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This is the way my students from the 5th grade welcome me on their first day of school. Their eyes smile and their dreamy gaze captures me in a whirlwind of emotions. I look at them with curiosity. What is happening? Why do they not have the usual annoyed and almost tragic attitude of “the first days of school”?

I had prepared a very nice lesson, I would have talked about the French Naturalism and Zolà and, instead, I realize that I cannot do it, that it has nothing to do with today. Today is a day to celebrate, a day that the students ask me to share with them. We celebrate the return to school, the possibility of looking at each other, to “feel” each other, to interact, to be together. We celebrate the relationship. They communicate to me with their happy attitude (and, in all honesty, over the years they have been able to tell me) that learning, and discovery are achieved through the relationship with the teachers and among peers. I therefore ask myself what has been missing during the pandemic, the online learning and the intermittent lockdowns. Certainly, for many students it has have been a tough and painful period, even prone to depressive moments, that may have impaired deep sides of ourselves, but for others it has been the opportunity to develop alternative forms of internal resistance, contributing to build up a new identity.

Therefore, I conclude that the true “absence” through these long months has been the relationship and not because the digital tools have impaired it, but because the traditional teaching methodology based on the transmission of knowledge that has miserably drowned in front of laptops, tablets or phones, already contained that absence. It is not the tool that builds up the learning ability, but the teaching method, the thought with which one enters a class, so that the relationship is formed, either virtually or in presence.  As a professor, I can love Giacomo Leopardi immensely but if while explaining the lines of the poet from Recanati I do not “see” my students, I cannot perceive their attention, their interests, I do not know their story, I cannot build through their understanding and interpretation and my passion will not be received and I will have failed my role.

The Minister of Education, Patrizio Bianchi, in the Act made public on 16 September 2021, writes: “It is a priority to keep promoting the testing and the capillary transmission in all schools of new teaching methodologies, to orient towards the overcoming of the traditional teaching model based on the face-to-face learning. (…) It is necessary to favor the development of a competence-based method, of collaborative and experiential type, to allow for a higher customization of the students’ learning processes.”

I read and read again his words that seem important, finally focused on individual and students’ needs and yet there is something I do not grasp. Is the testing of new teaching methodologies and instruments really the keystone for a new idea of school? Is it not urgent, instead, to start from the relationship and its infinite possibilities of expression? I believe so. My mind goes back to the students and their initial question and I think: “Yes, students, I am very happy to be all together again, whatever this means”.

Sara Lazzaro

Thanks to Martina Greco for the translation of this article


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