This article originally appeared in The Tennessean September 11, 2020.
Fall semester, winter break, spring semester, summer break — repeat.
It’s a comforting and predictable pattern that takes most of us through our formative years. There’s an 8 a.m. bell, class, lunch, some more class, and then we are dismissed for the day.
At the time, I felt a bit trapped by the daily and seasonal cadence of school. I couldn’t wait to get into the work world where I would finally have at least some choice about when I would work hard and when I would take a break.
Then, after a year out of school, I realized I was struggling with time management. With no one telling me when to take a break, I would overwork on weekends and be tired during the week. In my eagerness to prove myself, I would take on too many assignments and struggle to meet deadlines. I had to admit it: Those forced boundaries of the school year, so stifling at the time, provided a good lesson in discipline and efficiency.
The change from being a student to an employee and eventually an employer took some time to figure out. And despite all the great things I had learned at school, I found I needed a few other hard lessons from the “real world” that formal education had somehow overlooked before I found my footing at work.
With school starting this past month for everyone from kindergarteners to grad students, the coronavirus has made it difficult to know what to expect. The familiar patterns of the school day and even the school year feel shaky, or temporary, or have disappeared altogether.
Many parents of younger students find themselves conducting at least some level of home schooling. Middle school and high school students are either attending classes in weird, socially distanced classrooms or just doing 100% of their learning virtually over Zoom. Even college students are having to quarantine in their dorms, missing out on the typical college experience that normally helps a kid turn into an adult.
It’s certainly a tough time to be a student.
But this strange time, amid a global pandemic, also presents some opportunities for lessons that a regular school year cannot convey. It’s hard to find silver linings in a crisis, but for the future doctors, lawyers, techies and entrepreneurs who make their way through school during this crisis, there are some valuable lessons to be learned that will one day serve them well.
For good or ill, one could argue that the uncertainty of the school experience today more closely resembles the less predictable work world in general. These pandemic school experiences and adaptations are giving students early exposure to some of the soft skills that they will need when they eventually enter a career.
Watching my own kids navigate this Pandemic 101 course that none of us expected, I can see them gaining experience in work skills like:
- Self-sufficiency. With less access to teachers and fewer group projects, they are finding ways to solve more problems on their own.
- Resilience. Not knowing when or even if school will return to normal mimics the nearly constant uncertainty faced every day by anyone who works in startup or small business. Pushing through the ups and downs of uncertainty is a skill successful business people need to for survival.
- Working remotely. This is will likely be a long-term trend in the work world. Mastering the etiquette, technology and challenges of working from home will prepare students for the future work world.
We all certainly hope our kids are absorbing the traditional lessons, but perhaps we can find a way to be grateful that they’re all adding “real world” to the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic that are the mainstay of education.