as the kids did not have time to take them home.

A tsunami. How can we keep school going? Such distance is not in its DNA. I cannot imagine. I am not very familiar with new technology, it seems like a mission impossible. But reality always exceeds imagination.

The first fact: I am not alone, others share my difficulties and, above all, we are friends. We are colleagues, but we are friends. And the youngsters take us by the hand and literally guide us step by step and we become youtubers, we do video-lessons, we load materials onto the school platform, as well as making a few errors.

Messages from the kids start coming in: "How are you, Prof?", "Prof I did not understand...," "But when should I have taken the quiz? I cannot get in anymore." The streaming of lessons also begins. At first there is a bit of a panic: "Will I make it? Did I put the link in the right place?" And the house wifi comes and goes, five computers connected. And then five, ten, twenty faces appear in little rectangles upon the screen.

"Turn your cameras on, I want to see you." "Prof, I am dishevelled..." Others are there, but invisible and silent. So I call them, a short phone call: "Prof, I am ashamed." The next time, she is there, I see her.

He intervenes whilst I am explaining, he does not raise his hand, and wants at all costs to have his say. She sits there with her hand up, patient, waiting for him to give her the floor. Someone is texting.. We are in class! Her dad walks past. "Dad, go away, I am in class." "Prof, can get a drink?" They know that you are not supposed to drink during class.

Let us correct this. "I have not done my homework..." "Yes prof, everything' is fine. My parents are at work, I am home alone, I learnt how to make my own food." There is no grade on the report card for people who can cook, but we teachers look at them differently.

A message arrives: "Sorry prof, I got stuck doing housework and forgot about the live broadcast, but I will make up for everything you did in class". During class! And she, a real "scatterbrain", is now never late and writes: "I will not take anything for granted, especially at school. When we were there we just thought about how we wanted to be anywhere but at school, but now that I think about it, I would not want to be anywhere else but school. When we can go out I will not take anything for granted and I will appreciate everything I have, starting with the friends and teachers who help us.”

The second fact: school happens, it is alive. A few days ago, in a dialogue between friends, we talked about the multiplication of loaves and fishes. A friend of mine, a teacher struggling with graduating students, who is also pervaded by that sense of inadequacy that is accompanying us more than usual, said: "I am like that boy. I only have five loaves and two fish. But if I were not there, if I did not provide my few loaves and fishes, no one would feed the crowd."

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That is right. I have very little, we have very little to give, and we cannot feed the crowd. But when we give the little we have, Someone picks it up and feeds our minds and hearts, and those of our students.

Saturday, 12:30. A message arrives: "Have a good Sunday Prof." That is all, you have nothing more to ask. A lump in the throat, a good lump that we need.

Paola, Varese, Italy