Slice of Life: The End of Days

The title of this post is a little click bait-y. Sorry.

The other day, I received in the mail a copy of a new book by my writing project colleague, Michael Silverstone and his writing partner, Debbie Zacarian. It’s entitled Teaching to Empower.

Michael sent me a copy of the book because I was one of many teachers Debbie and Michael reached out for vignettes from the classroom, around the theme of student or teacher empowerment, and I had forgotten most of what I had written.

So, I thumbed through the book and found my piece. In it, I had focused on our video game design unit, and how I entered into the world of game design, as a way to help students engage with technology and writing, after overhearing so many discussions about gaming, at the end of the school days, while waiting for the bus.

In fact, I’ve written many small pieces over the years about that particular period of the school day, of just waiting around, of boredom being interrupted by some interesting question or thought, of aimless chatter, or of how a line of discussion that starts one place and ends in another — all as we waited for the dismissal announcements over the loudspeaker.

Of all the things I’m missing now in the Social Distancing era, this end-of-days bus-waiting time (See? I told you the phrase would makes sense) doesn’t quite rank at the top of my worries, yet it’s emblematic of a periodic realization: I don’t quite know my students anymore. We’re in our tenth week of learning and teaching from home.

Honesty, I don’t really know how they are doing, other than how they look for a stretch of time on the screen. I try to read eyes, and gestures, and smiles, but the screens interfere with those moments. The technology masks the humanity. I don’t really know what’s shaking up their lives or what’s the newest, best, most exciting thing happening to them.

I’m in touch, but I’ve lost touch.

My piece in Michael and Debbie’s book reminded of this because it was such a celebratory moment of how eavesdropping in on student conversations helped me rethink the way I was teaching, and then guided me into some curriculum changes that made a huge difference for so many students (particularly my struggling writers).

I end the vignette with the idea of standing there, in the classroom, waiting, listening back in, with the reminder that you never know what you’ll hear if you don’t take the chance to listen. That seems quaint now, and so out of touch with the times. So it goes.

Peace (what we hear),

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  1. The line, “The technology masks the humanity” really strikes me, as well as your ending. It’s REALLY hard to listen when on a virtual meeting, and even harder to listen in on conversations. It’s been a long ten weeks.

    • All that, and body language — you remember how incredibly important that is and how you can’t tell anymore from kids in seats, staring at the screen …

  2. “That seems quaint now, and so out of touch with the times.” It is shocking how much has changed so quickly. That is the reason I arrive at least 5 minutes early for our daily Morning Meeting Zooms, because the kids who come in early fill the time with that kind of chat.

  3. I’ve often come up with the word “flat” to describe the experience, pun intended, I suppose. We are in week nine, and you’ve perfectly described how I’m feeling too. It’s those unplanned moments that make the magic. Even between colleagues.

  4. The end of days…those informal times, times we didn’t even realize mattered so much. I’m finding those moments with daily Flipgrid questions with my students right now. After they answer my question (which would you choose for a pet–a dragon or a unicorn?), they show me a new toy, ask their younger sibling to respond to my question, show me the dog/cat/rabbit… I treasure those moments. Some of my students even make a second video just to connect in some way they need. But how will this work with students I have never met in person? You always make me think, Kevin!

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