A year of turmoil reshapes teachers’ beliefs


Kaylyn Aulick

It hasn’t even been six months since the COVID-19 pandemic along with the social and political upheaval really kicked in. Six months, and, wow, have there been a lot of changes. 

   The past year has changed many West Ottawa teachers’ beliefs over a very short amount of time.

   Instructor Dan Dennis had a revelation about social media this year. “I used to believe I could use social media to change people’s opinions,” he said. Dennis has come to the understanding that people on social media have already made up their minds about what they believe. “It’s kind of like yard signs. I’m not going to vote for that person because you put a sign in your yard.” 

   He has since tried to stop posting for his own health. “I used to [post] with the belief that if I argued something on social media that other people would be like ‘Oh yeah, I never thought about that!’”

   On the other hand, Instructor Mike Jaeger believes he should be saying more. A year ago, Jaeger was a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. “I didn’t need to declare myself opposed to racism, to sexism, to agism, to all the isms that represent the ills of an otherwise great and inclusive society,” he said.

   While Jaeger still believes in the importance of actions, he has “recently come to the belief that actions don’t stand alone as testimony to our beliefs… What we say matters.” In speaking out about his beliefs, Jaeger will not engage in criticizing people with differing beliefs, but he now has a better appreciation for the importance of his own words. 

   Instructor Bob Myers had a different belief change over the past year. “I never thought there would be a time for families to come together and bond under one roof again,” Myers said. His two sons had not lived at home for years until the COVID-19 pandemic brought them back. Their family was able to reconnect this year in ways that Myers never expected or imagined. 

   “We had deeper conversations that I think will make our bond stronger for the rest of our lives.” As the world has begun to open up once again, Myers’ sons have moved back out of the house, but Myers believes their family is closer and their bonds are stronger. 

   Similarly, Instructor Laurel Soto and Instructor Lindsey Walcott used to believe that there was nothing exactly wrong with the fast paced lives we live. “I used to believe we had to be involved in all the things and do all the things and go to all the things, but because everything got closed, I think my beliefs have changed about our extent of involvement in things,” Walcott said. 

   “When we all had time to just be at home, be together with the people that mean the most to us, and take a break from our rushed schedules, we started to realize what was important,” Soto said. They got to spend more time outside and with their families, and they are now more careful to keep those things first in their lives. 

   “This year I promised myself that I wasn’t going to do any school work at all on Saturdays,” Soto said. Walcott has also been more careful to pick what activities she and her family will participate in and which they will step back from. 

   Not all belief changes are due to this unusual year though. Librarian Becca VanWeerdhuizen had a major change in her life this year, causing a major change in her beliefs as well. On May 13, she became a mother to her son, Titus. “I had no idea I could love a little person like I love him,” VanWeerdhuizen said. “I also did not have a sense of how he was going to change my life.” 

   After having her son, she believes that every single one of her relationships has changed. She has a new dynamic with her husband, and the conversations have changed with her sisters. “I feel like it’s changed relationships with everyone around me.” She never believed a tiny human could cause that much to change in her life, but she has continued to be more and more grateful for him.

   It’s not a stretch to say this was a bad year, but the chaos of the year has changed people and shaped their beliefs in ways that had previously seemed impossible.