Usually, in my role as a 7th-grade Humanities teacher, I find myself stressed, unable to sleep, and furiously planning on the Sunday night before a return to school from breaks. This spring break is different, though. We return to remote teaching and learning, and these are untested and unknown waters. I find myself still anxious, still worried, but somehow also calm in the understanding that we have to give ourselves and our students time to adjust, and with that compassion, comes perhaps a sense that it will be okay, whatever happens. Though we are wading into uncharted territory, with patience, I think we will navigate this storm.
The excitement of seeing friends and colleagues after the break is lost in this new return to school via our laptops. In its place is a screen, posted assignments that ask kids to reflect, watch, read, and write, often in the isolation of their homes. However, some of them, like my family, will be working in the midst of a whole family glued to screens, working and learning from home. Despite our being together physically as a family, we’ll be separated by our tasks, by the screens that will literally block us from seeing each other.
Some folks are all jazzed about google hangouts and zoom meetings, and though I have tried it, I am way over it already. I don’t like the lag time, the missed mutterings, the wondering who will speak next, the feeling that our connection is mediated by this entity that is so inhuman. I crave the real connection to people, and even though I am by my nature an introvert, I certainly don’t feel more comfortable in conversation from behind this mask of the screen. I wonder what license kids will take in this virtual classroom, a space that they are probably much more comfortable with than their Gen X, Boomer, or even Millennial teachers.
I have a plan for my advisory and sent them a poem to ponder and respond to, and my regular classes are already working on Civil Disobedience projects, and because we knew this remote learning was coming, they opted to continue the work. I appreciate their desire to bring this project to fruition and hope that amid this pandemic, the idea of civil disobedience will make us think about how we actually begin to exercise our rights to challenge the status quo when we can no longer gather and when our movements are curtailed, and when it is much harder to collectively resist. Now, perhaps more than ever, awareness of the injustice that demands collective civil action is crucial.
We are not alone in our collective loneliness, but I think that we have also not really come fully to terms with what this means for kids, especially kids who are in middle and high school. Kids have been asked to sacrifice this moment of their lives – sacrifice team sports, field trips, class trips, the joy of learning and laughing and working collectively. They are sacrificing graduation ceremonies, proms, dances, and all of those rituals of adolescents that make the routines and demands of school bearable. We do (or at least I do) complain about their connection to screens, to Instagram and tik tok, but I do think that when they are in school when we can get them talking and working with each other, we can see a side of them that is universally adolescent. We can push them to be more compassionate, caring, funny, thoughtful, and reflective. All of that comes with the hard work of building a community in real-time and with real bodies, sharing a space and sharing experience. Our move to remote learning carries with it a move from physical space to a virtual world in which humans begin to shed some of their humanity. I suppose that is the danger, and the thing we have to resist, the hope that we can come together again in real-time in real space in order to bring back our common humanity.
So, once again I head into the night before the Monday that marks a return to school from a break. This one stands alone in the twenty-eight years that came before. I will commit to patience, awareness, and flexibility as I learn how to become a teacher for this time. None of us have prepared for this. All of us are expected, as teachers always are, to perform the Herculean work of holding the young, keeping them safe, nurturing them, providing them with challenges and opportunities. We’ll do the work.
I posted this poem for my advisory. It is a good reminder of what we need now.