COVID-19 Oral Histories – Tom James
For the past few weeks, Packer’s Upper School History Club has been working on an oral history project that documents the Packer community’s experience with COVID-19. Through 30 minute interviews with various people in the community, we have been recording people’s feelings, thoughts, and stories about this global pandemic. In addition to posting select parts of the interviews to the Prism website in both transcript and video form, we are also archiving these interviews at the Brooklyn Historical Society so that we can keep a visual and written record of these testimonies for the future generations. As for now, we hope this project is a way for people to stay connected and share their unique personal stories. Each week, new interviews will be posted, so keep coming back to learn more about your classmates’, teachers’, and colleagues’ experiences during this difficult and unusual time. We hope you enjoy!
Tom James: Upper School Math Teacher and Upper School Diversity and Equity Coordinator
Interviewed by: Sadie Sadler
Q: Has COVID-19 altered the way you think about friendship, family, and community?
A: I mean there’s that old cliche about like not knowing what you had until you don’t have it anymore like it’s definitely true with respect to like…family, friendship, like…I don’t know when I’m gonna be able to see my brothers or parents, like, again, like I don’t have a timeline for that, and that doesn’t feel good, even, like, when we would go months without seeing each other, at least, I’d knew I could if I wanted to, and now that I can, it’s like oh like, that doesn’t feel good. Um…..I don’t know, I guess as like an introvert and a homebody, like, I think I’m gonna appreciate having the opportunity t-when I am able to like go out more and spend time, like, out…doing things with people. Like, I think I’m gonna appreciate those a bit more. Um…I mean in terms of like my teaching practices, and just like, interactions with other people, I feel like, just putting people’s well- like keeping people’s well being at the forefront, like, I feel like this has really emphasized that for me. Like, um…like before you engage with people on a level of like, academics or whatever, business, or any sort of like, transaction or interaction you have with people, like, we’re all, like, vulnerable, like, human beings who can, like, ya know, we’re mortal, we get sick, like, we’re vulnerable, like, um…I don’t know, I’m hop- I hope I’ll take, like, just more empathy for other people and for myself away from this.
Q: How has this experience made you a better teacher?
A: …Yeah, I’d say it- it’s helped me put things in perspective. Like, as I go through the process of like, deciding, like, what’s in- most important for us to, like, do together, um, in terms of like the math. Ya know, it’s a shorter list than I would want, there are lots of things that I would like to do math wise that’s not essential, um……like…in terms of like how I’m designing, I feel like, I feel proud of myself for really putting people’s well being first, um, and…not wanting to add to the stress. Like…and I feel like when I, whatever the next iteration of school looks like, I think I will bring more flexibility, um, and grace to like my design, my policies, my course design, like everything. Um, and continue to make more space for like wellness checks, especially like, so- like, social ‘n’ emotional wellness checks. Um, like, there’s a real, I mean like, like I’ve seen the articles about like the mental health crisis that’s like…you know part of this, like another effect of like this pandemic. And um, [inaudible] I think people feel like alone, disconnected, hurt. I think, I mean these are common things for people anyway but like just remembering like it doesn’t take a pandemic to want to make sure people are doing okay.
Q: What would you say to future Packer students and faculty about this experience?
A: I’d say to this, I’m hoping this is how people look back on this, like, at least from a school perspective, like that this is a situation that caused us to really challenge some assumptions we had about how school should work, and to kind of set aside some like antiquated like, or like anachronistic practices that don’t work anymore in the twenty-first century or that are like outdated ya know like early- like twentieth-century models of schooling. Um, so I’m hoping that like we took a fresh look at like…like grading and curriculum design, and like what we communicate about what we value in schools and what’s important to us, and that we like shift it more towards like a student-centered like the design of schooling, and that it’s really forced us to like take a hard look.
See more of Mr. James’ interview in the video below: