Staying connected to students has never been so important (opinion)


Almost 40 summers ago I took a trip across the country with my girlfriend (now wife) and another couple. We spent seven weeks on the road and traveled almost 11,000 miles, and there were a lot of special moments.

We lined up at NBC Studios in Burbank for what we thought was a tour, only to end up sitting in the second row of the Tonight show audience in the studio one evening when David Letterman was the guest host. In San Francisco, we took a cable car where for promotional purposes the gripman (conductor) was Clyde, the Clint Eastwood’s orangutan Jumble movies. And in Chicago, we climbed to the top of what was then the Sears Tower, where the first thing we saw from the observation deck were the Blue Angels flying below us in an air show. .

Since last Friday, all three cities have been closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

There were also some less glamorous moments that have nevertheless remained anchored in my memory. As we drove through the Mississippi countryside, we saw road signs that read, “No gunshots from moving cars.” Why would anyone have to tell anyone, I wondered, until I noticed the panel was riddled with bullets.

I once worked in a school that had a teachers’ manual with policies and procedures developed for every situation imaginable. The manual was ambitious, unrelated to how things were actually done, but one of the statements that stuck with me is “In every interaction between a student and a staff member, someone has to be the adult.” . Just like in Mississippi, I wondered why this had to be said. It made.

I thought a lot last week about what it means to be the adult in the room during a crisis like the one we are currently facing. On Friday night, I received an email from one of my seniors indicating some college acceptances. In each of my interactions with students and colleagues over the past week, I have tried to ask, “How are you?” But in this case I didn’t have to ask. The elder spoke of his sadness and disappointment at losing much or all of his last semester with his classmates, but also reflected on the importance of his faith and appreciation for his community. , and he recognized that having this experience teaches us not to take everything for granted. He closed inquiring about my well-being.

Who the adult in the room is in any given situation may have nothing to do with age or experience, and this is especially true as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of my students have noticed that they have never experienced something like this, but it is true for almost all. The world has not faced this kind of threat since the 1918 ‘Spanish’ flu epidemic, which probably should have been called the American flu, as most research suggests that the first cases appeared in Fort. Riley, at the Kans. Of course, name and origin don’t matter, because viruses don’t pay attention to national borders.

What does it mean to be the adult in the room? It means first facing our own uncertainty, anxiety, even fear. Life is going to be different, at least in the short term. Last Monday, after a day of meetings at school planning distance education, I thought I was going to grab some take out at our favorite Italian spot, but I was already too late. Not being able to eat out will be worse than not eating out.

I am in or near the age group labeled at risk, so I have made a habit of washing my hands enough that I am likely to have OCD by the time the threat passes. I am also hypersensitive to coughing and sneezing, having watched enough episodes of lodge to know that any minor character who coughs or sneezes before the first commercial break will be fatally ill before the second.

Teachers and counselors are the first responders. This is not about trying to assimilate ourselves to the doctors and nurses who are on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic, but rather to recognize that we have a duty to help the young people with whom we work to cope. and adapt to the situation. For them, we need to be the adults in the room, helping them focus on what they are in control of rather than what they are not. It’s easier said than done.

In this age of social distancing, we will need to stay connected with our students and with each other. College counseling and college admission can be lonely jobs, and yet compared to our colleagues at school and on campus, we are fortunate to have a network of professional colleagues. This will never be more important than in the weeks to come.

For those of us who work with high school and college students, being the adult in the room doesn’t mean we have to have definitive answers or that we have to agree on the answers. We all want to relieve stress and do what’s best for students, but we can legitimately disagree on what that means. This became clear this week in the debates on a few issues.

The first was whether colleges should move the filing deadline from May 1 to June 1. Earlier this week there were several calls, largely from the high school side, for all colleges to do so, but as of yesterday morning, the National Association for College Admission Counseling website reported that only one third of the establishments which responded to the NACAC survey (222 out of 664) had decided to move the deadline.

What’s interesting is that both parties use the same reasoning. Those calling for an extension of the deadline see it as a way to relieve the stress of the elderly who do not have the opportunity to visit campuses before making the final decision and of families whose financial situation has been shattered by the economic consequences of the pandemic. But in an article from last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education, several admissions officers argued that a delay would not only have ripple effects on campus in areas ranging from housing to orientation, but also “create more anxiety for families.”

The second question is whether schools and colleges should move on to pass / fail grades for the remainder of the year. This ties into a larger question of whether we should strive to maintain a sense of normalcy or whether this train has already left the station.

I have mixed feelings. I don’t think grades are a big deal for senior graduates except as a vaccine against early senior collapse. It’s a deeper problem for juniors. Going to pass / fail grades can actually increase stress for students who care about their work. To say that these students should give in for the greater good, as an op-ed last week did, doesn’t seem like the right message. By dropping grades, SAT, ACT, and AP exam scores will have more power in the college admissions process for the 2021 class, and that worries me, especially given the issues with this spring’s testing.

We can’t all be Anthony Fauci, but we can be the adults in the room during this crisis. It requires calm, empathy, and a willingness to be flexible, and most importantly a new commitment to helping and empowering students to make life-changing decisions big and small.

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