Are you anxious? - The Jerusalem Post
Thanks, Scrabble … or should I say Novel Coronavirus?

This is going to be a personal post. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was prepared (emotionally, mentally) for the inevitable snafus that were going to occur on the first day his school district moved to distance learning, an attempt to carry on instruction with students as we all sat at home and connected over the internet.

He was prepared to adjust his grading strategies and how students could fix the performance issues that inevitably set in with the resumption of school in January. At his school, we call it the third quarter slump.

He knew that he would have to lighten up on his push to drive students forward to excellence as the all-consuming tests would have an out-sized impact on their future. At the high school level, opt-out is not as simple as telling students to do a sit-and-stare for the duration. End-of-course exams come with penalties; the state mandates that they count for 30% of a student’s course grade.

He knew that with all the adjustments, some students (the slackers, to use a 1980s phrase) would exploit the loopholes to get the distance-learning grades that they would not earn.

GOT was okay with all of that. What I wasn’t prepared for was … anxiety.

This is personal. I’m going to drop the third-person manner in which I write this blog.

It began a week and a half ago as my district’s teachers spent Friday doing online training, participating in meetings via Microsoft’s Teams app, and otherwise scrambling to figure out how to go live on Monday with students.

Saturday night, Sunday night, how the bowels rumbled. I don’t think I got much more than 2 to 3 hours of sleep between visits to the bathroom.

Monday, when I got up, I felt the pins-and-needles in my fingertips. How would it go? Would it work? What happens if the students misbehave? What happens if the lesson goes poorly?

I’m used to putting on a brave front, but this new format was beyond my experience like it is for every other teacher who no longer welcomes children into her classroom, but must teach them from afar.

The miracle of technology. The impersonal miracle of technology. You can keep your Instagram photos, your Twitter bits, your Facebook posts: it’s not the same as being there.

How do I make this work? I’m in uncharted waters.

Every morning, I felt overwhelmed as I wondered what the day would bring. After the first day, a disaster in which students showed up for the video meeting, expected it to be perfect, and of course it wasn’t, things ran better. I settled into a format that kept things running and avoided most of the technology hiccups due to coding errors and high traffic.

And yet, every day, the anxiety returned.

The lessons are working. Students are completing assignments. I’m taking it easy on them because, if I am experiencing this anxiety, I cannot imagine what it’s like for them.

Someone asked me yesterday, “Is this it? Is this all we’re doing?”

I said, “Yep, it’s enough to chew on for the day.” (It was one of the more difficult lessons in Geometry: applying knowledge about the area of a triangle and trigonometry to calculate the area of regular polygons. I am mixing in a hard lesson with easy ones as the days progress. Even so, there are hard lessons I am holding back on because I simply cannot figure out how to get across the key ideas online when I cannot look at their faces, their papers, and their behavior and know how the learning is progressing.)

Thus, the anxiety. How will this all work out?

My principal is a good one. He tells me not to worry, shut my door, and teach. He’ll handle the rest. There are times I need to hear that message, but face-to-face. He’s been terrific in this closing. Very supportive, helpful, I have no complaint.

But it would be nice to see it face-to-face. You see, that’s who we are as human beings. Language sets us apart from the animals, but language is worthless without the body language, those clues that help us distinguish what’s real from what’s not.

In these days of distance learning, we get no clue. All we have is words, and it’s not enough. (The irony is not lost on GOT that blogging is all about words.)

Yesterday, I taught a class and no one was talking in the chat. I finally said something and a student told me we are talking in the chat–do a refresh. Only then did I realize that my screen had stopped scrolling it. But I had got to the point where I wondered if anyone was out there–no human response for 35 minutes.

The anxiety. Will anyone tune in? Does anyone care? It is disconcerting to talk for so long without some type of feedback.

This isn’t the future.

As I pass through my second week of distance learning, I feel the anxiety decreasing, but it hasn’t gone away. I still worry about the disruptive students who might try to wreck a lesson (they are not showing up), that the technology might fail even though I am using my home computer as our district-provided laptops are too old to reliably run the online apps, and that students will give up even as I try to keep them engaged.

I worry about the timing of needing to finalize third quarter grades. What will happen to those students in overwhelming circumstances who cannot finish and send in their work?

I know I can work it out and submit grade changes later. But that’s my brain talking, my intellect. My amygdala has something else to say.

Master of my classroom, I suffer the tyranny of doing this online. I do not share this easily, I am not seeking reassurance or an outpouring of ‘you got this’ remarks. I am tough, I have gone through much and I will get through this.

But I thought, surely I am not alone, thus, I will share.

You’re not the only one.

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