Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Are You There?

There will be no early retirement incentive. I'd have retired if there had been one, as I can't resist a bargain. The city will pay for its intransigence by having to further deal with me.  However, I'm not really dying to stop working or anything. I actually like teaching very much, for the most part.

That said, this year has brought me closer to burnout than any other. The first day I taught, ever, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I met a lot of older teachers who advised me, "Get out while you still can. Go work on Long Island."

I thought I never wanted to be like that, and I'm very happy to say that I've managed never to be like that. Now I'm not perfect. People do things that make me angry, and that certainly includes my students. But I've learned to keep my mouth shut when I need to, and I've learned to be much quieter than usual whenever I feel angry. That's when my students should be concerned. If I'm screaming like a lunatic, I'm happy and enthusiastic and putting on a show.

This year I'm no longer facing students. I'm facing images. Now some students show their faces every day, and I really appreciate them and the fact they do this. I know them better, and truth be told, I probably call on them more and pay more attention to them. For one thing, when I call on them I know they will answer, even if just to say, "I don't know." And that's fine because they don't need to know. I need to know, and one thing I need to know is when they don't know.  

Of course I do actually call on students who choose to show icons. I've gotten to know which ones I can regularly count on. But every time I call and they don't answer, I ask, "Are you there?" If I get no response, I know they're playing a video game, sleeping, at the park with their phone on, or doing just about anything but paying attention to the class they're pretending to attend. 

It's an enormous waste of time, in fact. I hate it. And I'm not sure exactly who's being fooled, because most, or likely all, students who are never there when I call on them are failing. Of course there's no failure anymore, and they'll get NX. That means they'll get even more time to not do the work before they get actual failing grades. 

I have one student who just stopped coming earlier in the year. He doesn't like going online for school. I know this because his dad told me when I called. He's a great kid, actually. I had him in my class last year, when it was a live class. He's now failing everything because he just will not study online. I feel bad that he won't pass, but I respect this kid a lot more than those that are pretending.

It's really hard for me to understand, though. I have made my classes easier than ever in my career. I do the homework as a class activity, and all they need do is hand in what we've done together. Yet many, of course including the students who are there but not there, don't do it. 

Last week, I asked my students whether all their teachers constantly ask, "Are you there?" Some told me no, some other teachers call on them, and then mark them absent. That makes sense to me, and I don't know why I didn't think of it, or why I still don't do it. I pride myself on my evil nature, yet somehow I fell like I have to be consistent. After all, the grades of students who do no work are fairly consistent whether or not they are marked present.

I will be happy to be in a classroom in front of live students, and I will be happy to look to see who's there, rather than having to ask. I will be happy to pass by sleeping students and wake them up, rather than sit on my ass. Actually, when I give students work I've been calling the homes of students who are absent, particularly those whose great misfortune it is to speak a first language that I speak as a second language.

But I will be happy each and every day I don't have to ask, "Are you there?"

Are you with me?

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