EPISODE #1: Face/Off
Please stay tuned right after this comic for a reflection on how a whole nation’s teachers are going remote for the first time, including me for the first time.
The last week has been a bit like building an airplane while it’s taking off. I converted all 4 of my classes online in the last week — and I’ve never taught online. Sure, I’ve used course management systems, and have students have online discussions, and upload their essays to the cloud. But I’d never taught online — and this was by design.
Since I started teaching in 2002, I’ve been a face-to-face instructor. I was drawn to teaching by the live energy of the classroom. Teaching has always felt a bit to me like jazz, a work of educational improvisation. I’d come to class with a plan, with a composition for the day, a script. But this script was only just a means to get to the real work of the day — the music, the music of students real, live voices actively engaging in learning. The sopranos, altos, the laughter, the silence, the scratch-skritch of pencils and pens. Every day is different, no lesson exactly the same, no music the same.
Will there still be this music remotely?
Sure, there are many fabulous online instructors, those who have chosen that medium, and worked on it as a craft. But what of the rest of us, those teachers whose craft and talents are working in a live community?
Right now, I write these words at the kitchen table next to my son, who would normally be at recess right now, running with his friends, together, face-to-face. Instead, he is on a laptop, doing a series of standardized math exercises, and blowing fart sounds in my face.
My wife and I are homeschooling, as all Californians will be now. We grieve this, as we love our son’s local public school, and its vibrant community. My wife is also a public school teacher, and for the first time is working online. (Right now, as I write, she is on Google Hangouts with her AP Euro students). We share our garage — which we hastily converted into an office — to work with our students remotely. We’re taking trainings from our tech-savvy colleagues who have been working online for years, all the while having Zoom meetings with our departments, sharing tips and tricks with each other, all while actually meeting with the students remotely (who themselves are often taking online classes for the first time). I imagine our son’s teacher, Ms. B, is doing the same thing in her own remote teaching bunker, as millions of teachers are across California, across the US, across the world.
We’re all working together to keep the music of the classroom alive, the music that has been silenced by this pandemic.
I leave you with these final thoughts from one of my comics, as we all consider what will be the legacy of this remarkable moment, when the world’s classrooms all went silent, and we all escaped into the cloud: