Monday, December 21, 2020

Cameras-Off Connection

 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 because they stay when “live” class is over and ask for help. Except for my Empress Wu grrrl, who stays and doesn’t ask for help or respond to my offers or questions. I do other work in the background, checking in occasionally. “I’m still here to help if you need help. Just let me know.” Thirty minutes go by. And in the thirty-first minute…she does ask for help.

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.

 And finally (as those of you who follow me on social media may have already heard)… I know because my Life Skills class had the BEST. FLIPPING. HOLIDAY. CLASS. PARTY. EVER.

I wasn’t sure how a virtual class party with no snacks was going to turn out. But I knew we had to try.

 Each student chose one guest from another class to invite, plus a few favorite teachers. We practiced our social conversation skills. We made connections. We danced to Go Noodle. Then one of the 8th grade boys started grumbling about the music.

“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.

1 comment:

Jess64 said...

Go you. Online teaching was my hardest part of 2020. But I agree cameras on was not an important part. YOu obviously know your kids so well.

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