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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

Not Home, Part 2

I spent a day last week at Kairos Academies, a charter school in its third year of operation in St. Louis. Because of COVID precautions, this was the first time I've been on campus during a school day in almost two years. It was electric. Being in classrooms with kids and teachers, catching up with the "OG Class," as they've dubbed themselves--most of whom were unrecognizable in their transformation from squibby sixth graders to super-cool eighth graders--watching everyone making their way around expanded and renovated facilities, this was all exhilarating stuff to an educator who's spent a lot of time at home lately.

How much time, you ask? I got to the bottom of that question myself recently. By my back of envelope calculations, I've spent over 80% of my waking life in a school or in school activities. As a faculty brat, a super-involved student, a double-teacher/administrator family with two super-involved student children (at our schools, no less), I have attended and served the kinds of schools that made possible an enormously rewarding relationship with my profession, a vocation, really.

That life rhythm, almost 50 years old at the time, changed significantly in 2019 when I completed an interim headship and began consulting, a role that gave me concentrated opportunities to be immersed in the life of many schools in the course of a year, but without the intensity of headship. It changed even more dramatically in March of 2020, at which point almost all of my interaction with schools has been virtual.

As you might infer from this profile, I stink at being home. As my work day has become more flexible, I've done an okay job of realizing some of the advantages, but I still feel weirdly guilty about them and a little frantic in the doing. I'm grateful for the opportunity to go to the gym at 11:00A, or to hit the grocery and do housecleaning on weekdays rather than backlog them into the weekend, but I'm generally driven to fill up all 7 days with work, and if I run out of consulting work (or patience with it), I patch in domestic chores, some of them entirely made up, which is to say that I have not learned to grow orchids, or meditate, or write poetry.

I've learned that my affection for school life is a vulnerability, of the confirmation bias type. When I visit schools, I try to discern the degree to which they've built a culture of engagement at the edge of absorption, where students throw themselves into school life, but I have to remind myself that some students are not available to this kind of engagement no matter how rich the program. Most are, however, and they've been eager to return to in person school and the energy I felt at Kairos last week, the energy that is impossible to recreate through remote learning. After months at home, the electric draw of human interaction has not always been easy, but it remains elementally magnetic and irreplaceable. Indeed, the bold predictions of American jobs remaining remote after the pandemic have not come to fruition. According to a piece in the Atlantic last week, only 13% of Americans work remotely, about the same number as before the pandemic. There is no doubt that remote education will continue to grow, but I'm convinced that it will be on the margins, driven by necessity and limited by the countervailing forces of human need.

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