It’s happening. Whether or not we like it or not: The seasons are changing.
It’s Week 7 Distant Teaching. It’s the reason I haven’t had a life, a spare minute, to write, to think, to do anything beyond plan, check-in with students, email parents, grade and re-grade and re-grade. It took me four hours to grade the most recent assignment–and it wasn’t even challenging to grade. What with the comment-posting and the inputting and the emails, “I noticed you didn’t turn in…,” it took me almost the entire flight from LAX to JFK to finish. And there’s always more where that came from. Fun times.
Even more thrilling are the emails. My colleagues and I reckon we are getting on average about 40 emails a day which takes us about two hours to respond to. Every time the little computer bell rings, an angel definitely doesn’t get her wings–she erodes her precious minutes remaining on Planet Earth. What we figure is that the emails are students raising their hands. Minimum, easy, typically 40 times a day if they’re in class my 170 middle school students raise their hand. Now, instead of answering the questions within 10 seconds, “The essay is due Friday. Notice what it says on the whiteboard?” now it can take 10 minutes. Not that I’m complaining. I am grateful our district was wise enough to continue remote teaching until we can wrangle the crafty Covid and trap it in a petri dish somewhere in a desert security lab. Being real, distant teaching is getting heebee jeebee Hunchback of Notre Dame frenzifying. I crave Real Time interaction with students. It’s getting better, in that some students are metaphorically jumping out of the computer screen and letting me know who they are, you know, their personalities. But for the most part if feels so stiff and unnatural.
We have to track. And track and track the students who aren’t engaged then notify their parents. Other than that, we can’t drop by their houses and tell them, “Sit up straight. Get out of your pjs. Stop looking at your phone.” And thus, 2020 is the year everyone ended up with ADHD. Parents. Teachers. Kids. All of us looking for the quick fix, the instant savings, the other thing that counts more than the current.
Back to the seasons. We can’t stop them. Nor should we want to. Here in Queens where I flew out to help my daughter and son-in-law watch my six-month-young granddaughter, Millie, due to child care challenges, the leaves are turning crimson and ripe banana gold. I was here six months ago when I was quarantined, thanks to Covid. The trees were bare, then blossomed into Spring bursts of lime green. I witnessed the giddy gardens arc from pastures of dandelions to glistening patches of wild green onions and sprouting tomato seeds. Now, at the end of September, the tomatoes are wilted as the Earth once again prepares for change.
Then and now. Now and then. Reminders everywhere like my daughter’s gardener neighbor who is now tending the last of his crop of squash or the one-track-mind cattle dog owner who refuses to strike up a conversation. (“Stop Mom, we don’t do that here,” my daughter reminds.) Familiarities. Yet, everything is different. The people who walk past the four-story brick apartment as I spy from my daughter’s balcony have on their furrowed-brow game faces as they trudge to work in masks and earbuds. Triple the number of pedestrians since Spring. They don’t look up, even with the cutest cooing baby on the planet in my arms! They don’t notice. Everyone just doing their job without glory or fanfare.
Like Millie. She rolls over like a sizzling sausage and is almost an expert saliva bubble-maker. She’s fascinated by what she can do with her beautiful baby hands, how they spread into fans and parrot claws. She’s become quite the expert at scratching Gma’s rosy cheeks. But Gma doesn’t mind. What’s a few more scars if it delights this little one so?
She’s changing every day. And maybe I am too. A softening. A noticing that seems to happen when I step away and change courses, get away from the grind, take the day off work to pay attention to the things that really matter. Family.
See, what happens when you are a teacher is you can’t help but put others first. Before yourself. Before your family. The job is consuming, especially now. But despite our inclinations, we can’t do everything for everyone all the time. Sometimes, we have to notice the autumn leaves as they fall like confetti onto the damp pavement, feel New York’s fairy kiss rain or sit under the gazebo back home in California and admire the nesting doves and the dancing monarchs as the sun gives way to tomorrow.