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Turning the pandemic into purpose

  • UMES' Richard Warren says educators have what it takes to innovate in difficult times

    Thursday, September 17, 2020
    Dr. Richard H. Warren, Jr.

    By Dr. Richard H. Warren, Jr.

    As we embark on the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, I've been thinking about how educators can turn this pandemic into purpose.  

    Historian Henry Adams once said that “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  This notion is one of my favorite educational quotes.  I often read and reflect on it before every school year.  

    This year my reflection is a tad bit different.  The word “Influence” has stood out among the rest in this quote.  It reminds me of a student I taught in the 8th grade.  Each day he would show up and do the bare minimum, make terrible excuses why he wouldn't do his assignments and would continuously try to find loopholes to get around classwork.  I often wondered: “Why is this student like this. What can I do to help?”  

    It turns out, I simply needed to refrain from focusing on what wasn't working and try something innovative to engage him as a solution.  I designed a rocketry unit where students had to build a model rocket and were given roles on their respective NASA aerospace team.  This particular student's role was structural engineer.  He would have to sketch, measure and build the final model rocket design.  

    To my surprise, this student began working harder than I had ever seen.  When it was time for presentations, he was the first to begin talking about how sleek, “swaggy”, and scientific his design was.  There was a fire in his eyes and a passion in his heart that brought spine-tingling chills to everyone in the room.  

    His classmates and visitors were in awe with his design and with his extraordinary ability to communicate his creation.  It was the first time I saw him meet the better version of himself.  Seven years later, this student is now in a career where he sketches, measures and builds fences for a highly successful business in Maryland.  

    This story is an important reminder for educators.  We must remember that at our core we are 'influencers.' Now more than ever, we must embrace the notion that we still have what it takes to innovate in the face of COVID-19 issues.  

    We still have what it takes to stonewall the school reopening discrepancies and to make a lasting impact on students.  We still have what it takes to demonstrate excellence in the midst of distant learning disparities. We still have what it takes to move the teaching and learning needle forward in the presence of flaws.  

    The conditions may not be ideal, but I believe that somewhere, in someone, lies a sleeping giant waiting for a chance to defeat the odds.  A chance to influence.

    Dr. Richard H. Warren, Jr. is the Richard F. Hazel Professor of Education in UMES' Department of Education and holds three degrees from the institution.