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The Zooming

Teaching synagogue school classes on Zoom reminds me of the terror of my early weeks of teaching last September, as if I’m balancing on a thin rope five hundred feet in the air. It took months for that feeling to dissipate in the first place, but Zoom brought it right back. Part of the problem is that I have to use Mom’s laptop, instead of my familiar desktop computer, because my computer doesn’t have a camera or microphone. But more of the problem is that I’m afraid I will bore the kids, or run out of things to say, or accidentally end the Zoom when I only mean to share my screen. I hate the idea that I could put so much work into it and still fail.

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“This again?”

My first attempt to teach a class on Zoom was harrowing – not so much while it was happening, but in the aftermath, when I could hear my own thoughts again. I was asked to do the first Zoom as an experiment, to see if more kids would come to a Zoom than to lessons on the website. Since this Zoom would be for all sixteen kids at once, instead of broken into two classes, I planned it as a get together, give myself time to get used to the technology, and focus on reconnecting with the kids. About half of my students showed up, plus my teacher’s aide, and five dogs, and I lost track of the hand-raising and muting pretty early on, but they all stayed engaged for more than an hour, and shared their stories from the shutdown. So, of course, once the Zoom was over, I spent the next few hours beating myself up for not planning a real lesson, and then wondering why the rest of my students didn’t come and worrying that they must hate me.

For days afterwards I felt like I was having a low grade heart attack, because of the Zoom itself and because now I knew I’d have to do a second one.

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“Eek!”

In the second Zoom I planned to teach both of my lessons for the week (one Hebrew and one Judaic Studies), which meant I’d have to share my screen, and manage the hand raising and muting, so I asked my teacher’s aide, a brilliant teenage girl otherwise busy writing research papers on game theory, if she could co-host the class with me, and she agreed. Thank God. Teacher’s Aide is the wrong term, actually. We use the Hebrew word Madricha, for her role, and I’ve seen it translated as counselor or guide, so maybe Teacher’s Guide is the best way to describe her.

After some serious outreach by the principal of the Synagogue School (my boss), more of my students came to the second Zoom. We did Show and Tell at the beginning of the session, to give the kids a chance to share objects that had helped them through the shutdown (dogs were a popular theme), and they all participated. But when I tried to start the actual lesson, with a list of Hebrew words on our shared screen, kids started to fill the chat box with “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,………!”  They continued to complain for the rest of the hour, though they still did the work, which made me feel like we were back in our classroom, on familiar ground.

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“Are you banging on a drum?”

I still felt like there was a rip in the time/space continuum after the second Zoom was over, though. I was pretty sure that the computer’s camera was following me around the living room, critiquing what I ate for lunch, and tsk-ing when I changed back into my pajamas. I got back to work as soon as possible, sending out the next set of emails to my students and their parents, and typing up a schedule for the next Zoom, just in case my boss was watching me somehow, from somewhere. I had to rely on big doses of chocolate and pasta to finally reduce my anxiety level to a more manageable (EEEEEEEK!!!!) level, so that I could take my afternoon nap.

IMG_1414

The third Zoom had big technical difficulties. First, we couldn’t log in for the first fifteen minutes, and then videos refused to play, and words were cut off of various documents. But I stayed calm, strangely enough, and managed emails with the parents and phone calls with my boss, and I even taught everything in my lesson. One of my straggling sheep was clearly unhappy to be back in class, and another one’s father had to keep pushing his rolling chair back to the computer, and even though I’d seen fourteen of my sixteen students I was still worried about the last two. Were they okay? Were their families okay? Did they hate me? Because I thought they liked me! WAAAAAHHH! But then, towards the halfway point of the class, one of my last two sheep straggled in, and smiled at the camera, and laughed at my jokes, and the world felt like a sweeter place.

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“Did you say sweet?”

Of course, I was still anxious after the third Zoom, worried that I’d forgotten too many details from my lesson plan, and failed to call on all of the students, and maybe I was too strict, or too lenient, or too something else I couldn’t think of yet. I was also wondering where my sixteenth student could possibly be, though a tiny part of me felt like, maybe, I’d accomplished something good.

By the fourth, and final, Zoom in two weeks, the kids had hit their limit of relatively good behavior and started begging to leave early, clamoring for games instead of lessons, and complaining that there was no candy coming through the screen. But, my sixteenth student came to that final Zoom; and we all made it through the lesson plan (with some judicious editing). The kids even let me say goodbye to them, and wish them well.

We still don’t know what will be possible, in terms of large gatherings and classrooms and such, come the fall, so I’m going to have to keep practicing my Zoom skills in case I need to run classes without the help of my genius Teacher’s Guide. And I’ll have to plan for both in-person and Zoom versions of everything, just in case. But, I did it. I survived, and not just the Zooming, but the whole year of teaching synagogue school. I didn’t really think this was something I could do, or something I would enjoy so much. I really, really liked spending time with the kids; I liked getting to know how their minds worked, and figuring out how to teach them and motivate them to learn. I wish we could have ended the year in our classroom, with chocolate chip cookies and art projects and singing and dancing and utter chaos. But maybe that’s something to look forward to next year.

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Cricket is resting up for next year.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

100 responses »

  1. Great job! Zoom anything is a total pain! You survived and your kiddos will surely remember this time

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  2. Rachel–I am so happy that you are happy and proud you did it! Sixteen kids on a Zoom meeting to learn and they stayed?! You did something right! More pasta and chocolate for you, Madam Teacher. Maybe Cricket could co-teach with you…..

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  3. Technology kind of freaks me out sometimes. God help me if I ever have to be in charge of something.

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  4. justaseniorwholovesjesus

    Rachel, You definitely did an awesome job! Especially to hold their attention outside the classroom. Bring on the pasta and chocolate!❤️

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  5. Timothy Price

    Laurie teaches classes on Google Classroom for 3 to 4 hours each day. She doesn’t have problems with engaging her students, but the technology is challenging: bandwidth issues for her students (I upgraded to Gigabit Internet for all the video conferencing between the two of us do we don’t have bandwidth problems now), hardware issues (not all students have video or mics), location issues — some of her students go out in their cars and get hotspots at local colleges because there are too many people trying to videoconference in their households. Zooming, MS Meetings, Google Classroom all have their challenges. You’ll get better at it.

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  6. I have been subjected to a lot of online presentations lately on best practices for online presentations, and one of the major points that most of the speakers emphasize is that it is really helpful to have a helper to handle the chat window (so you can focus on the screen), mute/unmute as needed, and handle other housekeeping details. This whether you use Zoom, Microsoft Teams (which is where most of my meetings are), or some other conferencing software. So having your Teacher’s Guide is really smart.

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  7. We’re opening up a little more here in Australia. Each state and territory has its own subtle differences, but I think the lesson most of us has learnt is the more can be done by teleconference and some things can be done by videoconference.
    Nothing will be as good as meeting in person but I think we’ve learnt that there remain risks with in-person meetings we’ve never really appreciated before.
    We’re seeing a significant decline not only in SARS-COV-2 infection but infections caused by other respiratory pathogens because of the physical distancing and ‘stay at home’ guidance. It’s been a great thing for public health.

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    • So interesting! It sounds like we’ve just accepted a level of illness as normal, and we don’t have to. My brother has been doing part-time telemedicine, along with emergency medicine in person, over the past few years, so he’s been prepared for this for a while. It’s amazing to see so many articles and news shows praising telemedicine, after years of either ignoring or demeaning the whole thing. We’ll see where it all goes next!

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      • While telemedicine has some flaws it’s a great way to get healthcare to more people who need it. Sadly, governments have not embraced it until now because it is so easy to defraud the funding agencies.

  8. I just wanted to let you know how much I like your writing. You have an enormous gift as a story teller.

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  9. Yes, Madricha could be translated as guide… or maybe pathfinder if you want to stay close to the Hebrew… Your lessons sound great. I’m so happy for your students.

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  10. Wait…you had 5 dogs on Zoom? Well, then, I’d csll that a conplete success! Anyway, you are a far better person than I. I can see myself having a major rant and meltdown and blistering the innertubes after the first two or three tech issues. Patience…

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  11. I never doubted you would be an amazing teacher. Zoom is interesting – I was faculty support for the platform we use (D2L) but not so familiar with Zoom till we moved all classes online in March. It was interesting – there was not a meeting that didn’t have Maverick on my lap a few times. The students found it amusing. And……..you will teach another class and you will be equally as amazing and each time, it will get a little easier. Trust me.

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  12. I hear you!! I am an old teacher thrown into e learning and I had quite a bit of anxiety. I teach Kindergarten, so Zoom was only for fun activities so that we could be together. But I was so nervous the first few times we did it. Here is hoping we get to be back in our classrooms next year. Lol. 🙂

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    • I’ve heard from a lot of the early childhood teachers that they mostly do read-a-longs and games through Zoom, and they are exhausted!

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      • The little ones just don’t have the attention span to sit and look at everyone through a computer screen. I would keep muting them and then they would unmute and start singing or something like that. Lol.

  13. Congrats to Rachel’s Class of 2020 and to their teacher for being there for them – even in cyberspace!

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  14. I enjoyed reading through your experience. I found you love working with students. I’m sure they love you too.

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  15. Awww, I am sure they love you! Did they ever tell you why they didn’t attend that first session? Maybe it was just a lack of communication?

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  16. You did great Rachel! I have no idea what Zoom is. I’d never heard of it before all this started, But you not only figured it out, you kept everyone coming back for more. Quite something

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  17. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that. It seems a lot more complicated than when I used Skype. As an ex teacher I never used video conferencing, which now with Zoom looks quite fascinating and will no doubt soon be commonplace.

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  18. You’re very brave, getting into Zoom!

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  19. Well done it sounds like you’re getting the hang of teaching online. As someone who has been doing these things for 10 years, you always need a ‘wing man’ to check the comments, hands up etc. I suggest you designate a student to be the ‘helper’ for a specified amount of time. They can take turns. Also set out the ground rules – If you don’t want to be distracted – tell them that you’ll answer questions in x minutes time (no more than 10). The helper can keep track and then read them out to you – ‘Sara asks – …. ‘ Also – putting no no no in the chat pane is very rude. I have found that a short discussion on some ground rules of behaviour helps. Would you shout out ‘No No NO’ to me in class?’ The kids know what good and bad behaviour is – ask for suggestions and then designate one to type them up (judicial choice of student is crucial here).

    Most importantly, you did it. Good job 🙂

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  20. Wow, what a wonderful accomplishment. Great that all 16 students turned up and a collection of dogs.

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  21. I admire you for getting to grips with the new technology. It would flummox me. Glad all is working out OK.
    Keep safe and well Rachel

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  22. You should give yourself s huge pat on the back. Sounds as if you did really well.

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  23. love this post !
    also,, the dog’s faces are ADORABLE 🥺🥰

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  24. Rachel, when I read your post last night, I mentally tried to imagine myself doing the things you describe here, and I almost had a panic attack just from imagining being in your shoes. But you are actually doing it! You are amazing!!!

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  25. It sounds to me as if you handled a difficult situation remarkably well! And I’m really impressed that in the end, you had all sixteen students on screen and participating. My sister is an elementary teacher with nineteen kids in her class, conducting on-line lessons two hours a day. She said on any given day, no more than twelve kids actually do the lessons, and one child has yet to do a single one. Her principal has told her that she can’t contact the parents to ask them to have their children do the work, so they’re just heading off into next year rather unprepared.

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    • My next door neighbor teaches kids with learning disabilities and behavioral problems and her boss is the exact opposite, requiring her to call parents daily. Partly the issue is that most of the kids cannot learn online at all.

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  26. What a great post. I have attended many Zoom calls, but never hosted one. I am so impressed with all the wonderful teachers, yourself included, who stepped up and managed to do a difficult task to keep the kids learning. In my 35 yers of teaching I never was on a Zoom call. Now I am a student on them. Give yourself kuddos for a job well done.

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  27. You’re doing better than me. I don’t know hot to Zoom let alone Skype with people . The last time I Skyped was on my first computer. Actually the people skyped me so I’ve never skyped before in my life. I feel for you. Good Luck.

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    • Thank you! I remember doing Skype, or something like it, with my nephew a few years back, but it never really became a habit. Zoom has a lot more functionality and is really made for the situation we’re in, but it still sucks. I hate looking at myself on screen!

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  28. I have total sympathy on many levels for your experience. I lasted one year teaching middle school and then quit. Too much groaning and whining and acting out for me. It is very challenging to teach people who don’t want to be there. It has nothing to do with you, but much to do with them. My granddaughter(13) has been complaining about her Zoom class because the boys keep acting out trying to outdo each other on screen.

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    • Middle schoolers are notoriously bad students. They are in the perfect storm, beginning to be overrun by hormones but still lacking in understanding and self control. Thank goodness mine are younger, though they have their own issues.

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      • I have no idea why I assumed yours were middle school aged! I guess my powers of projection were in full gear.

      • I only work with kids in second through sixth, and mostly fourth. When they hit seventh grade they go into a special program to prepare for bar and bat mitzvah. I’m actually curious about what they do in those classes, but the clergy is very smart and asks parents to come with the kids on a regular basis. Oh, and there’s pizza! And sometimes donuts!

      • Lucky you. I forgot about the whole bar and bat mitzvah preparation. Of course that is rewarded with a big party and presents!(If my daughter’s friends were representative.)

      • Ideally, you are awash in checks and presents after the bat mitzvah, yes. Though I’m not sure if that’s happening with the virtual bar and bat mitzvahs right now. Everything is streamed or zoomed. No big party.

  29. I understand your concerns using Zoom, which I’ve signed up for but haven’t had to use. My family is threatening to have a big Zoom conversation sometime. More so, I appreciate your preference for being in the room with your learners. At least until candy and cookies can be pushed through the screen. I admire how well you’re doing with the changes that are big. That you’re engaging with your class and completing lesson plans, however edited, is terrific. I have a friend who teaches Communication at a local college. Everything is on-line there now and for him, and he’s not enjoying it. He feels he’s barely up to speed with the technology–and he’s the person I go to for computer help–and misses the immediate interaction the classroom affords. I think he’s doing better than he knows. There are some teachers I understand who prefer the remote learning mode in which to work. I think you and my friend Ken are serving the best of both worlds, dealing effectively (yes, you are) with the current situation and waiting for in-the-room learning to return. I trained for on-line teaching but so far have not had to use it. You two will be my models and my inspiration. Ken has cats, sorry.

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  30. A mistake is not synonymous with failure. We are only human. Consequently, we all make mistakes. We all at times fail, for that matter. So you fumble on occasion. Welcome to the club. You are in good company. 🙂

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  31. Zoom is certainly a challenge, especially when it get overwhelmed and freezes or quits or something. Sounds like you and Zoom both had some performance anxiety, but you aced it!

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  32. Both my daughter and son-in-law had to rapidly transition their college classes to Zoom when their campuses closed. It was a ton of extra work, involving not just reshaping their curricula but acting as grief counselors or customer service reps for students who were very unhappy that their world had been turned upside down and that they were paying big bucks for the privilege. But eventually, everyone came to see the challenge as a mutual one, to make allowances, to understand that this blip on the screen would be a good story someday. That will be true for you too!

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  33. We did a Zoom memorial and Shiva. 172 people. It was a first for us and so different.

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    • I’ve heard really good and really bad things about Zoom funerals. The ability of so many people to come is the biggest positive, and the inability to really sing together being the biggest negative (because of transmission delays). We’re learning a lot and the future may end up being a hybrid of in-person and Zoom-like experiences, instead of ever going back to “normal.”

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      • Agree. The prayers were not as normal but still beautiful. Unfortunately the songs were all jittered by the transmission. Not being able to hug family members was worse.

  34. Rachel, your writing is excellent! You bring the reader in, keeping us company as you talk about our universal worries and everyday internal thoughts, Thanks for always commenting on my recipes. Reading your essays gave me an idea to change direction sometimes and write about my internal voices and worries a bit. it would give some zip to the recipes and draw the reader/cook in! thx.

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  35. Great article and congratulations on a tough job well done!
    Give yourself a nice gentle pat on the back, and keep practicing your Zoom skills!
    If cookies would have been part of an in-person class, could you still make some and mail them to your students, along with a nice note thanking them for being in the class and not giving up, and whatever else comes to mind for each student?

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  36. Ha! What an ordeal! Somewhat humorous, as a spectator. One of Dante’s levels to be in, on either side, I imagine. Live in the time of Covid!!

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  37. Congratulations! You did it and did a great job! Don’t let God’s enemy satan hit you with doubt and fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a strong mind.” Good job with a strong, fearless finish!

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  38. Whoa! Wait! STOP! Accidentally ending the Zoom meeting instead of sharing the screen is not failing. Just start the meeting back up again. It happens, it is no big deal.

    I am so happy for you that you did it.

    One thing that helps me is I watch other people Zoom and when you see what we are all doing it is pretty incredible. No one is perfect yet we are so incredibly so. This started up overnight and look all that is going on on Zoom (and whatever!) – it is amazing.

    I am so happy that you made it and . . . .you enjoyed it . . . for the most part.

    I tape a piece of paper over the camera when I am not Zooming. 🙂 Makes me feel better.

    Again . . . congratulations!

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    • I like the covering-the-camera idea! I’m still working on sharing my screen without showing everyone the full contents of my computer, but I’m learning.

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      • I am not very trusting of devices with cameras and microphones. I hear you when it comes to sharing your screen, I think I would practice a lot before I did it. It really made it nice when you had someone to help. I also am so not trusting that I don’t even use my actual computer for Zoom, I use a laptop that doesn’t have anything on it so there is nothing to share . . . that is the only way I would be brave enough to do it (having no risk of sharing MY stuff)! Ha!

      • Good idea! I was thinking about getting a lap top just for teaching, so that the only files on it would be for my classes. And then I could slap the damned thing closed after class so the camera can’t follow me.

      • Exactly. I slap it closed, but I also keep it covered because I forget it has a camera and don’t want to be signed on and not thinking about it. Just make me feel better. 🙂

  39. I’ve always kept a piece of paper or opaque tape over my computer camera. Of course, I’m also so not into the whole selfie thing. In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find an actual picture of me online at all. Privacy is too little valued these days, in my opinion.

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  40. “judicious editing” — good teacher trick! I never had that many students join a Google Meet with me all at once. Many students didn’t have technology, others had WiFi issues, others were dealing with family/friends who were affected or who succumbed to COVID-19. But when you do manage to interact with them, even if it’s online, it’s still better. Teaching can be infinitely rewarding, in many, many surprising ways. I never would have thought to see myself as one. But I’m glad you’re enjoying it, and really care about their well-being, and can share your knowledge. Students don’t always get the teachers they deserve, but you sound like you’re doing okay =)

    Reply

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