Inspiring Students in the Metaverse

The grand experiment began yesterday. In two weeks’ time, the SAT prep company had moved all classroom instruction from physical space to cyberspace. It was time to launch. Everyone was nervous. We needed this to work, and it did. The collective will of the company, the staff, the teachers, the students and their parents, made it so. We all hope our success will persist.

I thought hard about what to say to my students when I first encountered them online. We couldn’t just pretend like nothing had happened. We were all isolated in our homes because of the pandemic. How could we encourage them to get comfortable with learning at home instead of the familiar routine of going to school?

Going to school is about a lot more than academics. It’s about developing all the skills needed to get along in the adult world. These include intellectual, physical, emotional, social, and citizenship skills. These skills reflect fundamental aspects of our culture and society. Whatever I said would have to embrace the whole human, not just the academics.

Every adult draws on the life events she or he has already been through to face the next one. Life events can completely upend your life. First loves can end in heartbreak. Marriage can end in divorce. The highly anticipated birth of a bundle of joy brings incredible physical and emotional demands on parents, as both individuals and a couple. Nietzsche must have been thinking about life events when he said “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Our students do not have as many life events on which to draw. They are not as resilient to change and challenge as adults. It is up to us, as parents and teachers, to help them learn to cope.

I tutored two girls in SAT reading yesterday. They were students I usually see on Saturday mornings, so at least that part was routine. I checked in with the human first. How are you? How is it to be at home? What are you doing? Are you creating routines for yourself? And then I told them a story, and personalized its lessons for the students. Here’s what I said:

Nearly three years ago, I retired after working as a mathematician for the government for 30 years. It was a huge change. I no longer went to work five days a week. I was home. But I had a dream about writing a book on privacy, and so that is what I started doing. I developed a routine for myself. Every day I began working by 10 am. Some days I would just be doing research, reading books on English constitutional history or US law. When I had done so much reading that I felt like my brain was full, I began writing. Chapter one got written. I kept up this routine, day after day. Chapter two got written. I continued following the routine, making slow but steady progress. Chapters three, four, five, and six got written, then seven and eight. Before I knew it, I was finishing the last chapter, chapter twelve. My book on privacy will be published this spring.

We all need routine. We need time to work each day. We also need to eat right, exercise, sleep enough, have fun, socialize with friends, and spend time alone.

You have your own dreams. Your dreams require you to finish this school year strong. You need routines to get there. Create routines in your daily live and take care of your whole human. You are the best person to do this because you know yourself better than anyone else does. You are getting old enough to take more responsibility for yourself, so just do it. Your parents will have to worry about you less, and you’ll be taking a big step towards being a grown-up.

Now, let’s move on to your lesson.