At the age of 52, I’m returning to the classroom and having to think of myself as an apprentice. After hours of Google Classroom professional development by video, but without a certificate of accomplishment, the help of a genie in a bottle, or the guiding light of insight from popular books like Forward, Backward, Inside, Outside Planning, I am ready.
I’m permanently glued to the seat behind my desk in front of my screen, all day, every day trying to invoke a passion for learning in students. Other teachers share their flawless lessons with Pear Deck and Jamboard, exhibiting an ease and confidence with their humorous video vignettes I find intimidating. As an added daily discomfort, students gape at me from behind muted mics and avatars as I struggle to “Present Screen” only to have the sound reverberate in deafening decimals through the hallway.
I remind myself I am an accomplished teacher. Supervisors no longer demand to see my lesson plans and parents no longer ask my philosophy of education during conferences. At my age and amid a pandemic, any reasonable educator would have taken early retirement. Isn’t that the great promise of this career (along with summers off)? I can’t help but think back to August before the endless rounds of PD, video meetings, and online collaboration and wonder where I made a wrong turn.
Leading my lovelies in class, I am now thrice as anxious as I was. My anxieties have not vanished but reproduced with every online quiz and exploded with the release of each new Principal Update for Parents. My fears have surpassed that first day of student teaching, walking through the endless halls of East Hartford High School lost and being chastised by the security guards. New insecurities exceed those of my return to teaching at Harding High School in Bridgeport, CT. How I long for the days, pre-lock down, when a student could roam the hall with a scythe and classroom doors remained unlocked.
“Just another day,” a fellow teacher intoned at the lunch table after the scythe-wielding student had been apprehended. “Embrace the chaos.”
I’m still struggling to do so.
Every day of class is intimidating because I’m expected to perform for the two students sitting in front of me, the twenty online, and the three who still believe class is asynchronous, and they can log in at any time before 11:59 p.m. My administrators reiterate daily how I need take responsibility for all styles of online education: whether in-class, hybrid, remote, half-day or four-days-a-week.
Students wander virtually into class twenty minutes after the start, click on the camera to explain why they overslept. I enjoy the view of their bed and the onesie they lounge in as they rest comfortably against their pillows, half asleep while I bang my head against the keyboard.
Restored by the tactile exertion, but with a dull headache, I rattle off a series of announcements, assignment due dates, and goals for the lesson to a screen broken into twenty-some little avatars ranging from cartoon characters to undecipherable aliens. I ask a question about the novel we read, Lord of the Flies.
Silence. After two minutes, it grows deafening. A student unmutes to cough. Another in class mumbles a response but her mask covers her lips and it sounds like “mrsfdsjgsoigjsiggsf.”
“Excellent. Everyone agree? Let’s move on,” I say before opening a Jamboard. “All right, are we all excited to talk about this important quotation on the screen? Add your sticky notes with an explanation.”
After what seems like a rather long wait, two little yellow sticky notes appear. Then the rush. Once the first contribution has been gifted, a waterfall of yellow tumbles down. A few notes in other colors trickle in. The purple ones beg to be discussed.
A student speaks. I stare at his avatar, a baby in a battle helmet with the word “incoming” underneath and wonder on its profound implications. He presents me with a fact from the book.
“Yes, Ralph is 12 years old,” I reply and type a question into the chat box hoping to spur further responses. “Tell us more, please.” I sound like I’m begging.
I instruct while continuing to converse using the chat application. I attempt personal, complementary, and compassionate rapid-fire responses to each and every student. I notice a typo in my reply. A student gleefully points it out to me. It’s an occasion for shame. With great joy, I type, “I know the reply of which you mention. Learn me more, please. I teach you pretty now.”