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Choosing Community

One of the worst feelings isn’t being alone, but being surrounded by folks and still being lonely. I know this feeling well. As the middle of five children, I often had what many call middle child syndrome. Out of place and not quite fitting anywhere- all the while fighting to be acknowledged. This by no means reflects the actual reality of my treatment as much as it does my subjective experiences in a home full of personalities and needs.

As an adult and an educator, I experienced the pull and tension of wanting every student to feel seen and heard. The pure exhaustion from considering every unique strength and talent then communicating care specific to each learner helped me develop immense empathy for my parents.

Then COVID hit.

The forced separation of teachers from their students for the sake of actual safety compounded the sense of aloneness that students flying under the radar already felt. But was that how every student experienced it? From both research and experience, I noted an unexpected phenomenon which resulted from the physical distance mandated to stunt the spread of this airborne virus. Students who were typically unseen emerged at an equal distance from the already stretched attention of the instructor as their more centrally considered - at least in terms of instruction.

For example, the fact that we have to all mute or put our answers in the chat during remote learning- the need to work asynchronously or the ability to score 1:1 audiences with the teacher; all new types of access for the quiet, reserved, overlooked or legitimately marginalized. The automatic documentation of the learning process promoted chances for families and loved ones to, on their own timelines, advocate and engage with teachers (drawing from teaching and learning artifacts) who otherwise may have remained unaware of the struggles or suffering their students experienced. COVID may have presented us, for the first time, a means for acknowledging a unanimous inconvenience for its equalizing potential.

Socially, I’m still that middle-of-five kid. Awkward and hoping to be seen, but also somewhat hiding my full self since I’m so acclimated to blending into the background. Yet, one gift of the pandemic I’ll never return is collecting artifacts of engagement from the community that sees me. Calls, emails, letters, gifts… all in my “Yes - you really do matter!” coffer. Concrete reminders of my place in this world and among my folks. This community, amidst the silence and the distance, reaches for me to affirm my existence over whatever medium is available.

Despite all the challenges these new times have brought us, I will never regret knowing for sure that the community I’ve chosen is actively choosing me back.

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