Relationships will help students, teachers carry on

Lance Melching, Advisor

Lance Melching

For all the hype about what a game changer online learning is going to be, I cannot help but feel cheated.

I’m not disappointed with my peers or with my students, as both groups rose gamely to the challenge presented by “Non-Traditional Instruction.” I am not even disappointed with the online learning platforms we used, limited as they may be.

But I do feel cheated.

Relationships are at the heart of transformative teaching, and the most powerful education occurs when ideas travel on the wavelengths of those relationships like a static charge.

Even in the magic bottle of a physical classroom, it is hard to cultivate that environment. It is difficult to cut through the constant chatter in our brains, distracted as we are by deadlines, cravings, notifications, and alerts.

But in those rare moments when it happens, when ideas rip through a class like lightning—veering in surprising directions and landing at unexpected destinations—nothing can replace that magic, and I have missed it terribly.

That exchange is so much harder through the sterility of an online learning platform: the distractions are more omnipresent, the engagement less urgent, and—most importantly—the relationships more tenuous.

And that is why I find myself feeling cheated, though I can only imagine how these feelings are multiplied for the Class of 2020.

What must it be like to head into an uncertain future when so many of the rites of graduation have been upended as they have?

What must it be like to experience your last day in a high school classroom without even knowing that it was your last day?

As I try to imagine those experiences and what inadequate encouragement I might offer, I find myself reflecting on a series of children’s books.

Back when the last Harry Potter book arrived in July of 2007, the Class of 2020 was getting ready for Kindergarten, so they probably do not remember the electricity of rushing out for a midnight book release.

Like so many things I took for granted, I look forward to someday again experiencing throngs of people united in enthusiasm. The Class of 2020 may remember that feeling as the last Harry Potter movie hit theaters in 2011.

But something about that last Harry Potter book always bothered me.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was a touching conclusion to an epic, a fitting cap on a children’s book series that ballooned into something so much bigger.

But I always felt like one of the most important characters had died before that book even started, and that character was the school itself.

Sure, Hogwarts Academy would reopen in some future and continue being the magical place readers had fallen in love with, but for the class of Harry, Hermione and Ron and Neville and Luna and Draco and so many others, Hogwarts wasn’t the same place their senior year.

They did not visit the school until the novel’s end, when they liberated Hogwarts from Voldemort.

And I, as a reader, was denied one of my favorite characters, a magical school bubbling with mystery, adventure, opportunities, and characters.

In the last novel, readers were denied all of that. I am sure I wasn’t the only one who felt cheated.

Is that what it feels like to be among the Class of 2020? To be denied so much of the magical adventure during the final chapters of your school experience? To be cheated?

What wisdom do I have to offer a class that has suffered in such a way? How can I claim to understand what the Class of 2020 is feeling?

My empathy would ring hollow. The Class of 2020 has been denied something precious, and it cannot be replaced.

And yet I cannot help but think of another entertainment juggernaut that belongs even more firmly to the Class of 2020 and that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In one especially successful, hilarious, and color-saturated movie in the series, the protagonist is confronted with the loss of his own magical place, and through that experience, Thor comes to learn that Asgard is a people, and not a place.

Through this entire experience—from the desolate school building to the strained relationships to the missed pomp and circumstance—I have become more convinced than ever that Boone County High School—for all the magic and history inside of its walls—is a people more than a place.

And as hard as it has been to nurture relationships outside of that place, the relationships are what we have.

Relationships helped Harry survive Voldemort, they helped Thor survive Ragnarok, and they will help us and the Class of 2020 survive the coronavirus.