Like many teachers in the age of COVID-19, I’ve switched to virtual classrooms (Zoom) as of late. It’s been two months since I last stood in a classroom, since I last had a thriving discussion about Poe’s work or Bradbury’s prose.
It’s a peculiar experience, this feeling of teaching literature – a form that so heavily relies on a connection between pen and paper, person and prose, real life discussion – through a screen. But we’ve been steadily moving, finding ways to decipher this new reality.
Last week, I came across some articles about zoom bombers: someone crashing your Zoom and disrupting it, much like photobombing. I skimmed through them, not thinking too much about it. People had also been sending me a lot of videos with jokes being played on teachers à la zoom bombers, but I just brushed them off. It wasn’t until a few days after, when it happened to me, that I realized how deeply disturbing and disrespectful it could be. I was teaching a class, one that I’d spent the entire previous afternoon preparing when it was disrupted – I quickly removed the intruder and carried on.
Because as a teacher, that’s what you do. You pick yourself up and keep moving. I’ve always been really impatient as a person, but teaching is the one thing that’s made me learn some patience. You can’t do it without any.
Teaching isn’t pretty.
And then came the next set of zoom bombers. This one was worse. The crasher came in, abusing, cursing, just totally taking away from the entire environment I had crafted for the day. It made me think about how the teenage mind works, how they believe that they’re invincible, and that repercussions and accountability don’t exist for them. Sometimes, respect isn’t given at all, only taken and honestly, it shocks me. I barely remember that feeling, the one where fear didn’t exist in my heart, and actions were the first means of communication before words.
The class progressively got worse. Another crasher came in and played a recording of sex noises. I was disturbed, yes. But more than that, I was afraid. Afraid for the future of children who think like that, for those who are constantly on the mode of attack for the simple sake of humor. And humor to what extent? No one knows.
My mind can’t fathom what makes someone act this way – but that’s alright. And the irony of the situation is that it says a lot more about them than it does about me.
This is why I teach.
I confronted my students, reported the incident, and carried on. But what I didn’t expect is how the students (the ones that come here to learn, to grow, to expand their thinking) reacted. My email flooded with apologies and appreciation and I was reminded – this is why I teach.
Classroom management in a virtual world is new to us and we’re all still learning. There will be bumps and bruises along the way but teaching isn’t meant to be pretty. It accepts the flaws that come with it and works on tackling them in the best way possible.
That one moment where the students sit quietly in awe of the way a story comes together – or a character has her moment of absolution – or a poet evokes some form of greater understanding – that’s everything. And that’s why there’s never a dull day in this line of work.
Zoom is an average substitute, and the virtual classroom is the only thing we can cling to right now – but we, as teachers, and educators know that human connection, the passing down of knowledge, the exchange of ideas – that’s where the real learning comes from.