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August 2020
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A New Challenge or a New Opportunity

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Ulysses, Lord Tennyson)

Every year at the end of August many K-12 and post-secondary teachers like me feel excited and a little bit nervous. What will the next academic year bring us? Who will come to our classrooms? What interesting novel activities and experiments will we be able to implement? How will we face the new challenges? Will we be able to figure it out and to support our students? This year, we have lots of additional questions to ponder, such as the questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It might looks a little overwhelming and scary. However, I think we should put into a perspective…

I think this year is also an opportunity. As teachers, we rarely have time to pause, look at our classroom teaching and maybe consider reevaluating some of our teaching practices. Too often I think to myself: Oh, I should do this or that, but I do not have time now… And after all that, I revert to teaching the same way I had been teaching in the past. This year will be different because it will force many of us to reconsider our teaching practices. We all have realized that effective online teaching is much more than uploading your lectures online. The emergency remote teaching is as far from effective online teaching as a frozen dinner meal is from your favourite dish your mom prepared especially for you. Both meals are food, but what a difference in quality and in experience!

I hope that this year will allow us to re-evaluate our teaching, to see the big picture, to collaborate with our colleagues, and most importantly, to learn. I am confident we will be able to figure it out and at the end of this year will learn more about teaching and learning online that we could have ever imagined.

I would like to finish this post with the famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) “Ulysses”. 

I chose this poem for many reasons (click here). It is about adventure, freedom, taking risks, and living a fulfilling life when you are faced with big challenges – be these the old age, the loss of a friend, or a challenge of the pandemic… Tennyson was writing about the experience and the search for meaning while overcoming challenges, which are in my view at the core of teaching and learning. It is about the meaning of life that each one of us has to be pursuing when we are young or older. It is a poem that echos a famous ancient story by Homer that has been rethought by Joyce, Tennyson and many others. So big questions of life are eternal. I think the big questions of teaching and learning are eternal as well. So not surprisingly, this poem has been forbidden in the Soviet Union (where I grew up) for years. The first translation happen in 1970 (50 years ago) even though Tennyson wrote is in 1833. To read more about it click here.

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Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
         This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
         There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

Rocky Mountains, courtesy of V. Milner

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