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September 22, 2020

Mama Earth with a Surface Pro: Reflections on Virtual Learning from a Veteran Teacher.

I’m really not that old.

Well okay, I’m 59, which doesn’t seem so old for a teacher. But a year ago my idea of integrating technology into my lessons was having students get a laptop and type their personal narrative in Google Drive. Whatever that is.

I just knew the students could bang away on the keyboard, “share” the document, and it would come to my inbox by some merciful miracle of Friday afternoon educational life force. Moreover, my idea of an interactive activity always involved 3 x 5 index cards.

As a tutor in the summers, often for emerging readers, I maintain that students should begin to write using a piece of chalk and a slate to fully integrate the sensory experience of letter formation. As a grandma, I offer the unsolicited advice to keep those kids away from the iPad until they are reading. Teach them to plant potatoes I say! Tie-dye some shirts and wear them to a bluegrass festival to learn the ways of the world.

Two weeks ago, the gavel came down and a decision was made. Our school board announced that our grade 6 to 12 students would all be learning virtually. Teachers endured three weeks of professional development, mostly provided by young whippersnappers in headphones telling us to hyperchat into the juggernaut, save it as a PDF—but in the app, not the browser—then export it to the labradoodle in the zaranboom on the portal. Students can then interact with a flipswitch on the westpod and you can grade it.

“Hold on, you good looking millennial. Slow the hell down. Can you please sit beside me, hold my hand, and write the directions on my legal pad? By the way, did I teach you to read 20 years ago? You look familiar.”

But here I am—Mother Earth with a Surface Pro—telling you I have taught virtual school for four days now and I have a few more to go.

I have had something like 48 dreams involving swiping screens the wrong direction, pushing the delete buttons, and becoming a bobblehead in a rectangle permanently. You know, be careful, your head might get stuck that way.

Funny thing is, I still love kids and teaching is undeniably my passion. Yes, even more so than four days ago. I didn’t think it possible. My students deserve the best. All my epic fails with technology, lost documents, and crazy-ass worksheets with wonky text boxes didn’t stop them from letting me be their teacher. I am humbled and grateful.

Today, during class, Mama Earth busted out a short story and managed to share it on the screen. I read it aloud to my students, who listened for 15 minutes without raising a virtual hand to interrupt or let us hear the family dog howl. Afterwards, we had a lively and insightful discussion. They made connections, described characters, and nailed the theme! It was lovely.

One student had been “kicked out’ of the class meeting by the devils of the underground who are lurking around ready to mess things up with technology. He spoke up, “Mrs. Awe, I am sorry. I missed a lot of the story.” A classmate chimed in, “I’ll find it on YouTube and play it aloud while we work on our questions.” We had a blessed 15 more minutes of students working while Sandra Cisneros’ classic words played in the background. Beautiful.

It’s hard. It’s so hard. My colleagues are incredibly inspiring, and also thoroughly exhausted. We will likely work a lot on weekends until we figure things out for the good of students. We will hope and pray we can help them learn something about life, literature, and ratios.

I have seen teachers literally trying to reach through the monitor to pat a child on the back and share words of encouragement. I have heard parents breaking down because they need to go back to work, but they want to help their kids. I have seen veteran teachers ready to quit because they feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. We worry about students in the margins who need more structure and support than we can give them through this mode of delivery.

But I also have hope. Teachers are troopers and they will find a way to express their passion. Students will show up and offer to help others. They will say, “It’s Ctrl-Z, Mrs. Awe. Remember?” They will be brave and curious and kind.

Now, Mama Earth is going to practice the fine art of breathing deeply for a couple of hours before I go back to twanking the urchopod to fit into a docubag for easy upload to the Wherezitat drive.

Peace be with you, and with your favorite teacher.


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Ellen Awe  |  Contribution: 3,265

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