On April 22, I cleared my room at the high school where I was teaching outside of Richmond, Virginia. Unlocking the door, I was immediately struck by the contrast between my current reality and the reality I left behind when schools were first closed. On my desk, I had tactile drawings ready for my students’ upcoming geometry unit, a braille biology quiz, and plans for a computer lesson. All of it suddenly felt trivial.
When schools were closed, I was initially furloughed without pay. A few weeks later, I was thrown into remote education for the remainder of the school year. I now spend my days pulling content from online modules, transcribing it to braille, sending the material to my students, and explaining it over the phone.
I have mixed success, especially when teaching concepts like finding the surface areas of irregular polygons. Although my patience is often tested, I try to be a source of stability during an otherwise chaotic time.
While this pandemic is new and unpredictable, I know that this is not the first time I have wrestled with shortages, grief, sudden changes, and the need to improvise. From my years overseas, I have countless memories of last-minute changes, feeling unprepared, and needing to adjust my expectations. When I feel like I do not have the tools I need, I try to remember how well my Bolivian and Venezuelan colleagues made do with what they had, especially during shortages.
As our time under COVID-19 unfolds, I hope to retain the lessons that this experience is reiterating, such as learning to accept and adapt, taking life one day at a time, seeking joy, appreciating what I have been given and remembering that uncertainty is constant for most of the world, even without a pandemic or disaster.
Steve Pohl (class of 2005) served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Venezuela and Bolivia until 2011. While living in a rural community in Venezuela, Steve took interest in students who were affected by blindness. After transitioning to Cochabamba, Bolivia, Steve first served youth whose parents had emigrated to search for work. He was also involved in two music ministries, one of which traveled to rural communities and urban areas that did not have churches.
In 2009 Steve began working with students with visual impairments at the Ignacio Zalles Foundation. He acquired several skills, including transcribing to and from Braille, adapting materials, and coordinating workshops. Steve frequently joined the community-based rehabilitation team, which traveled to remote areas and provided training for residents who served their neighbors with disabilities.
In 2011 Steve returned to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in education, specializing in visual impairments. He graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2013 and currently works near Richmond, Virginia as an orientation and mobility instructor and a teacher of students with visual impairments.
In 2014 and 2016, Steve returned to Bolivia to exchange ideas with colleagues and present workshops on pediatric orientation and mobility, as well as instructional strategies for students with visual impairments. He also reunited with musicians from his former music ministries and played at Masses. Steve remains grateful for the patience and friendship of his South American colleagues, who were instrumental in the formation of his career.