I don’t mind teaching into an empty computer screen. I know
my kids are there.
“But if they keep their cameras off, how do you know if they’re engaging?” asks Everybody.
As if a teacher can ever truly know that. As if our kids aren’t in figurative “cameras off” mode when they’re sitting right there in our classrooms. The best answer I can offer is….I just know.
I know because they type their answers in the Chat, or their little mic icons flicker on for a moment and flicker back off. They forget to mute, and I can hear a younger sibling’s virtual kindergarten class from another laptop at the same kitchen table, or a parent on a work phone call, or a crying baby cousin, or a whispered argument (“I know, Mom! I’m in school right now!)
I know because I’ll post a form to rate each Word History icon on a five-star rating scale, and the grrrl I just knew would love Empress Wu sure enough ranks Empress Wu the highest. They even do the writing assignments – some of them with obvious help from a family member, some of them with obvious help from Google-copy-paste, some of them barely at all, and some of them with heart warming stylistic evidence that they’ve been reading independently or that they’ve learned something from me.
I know to the extent I’m ever able to know. I know because I trust – not in their unwavering obedience, but in our very human ability to ebb and flow, connect and disconnect, mute and un-mute. Sometimes our hearts and minds need to be elsewhere. But we come back. We always come back.
I wasn’t sure how a virtual class party with no snacks was going to turn out. But I knew we had to try.
“I like Slayer and Metallica,” he explained.
“I know how to sing 'Enter Sandman,'” volunteered a shy 6th grade grrrl, and the next thing you know we're all virtually rocking out to Metallica karaoke. Little grrrl has PIPES. We even got a noise complaint....from The Boy (now 16, btw), slogging through his own virtual schoolwork.
We wrapped it up with another impromptu lesson -- I modeled how to politely lie to the hostess if you didn't actually have a good time at the party. Luckily, most of them truly did enjoy themselves.
It wasn’t even noon. I hadn’t left my desk. But I was elated for the rest of the day, as if I’d been to a real, live holiday party with eggnog and lampshades and mistletoe and a conga line. Very few of our kids had turned their cameras on. But we were connected. Truly connected.