COVID-19, Protest, Teaching, and Me

An image of the Bay Bridge.
The shoreline in Emeryville. Photo by Debora Gordon.

Oakland Voices asked our correspondents about their experiences during shelter-in-place since March, COVID-19, and the pandemic.

Life had already undergone a deep metamorphosis since retiring last summer from about 35 years of teaching, mostly in the Oakland Unified School District. After wandering around North America for three months by car, and in January, accepting a part-time job teaching adult ESL four days per week, I was still in the midst of settling into some sort of rhythm that wasn’t strictly defined by the bell schedule, as teachers’ lives often are.

I was starting to grapple with what seemed like the “extra” free-time; working only a few hours a week; how to not just let the time slip away from me. I was already asking myself how to feel somehow simultaneously productive and yet unrestrained by any obligations. I was starting to move towards daily café engagements, where I could meet with friends and work on writing projects, from writing for Oakland Voices to completing the half-dozen or so incomplete novels gathering virtual dust on my hard drive. 

I was imagining myself traveling on the weekends; exploring parts of California I had never seen; visiting friends up and down the Left Coast; cruising at leisure, the Pacific Coast Highway.

And then, after only six weeks back in the classroom, nearly all doors slowly closed: no café tete-a-tetes to solve the world’s problems or even our own, no exploring the nooks and crannies of the Bay Area, and teaching only from a remove. A tremendous task, to teach language, which is so much more than mere vocabulary, to students designated as “beginning-low” for all of us to become “Zoombies…”

And just about this time, coming into sharp focus, is my ongoing commitment to thoughtful, creative nonviolent resistance, since long before the most recent events of police brutality but certainly escalating that commitment since then. I am sometimes present at the ongoing rallies, always masked and socially distanced; but sometimes, a particular cocktail of inertia, fear, and uncertainty sidelines me, and writing is the best way to channel that resistance.

And, now, as we wait, for the school house doors to re-open, but only online for the foreseeable future—and I shelter, along with my students, in place, I still wonder my purpose. Maybe, just to go on.

Author Profile

Debora Gordon is a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist. She has been living in Oakland since 1991, moving here to become a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. In all of these roles, Debora is interested in developing a life of the mind. “As a mere human living in these simultaneously thrilling and troubled times,” Debora says, “I try to tread lightly, live thoughtfully, teach peace, and not take myself too seriously.”

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