Tuesday was my first day back teaching after nine months away. I was on sabbatical last semester, so I missed all the drama my poor colleagues endured as they shifted—basically in one weekend—from in-person to online learning. Yes, I felt slightly guilty as well as deeply relieved to be spared. Well, I’m paying now, hiking up a very steep learning curve as I try to get back in the game. The game, of course, has changed.

I’m not complaining! I have a job, unlike many other people—including some of my now-former, much treasured and missed colleagues. I teach college, which is a breeze of a gig compared to what elementary and secondary teachers are facing. And I would like to give Calvin University a well-deserved shoutout for enormous dedication in providing support, preparing an entire campus and everyone involved for face-to-face learning this fall. Dozens of staff and faculty on campus deserve both medals and haloes for the work they did over the summer. I’m sure I don’t know the half of it, but I can imagine.   

Even so, gotta say, this week was rough for me. We’re teaching in unfamiliar spaces to accommodate distancing. Everyone is masking, of course. We’re teaching in person but also supporting remote learners. Mostly—as probably everyone can appreciate—I’ve been wrangling with the technology. I’m pretty good, and I learn fast, but one can only learn so much at once. Calvin has provided a million resources. But hoo-boy.

Technological things I learned how to do in the past five days (a partial list):
– set up channels in Microsoft Teams
– change my profile photo on Moodle
– record a class period in MS Teams
– get a document camera to project onto the wall in the Art Gallery classroom
– chat with others vis MS Teams
– create and read a survey in Moodle
– download large video files from my ipod to Microsoft Photos
– (there’s such a thing as Microsoft Photos? did not know that before)
– upload large video files from Photos to YouTube
– verify my YouTube account so that I am allowed to upload large files
– capture and post links from about 15 different sources to 15 different other online places

Technological things I’m still sketchy about (also a very partial list):
– setting up an ongoing class meeting in Teams
– capturing a link from that and sending it to the class
– understanding what’s showing on the screen in class and online and when and how…?
– setting up Moodle gradebook: I’m seeking professional help with this one

Thoughts I had after the first day:
– How many years till I can retire?
– Do you suppose my family could make do on just my spouse’s salary?

There were some low moments. Fussing with a very ill-fitting clear mask for 75 minutes of class—fun. That was an easily corrected problem, though. I put that thing aside and went back to good ol’ surgicals. And ordered a couple nice teacher masks with the “smile” window.

Here’s another thing I did not enjoy: watching myself on the recordings of class sessions, even for just a few seconds while I made sure the recording worked OK. I already tend to lie in bed at night going over awkward moments in class, stupid things I said, ways things could have gone better. Now there is a VIDEO RECORD of all my stumbles and stupidities. I always say that teaching is a daily exercise in failure and thus humility, and now: there’s solid evidence. Also, any illusions I may have harbored that I am not yet truly a middle-aged lady: gone, thanks to these videos.

Anxiety symptoms I’ve experienced this week:
– tensions headaches
– stomach pain
– trouble sleeping
– tennis elbow (not kidding—why? dunno)

Perfectly legal, doctor-prescribed, mild, small-dose pharmaceuticals used to manage these symptoms:
[This section has been hidden for HIPAA reasons.]

Nevertheless! Each day went much more smoothly than the last. Overall, I did OK. There were no terrible disasters. I believe some small amounts of learning did occur in my classes this week.

And the students were so wonderful: patient, cooperative, cheerful. I asked them all (via a Moodle forum, of course) how they were feeling about starting the semester. They virtually all said: excited, grateful, and worried about how long we can make this in-person thing last. They really want it to last. My half-dozen remote learners are cheering us on, even as they join online.

I also asked students what new skills they had learned during the last six months of the pandemic, with all its limitations. I found their answers charming and encouraging, even inspiring. They had kept themselves busy in productive and/or whimsical ways, whether in their jobs or stuck at home.  

Skills students reported learning during quarantine: 
– identifying native plant species
– welding
– playing the ukulele (two different students!)
– linocut print making
– restoring antique furniture
– lots of cooking/baking answers: breakfast burrito, fried chicken, empanadas, sourdough bread, fancy cakes
– wakesurfing
– knitting
– reenacting scenes from Pixar movies
– working as a Shipt shopper, bagging groceries
– studying Hebrew
– holding a squirming cat or dog for a blood draw
– mastering real estate jargon
– positioning box fans for maximum cooling effect
– tying French knots (an embroidery skill)
– driving a Skytrak

For some reason, these tiny glimpses into students’ lives over the past six months have cheered me up immensely. As Jennifer Holberg wrote so beautifully earlier this week, we professors have the privilege of meeting dozens of interesting new people every semester—young student-colleagues whom we get to cheer on, work with, and learn from. And she’s absolutely right: even after decades of teaching, despite the aggravations and challenges and upheavals that inevitably come, the joy of working with students never fades.

Thank goodness for young people. They’re coming of age at such a rotten moment, yet they keep seizing the day. Even through the fog of masks, technology, distancing, and numerous awkward protocols, I am riding on the students’ energy, their high expectations and high hopes. They are so glad to be back. They are so ready to learn. They are so eager for anything resembling normal. They are so patient with me.

This is a rough season for all teachers and students (and their parents, too—another topic entirely). Not to diminish people’s resilience and ingenuity in other walks of life right now—of course. Or to distract from people who are truly traumatized and suffering now. But do send some prayers, if you would, for everyone persevering bravely with the good and noble work of education.

Also: can someone please explain to me how to make nice, elegant, bullet-point lists on this WordPress blog platform?

Leave a Reply