…teaching in the age of Covid

You return to teaching after many months away. But this is not teaching as you know it, sitting around a table with your students to debate, discuss and enquire. Instead you are in your living room, meeting your students on a laptop screen. This is teaching in the age of Covid, and this is what you learned.

— Your teaching brushes up closely to your personal life. Sometimes you teach in t-shirt and sweatpants, sometimes in a smart black blouse with a pair of denim shorts, and sometimes you hang out your washing mere moments before you welcome students into your living room.

— You find a picnic table makes a serviceable desk. You collected it from your mother’s garage and clean away its cobwebs and spider husks. You cover it with a red tablecloth. Paper, pens and books accumulate quickly.

— Your students live across multiple time zones, which means classes are scheduled for when they return home from work, but for you, deep into British Summer Time, your brain is getting ready for bed. It’s not long before you experience extreme fatigue, your eyes sore and tightly bound, but you find ways to sooth the frayed knots of your mind, meditation, throw-away TV, gin & tonic.

— In those early weeks you ask your students about their experience of lockdown, with some also encountering civil unrest. You gradually come to realise they do not want to talk about this, but wish instead to be absorbed into the escape of learning.

— You acclimatise to the tiled faces of your students, framed within your laptop screen. The perennial problem of matching faces to names is alleviated by an identifying label on each tile, and you also see a multitude of living room backdrops, or bedrooms, kitchens, dens, studies, gardens, and sometimes, a forest.

— You have to remind yourself to turn off your camera and microphone, particularly when your laptop is on 11% and you clatter and mutter across the room to fetch the charger. Students have a better instinct on this than you do.

— You record your classes for students who are unable to attend, and when you watch them back you are horrified. You hear your voice as it really is, see your gestures and bad jokes, you remember the thoughts that rippled beneath the surface of your words. You see yourself as other people see you. You find it astonishing that you have never seen this before.

— You experience a seismic shift in your established paradigm while searching for texts online. Authors, it seems, are protective of their copyright, but also, it is a fact universally understood that reading texts on screen is hateful. So instead you discover videos and audio, podcasts and interviews. You learn new things.

— Sometimes you walk away from your laptop, walk out of your apartment, walk out of your building, walk to the park and enjoy the birds and the trees and the sun on your face.

— When you meet individual students for tutorials, you find this is the closest to real that the virtual can get. A single face framed in the screen, the eye contact between you feels truthful.

— You have a gradual realisation that all the goal posts of your profession have changed. You may never teach in the same way again, with a full classroom of students sitting side-by-side or huddled in groups, and this fills you with sadness and fear. But, now you have experienced a new way, a continuation of a different kind. You discover yourself to be adaptable and ever evolving, and you come to realise that, much like your students, you are a seed finding enough nourishment in the narrowest of crevices. And so you grow.

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