RSS Feed

I want to be back in the classroom in September, not on Zoom

            The staff of the synagogue school where I work is spending the summer, just like every other school, planning for the unknown. We’re doing curriculum development and lesson planning, for every scenario, and we’re building our technical abilities, and looking for ways to re-interpret our current ways of teaching for a two dimensional world.

            But it sucks.

“Harrumph.”

            I mean, I’m grateful that we’re doing all of this preparation, so that it won’t feel like we’re being dropped into a sea of ice cold water, again. And I’m grateful that the technology exists, both to allow us to work together from afar all summer, and to build up our online classrooms into more interesting places. But I want to see my kids. I want to hear them; without one person’s microphone blocking out everyone else’s, or all of their voices coming at me through a delay, or some of the kids not coming through at all because their internet connections are spotty or because every member of their family is online at once. I want to be able to talk with one of my kids privately, if they seem upset, without everyone else noticing or listening in. I want to be able to make eye contact with the quiet kid in the corner who thinks he’s invisible.

“Can you see me, Mommy?”

            Zoom, even with all of the bells and whistles, and integration with other apps and games and videos, is not the real world. I miss being able to talk to my students and forget what I look like, or what I’m wearing, or how silly I look when I’m trying to dance. I miss seeing all of the other kids in the hallways, and catching the eye of another teacher as we silently ask each other “are you okay?” And I miss being able to shut the door of my car at the end of the day and feel the transition from work to home starting to sink in.

“Be quiet. I’m sleeping.”

            But I really miss being able to close the door of my classroom and knowing that it’s just me and the kids for a while, with no one looking over our shoulders, or recording our conversations, or judging each move we make or each word we say.

            It’s not that my classroom is so awful that it can’t withstand the scrutiny (I hope), but there’s something intimidating about having so many virtual doors and windows open at all times, and not knowing who’s listening in or watching from two feet out of camera range.

“Is somebody watching me?”

            Zoom is so public.

            We had a Zoom class just before Mother’s Day, and I was helping the kids create blessings for their mothers (and fathers, since school was going to end before Father’s Day), and one of the kids started miming at the screen, and then messaged me privately that she couldn’t answer with her mom in the room. Up until that second I had no idea that her mother had been there, just out of range, for the previous forty-five minutes.

            I can be silly with kids in a way I can’t with adults, at least adults I don’t know. I can play the role of the-one-who-knows-things with the kids, whereas with other adults around I’d be more self-conscious, recalibrating each time a new person came in. Just like I would feel different, and probably act differently, with my boss in the room.

I’m the boss.”

            And the kids are different too.

            A lot of the things the kids would have said in the classroom could barely even be thought when they were at home; not because they were unsafe at home (though I don’t know), but because they are different people at home than at synagogue school, and they are much more aware of being overheard, and of being their home-selves; being the big sister, or the good kid, or the chatterbox they are presumed to be when they are at home.

            In the classroom they can try on new behaviors, and say things they wouldn’t say with an audience. At home, even with Mom and Dad in a separate room, their internal censors are on and they are much more careful.

            I don’t really care if I ever step into a shopping mall again, and while I miss movie theaters, I actually like the variety and control and cost of streaming better. I do miss going to synagogue in person, but the alternate-universe-Zoom-synagogue has been a pretty good substitute. But, I miss my classroom, and my kids.

            And it sucks.

“Harrumph.”

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.

90 responses »

  1. I hope things start reopening in a month or so, too. This has been very strange.

    Reply
  2. The very few times I did work at home, my husband would sometimes stand in the doorway of my home office and make a face like, ‘Holy cow–how long is that client gonna keep you on the phone?!’ I can imagine how the kids feel with mom and dad right there. Hopefully, things start to open up slowly and safely, Rachel. I am so sure you kids miss you as much as you miss them.

    Reply
  3. You are expressing what every teacher I know is saying. I am so grateful I retired a year ago. The joy if teaching comes from the personal interactions with the kids. No Zoom call can replicate that. I hope things can open safely for the kids and the teachers. My spouse teaches high school and his kids miss being with the teachers too.

    Reply
  4. Beautifully expressed. And I am glad to hear a teacher’s perspective. I only have a parent’s perspective and my vision is clouded a lot of the time by anxiety or bubble-living or over-protectiveness. So thank you. And I hope you can see your kids soon. Sounds like you do an amazing job.

    Reply
  5. Great thoughts. My son is starting college this fall—the plan is to have some virtual classes and some in person classes. I completely understand the reasoning- but I think it is a big loss.
    Here is hoping you will be seeing your kids from the synagogue school soon—-I am sure they miss seeing you in person also!

    Reply
  6. I got to go to my nephew’s bar mitzvah on Zoom. It was beautiful. I’m not Jewish, but I would go to services just to hear the cantor!

    Reply
  7. Get back to the class room once the classes commence!

    Reply
  8. I pray that by September there can be a safe opening of classrooms. ZOOM is great, but people need face-to-face in person. Seeing you in the net is just not the same!!

    Reply
  9. i feel the same, rachel

    Reply
  10. Every parent wants their kids to be back in the classroom. I hope you get back there too and soon.

    Reply
  11. I’m sure the kids share your sentiments.

    Reply
  12. I loved hearing the teacher perspective, as my daughter (9) is feeling the other end of this – she’s definitely one of the ones who needs that one-to-one encouragement and she’s really missing her teacher; we got really lucky this year and had a teacher who really seemed to “get” what she needed and up until March we saw her blossoming and becoming much more confident. We’re doing our best but it’s really not the same. Let’s hope things get back to something close to normal in September. It sounds like you are a really great teacher who really cares for the kids in her care 🙂

    Reply
  13. Makes sense. You can’t see facial expressions or body language well over ZOOM. It’s just not the same type of communication. I hope things improve…

    Reply
  14. You’re right. It sucks. We’re all trying to make the best of it, it’s the only thing we can do, but it sucks big time.

    Reply
  15. My partners a teachers and I was honestly surprised to hear that he prefers being in a classroom over virtual teaching. See, he’s an introvert, so I just assumed, virtual teaching would be his preference. He prefers the classroom, for the same reasons you’ve said.

    Reply
  16. My daughter is a teacher and spent the last part of the year preparing online classes (she didn’t even have the platform zoom to interact with her students) and she is looking forward to next fall where hopefully she’ll be able to teach face to face. There was a dismal experiement in American Samoa for teaching kids with television in the 60’s (my parents had been teaching there and were removed to put this program in place) and it was a complete failure. Children need “real” teachers, not video conferences. 😦 Fingers crossed next year goes smoothly for everyone.

    Reply
  17. Very weird times. Zoom has been a lifesaver, but it’s not the same as face-to-face. Hope you can get back to the classroom safely later this year.

    Reply
    • Me too! I just looked over at Cricket and thought what it would be like for her to only see her people on Zoom. I don’t think she’d survive long. She’s like a little battery in constant need of contact with her charger.

      Reply
  18. Once this is over, I think many of us would be happy never to do a Zoom call again… (while being grateful for the technology and what it has provided at the same time). I hope that it is safe enough for you to get back into the classroom asap. In Scotland, it was announced this week that schools would be returning in full in August, instead of the blended learning originally proposed. My sister (mother of four boys and classroom assistant) is over the moon…

    Reply
    • My friend in Israel has had her kids back in school for six weeks, but they’re having a surge again. New York has made so much progress, but so much can go wrong before September.

      Reply
  19. As soon as I read your post, Rachel, I knew I had to share it with a friend who is a teacher. This was her response: “Thank you for sharing this post. That is exactly how I feel. We are still in exams and have another month to go.

    This weekend though was a good experience. We worked in a gym so we had the room for enough distance, did some work with masks on + most of the time without masks. Each person had a mat plus her own blanket. We did partner work using ropes for “direct” contact… However, honestly looked at, there were moments in partner or talking situations where your tape measurement would have said something else.”
    Let’s hope for similar situations, at least occasionally, as school starts again. Something is better than nothing.

    Reply
  20. You bring to the forefront many things I’d not thought off about the relationship between teacher and student that can’t be as free when other familial persons are somewhere in the background. I like the person’s idea of meeting in the gym as a class. Even to be able to do that once a week or however long it takes to give all of the teachers that opportunity and using online teaching for the rest would give the kids something to look forward to – and return at least a little bit of normalcy for the teachers as well. I bet it could be done – and you’re just the right person to devise a plan and bring it to attention!

    Reply
  21. Given the stupidity of so many people after the relaxation of rules, (on both sides of the Atlantic) I suspect a second wave may well interfere with a full resumption to proper teaching again before September.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Reply
  22. I agree. It is better in person but have you thought about asking the families to be out of the room while you are teaching. Let them know it is best if it is just you and the kids. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t but a least they will know what you prefer.

    Reply
    • I think a lot of the parents used this as an opportunity to see what their kids have been doing in school. Because when parents ask what they’ve been doing at school most kids mumble, at best.

      Reply
  23. so many kids with learning disabilities (whatever the current PC term is for that, I’m never up to date cuz stuff changes so fast), are struggling and suffering from this – they NEED the face to face, in person contact. Also, as someone who taught using zoom, I don’t like the idea that the lectures are recorded – I’m a pretty off the cuff teacher most of the time and I warn my students early on that if I say something stupid and I happen to offend someone, to come to me and we’ll discuss my stupidity because I’m old and rarely PC. (I’ve only had one be offended in all my years, she was right, I apologized and that was that.) Recordings live forever.

    Reply
    • Thank God only the host can allow recordings and none of my classes were recorded. My neighbor teaches kids with learning and behavior problems and they had a terrible time with online learning. Hopefully we can all get back to the classroom in September.

      Reply
  24. Yep, nothing like in-person contact. May this all end soon.

    Reply
  25. Learned these challenges years ago when I worked from home and telecommuted all the time. Non-verbals and individual nuances are difficult to catch on Zoom or audio, and requires changes to how we interact. Some at both ends (sender, receiver) do poorly at both ends of it.

    Individual quick smiles, nods, a change of expression, all provide tangible micro-feedback that helps shape the flow. Without that…it is challenging and stressful. My team was small, varying i size from six to twelve people, and they were adults, and known entities. To make the jump with younger minds (and personalities), with some who are new and unknown, is an enormous challenge, especially if you’ve not been doing it before.

    I commiserate. It’s a painful razor on which we now balance. Cheers

    Reply
  26. I don’t blame you. My sister who used to be a Kindergarten teacher now a 4th grade teacher wants back in the classroom too.
    Good Luck My Friend.

    Reply
  27. I was dismayed to read how the schools in Connecticut were having to adjust to reopen. I understand the concern about the virus, but it is difficult to fathom everyone adjusting. Perhaps your religious ed class can be handled so that you can get together. But here they are talking about limiting class size, wearing masks, sitting 6 feet apart, having split shifts and all sorts of other changes. Zoom looks better after I read all of that.

    Reply
  28. faithfamilyweaving

    Twenty years ago I was a substitute teacher and really loved the interaction with the children. For me, it was the best part of the job. Even when they tested me! I also know exactly what you mean about seeing them individually. Especially the quiet child. There was one little guy who was losing his father to cancer and spending time in the hall for misbehaving. I had just lost my daughter, so we talked about what he was going through. Especially the pain. I hope you’ll be back in the classroom in September to continue being a blessing to the children. The virus has really disrupted a sense of community for everyone. ❤️

    Reply
  29. I have two years until retirement and I am hanging in there as best I can because like you, I do enjoy that classroom interaction. I am hoping we will be able to meet with our students safely.

    Reply
  30. My, you have an astute understanding of pedagogy. Thank goodness for your learners and for the world that you are teaching; and I hope you get to return to the actual, physical classroom soon. Certainly, I know you’ll be insistent that everything and everyone be safe. If anyone should think differently, he or she should read your earlier posts. You know where children are in their development. You know how they are at home and what options they might live out at school. And you are aware of the changes that are made every time there is a new factor. I think that’s Heisenberg. And how are you getting Cricket to roll her eyes? Everyone must be well-trained.

    I hope this is a pleasant, new week for you all.

    Reply
  31. Yes! I identified with a lot of this. I spent a major part of a Zoom meeting distracted by my image. And though I’ve been lucky and able to chat with friends outdoors I long for a conversation that isn’t yelled.

    Reply
  32. I agree,zoom is good but people is boring

    Reply
  33. A lot can relate to this. It’s still different from really being there, right? I hope things will get better soon for everyone. This is difficult for the kids too. They need interaction as well to thrive.

    Reply
  34. I’ve been working from home now for so long its almost becoming the new normal. Usually I work in an office of eight, and I’m definitely feeling a sense of dislocation, missing the usual office banter. There’s less of the sense of team work that made my job so rewarding. Although we have teleconferences almost everyday, at this point everyone has their cameras off and reducing contact to just voices on a blank screen makes the dislocation all the worse.

    The plus side of working from home is seeing more of my wife and my dog, Eddie, and I certainly don’t miss the commute in traffic, but if this carries on… well, it’ll be sad really, my job gradually becoming something it wasn’t supposed to be, a lonely chore. But I can’t see us getting back in that office until the New Year, frankly, so if you get back to some kind of normal in September, I’ll be quite jealous!.

    Reply
  35. “one person’s microphone blocking out everyone else’s, or all of their voices coming at me through a delay, or some of the kids not coming through at all because their internet connections are spotty or because every member of their family is online at once.” ALL true. I miss the number of students I can reach in person, that I can’t help now because I’m not officially teaching them. Alas! I hope the hybrid (blended) model works in September. I could do remote again, but it will be a disservice to the students, and a population regression will be inevitable. Well said, Rachel.

    Reply
  36. Rachel, you really hit the nail on the head. I miss my kids so much (because of the Media Center and lunch duty, they are all my kids) that I would tear up at my school’s morning broadcast and the pictures of them working at home. I started as an IRR para, supporting kids with learning deficits in the general classroom, and so I knew (and loved) nearly all of this year’s fifth grade. When I walked into the cafeteria as a lunchroom monitor, they would “fight” to see who could get my attention first. Now they are gone, and I never had the chance to give hugs or high fives, or applaud them at our school’s “graduation.”

    Most parents are doing the best they can, but they are not trained for this. Teachers can judge how a lesson is going and change direction on the spot, or decide to extend it over another day, or realize it’s not working and stop, moving on to another subject until they can plan a new way to teach the material. Teachers can evaluate students relative to the others in the classroom, recognize and praise their strengths, and pull them aside privately to support their weaknesses. There are also supplemental personnel to support those students with the greatest need, freeing the teacher to focus on the entire class.

    None of that is possible online. Parents are hard-pressed to know when to give their kids a break, and when to push them a little farther outside their comfort zones. Teachers are hard-pressed to know how well their lessons are being learned when they have no control over the environment. Home is supposed to play one role in the children’s lives, and school is supposed to play another. In most cases, trying to blend the two is stressful for everyone involved.

    God help us. I hope we can regain some sort of normalcy so that the kids can get the love and support they need all the way around.

    Reply
    • I’ve been doing all of these trainings on how to do the best version of distance learning, but there’s nothing like being there in person. And a lot of parents have their own work to do, with no time to help the kids get the most out of the online format.

      Reply
  37. Great writing, Rachel! As always!

    Reply
  38. That is attractive and clear

    Reply
  39. Former teacher here. And you are so right. Having the anxiety of being observed by who knows who as you teach makes the experience very different. Not to mention not being able to “read the room” and see body language more accurately. What a nightmare it will be to have the fall continue this way.

    Reply
  40. I agree, you can not underestimate the effect of a real teacher-pupil interaction in the real world. The virtual world is better than nothing but if is very much second best

    Reply
  41. I fully agree as well. And I love the pictures of the dogs!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: