Becoming gradually or increasingly.
That is one dictionary definition – action, a process easily linked to learning.
As we emerge from lockdown hibernation, whatever our situation, it is hard to imagine we do so unchanged.
Growth is natural and automatic in the early part of our lives. It just happens. We get bigger. We change. We become, gradually and increasingly.
Beyond physical growth, there is the emotional and psychological realms. We accumulate experience and knowledge.
Stuff happens and we grow.
As we ready ourselves for the return to work and face to face teaching, thinking about what that looks like and how it will work occupies much thinking time.
I wonder how students may have grown, for better or worse.
The shutdown extends long enough to lay down new habits and break old ones. As trivial as some may appear, many will affect us for the rest of our lives.
Will you shake hands with strangers upon meeting? Will we ever wash our hands like we used to? Will we want to stand cheek to jowl at sports stadiums and on crowded trains?
Probably not. Growth is, I remembered, not always linear and incremental.
Sometimes growth is exponential, traumatic and explosive.
Like many, upon graduating from university my feet itched. I wanted to see the world.
This desire led me to Camp Minnehaha, West Virginia as a camp counsellor. The camp was idyllically set in Pocahontas County.
As a qualified teacher, I was given the youngest cabin to look after. A bunch of eight year olds, most away from family for the first time, was well outside my wheelhouse.
We spent a week setting the camp up and preparing for campers to arrive. Once the program started, I coached basketball during the day and did odd activities throughout.
The hours were long and the work hard, but the momentum of routine meant there was not a lot of time to think about it.
After three weeks, my first day off arrived. Usually this meant being paired with other counsellors and heading out for a well earned break, but I was paired with local staff who went home for the day.
So my day was to be spent in the tiny town of Marlinton. They has a Dairy Queen, a river and an internet enabled computer in a shipping container public library. Every pickup truck had a gun rack in the back window and from time to time, fighter jets buzzed the town during low flying exercises.
The routine on a day off was you’d be dropped into town early in the morning and collected later that night, after lights out. There was plenty of time to kill.
I wasn’t so bothered by the solitude, to be honest. I figured that mooching and writing and reading in the library would suffice.
Then, at the cash machine, I learned that there was no money in my account.
The smell of an oily rag does not do my financial situation any justice. I left Australia with a round the world ticket, 500 bucks in cash and a thousand on a credit card. Which, as it happened, was now maxed out.
The week before I’d asked Mum to liquidate some of my assets and shift the money across. This was intended to see me out until the end of camp, when my 1100 USD payment would come through and get me to the next place.
I called her, anxious, only to learn that she’d placed it by cheque and it obviously had not cleared in time. How will we explain cheque waiting times to children in the future?
There I was, calling card credit running out, a whole penniless day ahead in a strange country town on the other side of the world, with no way out.
I completely and utterly broke down. Breathy sobs burst out like I was a toddler. My Mum did the best to console me, but I couldn’t talk, so I said goodbye and hung up.
As important moments for growth, it was fairly inane on reflection. No one died.
I walked up and down the main street a little more, wondering what I could do, and fortunately I saw the guy who dropped me off parked in the main street. I asked for a lift back, returning to camp unsure of what I would or could do.
When I got back, the camp director met me and offered the chance to sleep in the infirmary. It was quiet and away from everyone else. So I slept off and on for most of the day, completely exhausted.
It was a low day. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Such a small thing, relatively, but I was totally depleted.
My skin did was not enough to contain me. No one could do anything, the day I had envisaged would not happen, and my one day off a week was done.
The next day, I went back to work. Eventually, it was all forgotten. I grew, just a little bit, but a little of my identity was formed.
The growing was not subtle. It was harrowing and sudden. It felt like a wrenching, violent thing inside. I could not suppress or control it and I did not know it would happen.
No one else did either.
Reflecting on this memory, twenty years on, caused me to think about the growth and change this pandemic event has had on our students.
They may have grown remarkably over the last two months. They may have been depleted and broken open. They may have shed their skins.
Maybe nothing changed. Maybe they sat in their rooms and played video games of watched Youtube. Maybe I’m being all misty eyed and putting too much mayonnaise on it?
It is worth keeping in mind that learning and growing is not linear and incremental. Sometimes growing is more a rending and cleaving than a gentle progression.