“What will happen to spontaneity, the insightful question, the witty comment, the collective laughter, and the communal feelings? The assignments will go on… but will there be lessons?”
When classes ended on Friday, there was gloom in the wake of students leaving in droves. We spent the day preparing and reviewing the resources that were to be used if classes would move from the classroom to the home. Teachers and students honed down on the online communication and instructional platforms, teachers’ access hours, and all the available tools that would allow us to connect, and be able to perform our mutual duties. Later in the same afternoon, it was confirmed that the traditional way teachers and students would relate to each other was up-ended indefinitely.
How did the unthinkable happen? President Donald Trump’s blind arrogance dismissed, more than two months ago, the fast-moving tsunami of COVID-19 despite intelligence reports and the obvious events in China. Medical preparedness measures were not enacted by the Federal Government weeks ago. And now the results were sadly apparent.
I have been teaching high school students for over thirty years. I am the father of three. While I was trying to change my mindset on how to perform remote teaching, I thought about my life as a young parent, when my children were little, and I imagined myself trying to talk and play with them through a glass wall. We could see each other, but we could not hear each other clearly. We could get as close to the glass as possible, but never be able to touch.
It was an awful imaginary scene. However, that is how I feel now about my relationship with my students. Of course, we have platforms where I could use audiovisual access to each student, but I will not be able to see the light in their eyes, the shy look of the timid ones, the soft look of the tender ones, the smirk in the eyes of the naughty, the insightful look in the eyes of the curious. I will miss their postures, their sleepy demeanor, and the expressions among them. Every day, in every classroom, we found ways to laugh; how can anyone teach without humor?
At this moment, when COVID-19 has students and teachers communicating through electronic avenues and virtual worlds; we need to relearn to listen and speak to each other. I always feared that sooner or later I would stop being a teacher and become an instructor: one who shows how to perform tasks with specific results in sight.
I fear that as of now there will be very few ‘teachable moments’, where I would seize the occasion and turn it into an insightful reflection. What will happen to the unpredictable ‘going off on a tangent’, that so many times brightened our day before returning to the original lesson? What will happen to spontaneity, the insightful question, the witty comment, the collective laughter and the communal feelings? The assignments will go on… but will there be lessons?
My students are connected via social media. They enjoy their virtual realities because many understand that there is a reality; that their true friends are made of flesh and bone, and are not an emoji. But as time passes and they are not able to see and hug each other, have lunch together, share the same space… will they still be the same persons, the same friends, and the same ‘learners’? Will I remember their eyes?