Thursday, April 23, 2020

Sitting at the Teacher Desk

I don't generally do that a lot. Maybe if I'm giving a test, I'm sitting there. Maybe the first few days when I'm taking attendance, and desperately trying to remember student names, frequently ones that are difficult both to remember, or even pronounce.

Otherwise, I'm almost always on my feet in a classroom.  Also, my desk doesn't look much like that one. My desk is a mess, with all my stuff strewn across it. At the end of the period, some other teacher comes in, and I have to un-strew it all.

Not only that, but my chair doesn't look like that either. My chair is usually a big old wooden monstrosity. As often as not, I give it to a student to move into a group, or simply because there aren't enough chairs.

On the positive side, I now have a chair that's nicer than the one in the picture. I have a big leather chair with a reclining seat. It's much more comfortable than any chair I've had in the decades I've been teaching. That's not the biggest difference, though. The main difference, for me. is I've got no reason whatsoever to get out of it. Now sometimes that's nice. I can make a cup of mint tea and drink it in class. I can even drink from a real cup instead of a paper one.

On the other hand, I can't see what any of my students are doing. I can't check. I can't see their work. I can either ask them to read it aloud or write it in the chat. I can give homework, but for whatever reason, it's not quite as urgent for my students to get it done. Today, during my first class, I'd planned to review the homework. However, so few students had done it that I had to move on to something else. I'm going to come back to it and make them all do it one way or another.

In my second class, I'd asked them to create a car that would move through traffic easily. I'd shown them one I found in a British textbook. It was pretty ugly, and they said so. Only one student had actually done the work. I made everyone else do it on the spot. The results were not as good as they'd have been if they'd taken more time, but they were results nonetheless. One student claimed not to have a camera, so I told that student to submit it via Google Classroom.

I now see who I am in this digital world. I'm the teacher who sits in front of the classroom and never moves around. Everything takes longer because I can't see. I think if you're in a classroom and students know you're circulating, almost all of them know you're coming around sooner or later. Rarely, you have students who will only do work when you're standing right over them, but most know better.

The last project I gave where students needed to show themselves was a show and tell exercise. I teach beginning newcomers, so almost any conversation is a good activity. One student turned on his camera, revealed he was sitting in the dark in bed, and proceeded to show us his glasses. It was far from the best choice, but he clearly hadn't prepared anything and was winging it. While I wasn't all that thrilled with his lack of preparation, I was happy about his quick thinking.

But now I'm glued to the desk. If I get up, I'll be outside of the classroom. The entire classroom is pretty much in front of my computer screen. This is better than nothing, but it's a far cry from what it is I really do, what it is we really do. This morning I'm reading about human trials for a vaccine in both the UK and Germany. I hope they have some success.

I'd love to see this virus gone. I know why I love being a teacher, and it isn't because I get to sit on my ass in front of a Mac. It's gonna be a long haul, but I'll say it again. Anyone who thinks remote learning is as good as the real thing is either delusional or trying to profit from it. Real live children need real live teachers.
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