Can You Hear Me?
Special guest column by Janis Effner

he stresses of living during a pandemic affect us all. Shifting our ‘normal’ as we long for old routines is hard. As I work remotely with teachers across our nation, I see the resiliency of teachers who refuse to give up despite constant challenges. But it was when I started working with students online that I realized in order to keep sane, teachers must breathe, laugh, and take a nap — make that naps.

Getting chat-ghosted

I was recently online with a large group of middleschool students teaching a synchronous lesson. I felt great about this opportunity since I had taught middleschool students for 13 years.

I was ready for the challenge, right?

It was time for class to start and students started logging in from home. I was ready to engage with the class and have a literacy discussion. I could see students joining our session. I made sure my video lighting was good. I adjusted my computer so students would not just see my face, and I waited to see this class. In hindsight, I was a bit too optimistic. Then there was a flash of video, but no faces. Instead, I saw a bunch of dark, empty bedrooms, with a random foot or elbow showing. I was tempted to turn off my video and start chugging my Diet Coke, but, like all teachers, I persevered.

If you have ever wondered if your teaching practices need to be revamped, try teaching middleschool students online. You give information, ask for a response, and there is silence. There are feet moving, a flash of an ear here and there, but nothing else. You type in chat, just to make sure they are hearing you, and you get chat-ghosted. This feels personal when you see all the off-topic comments in chat that prove students can communicate — if they want to.
Listen typography
Your mind thinks things like, “Are these students even in their rooms?” “Is anyone listening to me?” As a parent, I am used to talking to myself, but this is the next level. The distance between you and the student who is sitting on the other end of their electronic device cannot be understated. The distance between New York and New Mexico is approximately 1,972 miles. How is it possible that the distance in remote learning seems so much bigger? Infinity feels like a close estimate.

“Hello? Can you hear me?” A ‘y’ appears in chat, and it is not even capitalized. This is going to be tough.

woman in a zoom meeting
Connecting with students

So, there I was sitting at my desk having an anxiety attack over students who appeared to still be in bed. Students in their pajamas cannot defeat me! Pushing aside thoughts of going back to bed once this was over, I kept trying.

I started talking about the weather and putting comments into the chat box. It was snowing at my house and I knew these students were in a warm-weather environment, plus weather is something we all have in common. What could go wrong? My chat box lit up! Finally, comments in chat! As I read, I realized most students were saying, since I was old, I was probably freezing. At least I knew students could see me. ‘I bet Miss is freezing’ seemed to be a common theme. Is there a way to put the rolling eyes emoji in chat?!? I decided I would make the time to research this skill when class was over, and despite the conversation leaning towards my age, I kept going.

You cannot control your students, but you can take advantage of the glimpses of their personal life you can see and connect with. This connection will get you through the unexpected moments seen on video or read through chat.
I showed a picture of a mobile library, which was the focus of the article we were discussing, and how they might be affected by weather. Students spoke. I was amazed at the unmuting of mics, as a few students mentioned, when it was cold outside people would need the mobile library to bring them books. Other students mentioned the importance of books being available in the neighborhood for families who do not have enough gas to drive to the library. They were connecting to our article and to each other. Learning was taking place, although much differently than I envisioned.

Next class would be better. We would build on today’s experience and keep connecting. Time for that nap.

Connect typography
No, this is not a joke

If laughter is the best medicine, then I am going to recommend teachers take the time to laugh, and often. Laughter is especially important during remote learning times when the unexpected becomes normal, and class lessons seemingly fail.

My son is a freshman in high school this year and is learning remotely. He began advanced orchestra in October. On the first day of class, he joined by Zoom, and I could hear his teacher trying to get this large remote group to focus on playing their stringed instruments. My deepest sympathies went out to this brave man.

I heard my son speak, which is unusual since he is a chat-only communicator in the remote classroom. Apparently, his teacher asked him to read a line of music, and my son did, but said all the wrong notes. The teacher then gave him a different line of music, and my son read them all wrong as well. Confused, the teacher asked my son if he was sure he played the Viola. What an epic question. I wish I could have heard him ask it. My son assured him he played the viola, but then admitted he could not read music.

You remember, you have the grit and determination to teach kids, despite their best efforts to get you off track.
woman in a zoom meeting
Four years in orchestra, and my son cannot read music. No, this is not a joke, and I am sorry.

What unexpected things have happened to you? Have you called on students who were not actually at their computer? Any students forget their name? Find students playing video games during class? Did you relax a little thinking you had seen it all and your students showed you how wrong you were? Although reality can make you feel like you are on some type of hidden-camera show, I hope you thrive despite the craziness of it all. These experiences are a part of your remote learning memories, embrace them.

Taking time to reflect

You cannot control your students, but you can take advantage of the glimpses of their personal lives you can see and connect with. This connection will get you through the unexpected moments seen on video or read through chat. Remember to sit back and reflect on the positives of your day, and how far you have come since your first virtual lesson.

Rest. Whether you are exercising, cooking, or taking a nap, make sure you give yourself time to recover.

Remember, you have the grit and determination to teach kids, despite their best efforts to get you off track. Students across the nation will come out of this time with a new awareness and appreciation for you and the school classroom. One day you might even miss remote teaching, but until then, turn on your video, keep smiling, keep laughing, and making connections — for yourself and for your students who need you now more than ever.

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About the author

Janis Effner is the professional services director at Achieve3000. She was a classroom teacher and reading specialist for over 10 years and is an international author. Janis is a powerful media and communication professional with a Principal Certification focused on Secondary School Administration/Principalship from Schreiner University. She lives in the beautiful state of Alaska.