26 April, 2020

still here

You would think, what with all this enforced home-bound-ness, that there would be more blogging. I am not however one of those people bored in my confinement, in need of lists of binge-worthy streaming series. I am probably working more, because online teaching is, in fact, a bigger PITA than one might imagine. There are reasons for this... the transmogrification of one's in-class, group-wide activities into asynchronous, single-person activities that teach the same skills (I tried break out rooms in Zoom for group work...once. And while I am usually a proponent of multiple tests before failure is declared, not this time, because the groups in which there was failure crashed so epically I can't do that to those students again. The end.). This means I end up modeling the writing, and since the uni class is about imitation as a vehicle for learning to write, that works on a pedagogical level in theory. In practice, eh. The writing is probably a little worse this quarter, on comparable assignments. We're about to start the edible auto-ethnography, which has remained stable since F19, so I have a much wider base for comparison. I predict it won't go as well as f2f quarters, but I hope to be surprised.

That said, my uni class surprised me by asking for synchronous classes, which saves me the work of a video, but is still more actual work than standing in front of a classroom. It's like... you know when you watch the late-night comedy hosts doing their shows from home? And there's those beats where there should be audience reaction, and a pause, and you can see the host pretending he's hearing laughter or reaction, and carrying on like he's totally gotten his feedback anyway? But that energy's not there. Colbert or Noah didn't get it. He's... guessing. Faking it. Acting on faith that people laughed and he can just go on without any of the micro-adjustments live performance requires.

Teaching online in Zoom is like that. Oh, you say, but you can see their faces! --You cannot, if their cameras are off, and many of them do that. Even if the cameras are on, you can't really see what is happening. Smiles, yeah, those are nice--but the blank looks, the confusion, when I know I'm not getting through and I need to change tactics--I don't get that feedback, either. I'm performing to a dead room. (Interestingly, even if they won't talk in Zoom, they will chat. So I end up responding to chats out loud. It's so...weird.) But that's what they want, so I hope they are a) learning and b) deriving some sense of normalcy and comfort from the ritual.

It's not all bad, and I am certainly grateful for a job, and I feel for my students. I don't mind my own discomfort if it's helping them (I mean, that's fucking teaching anyway). But I am just not as good of a teacher in this setting. One of my colleagues--another experienced teacher--likened it to publishing your shitty first draft. All the experimenting, no time to revise, no way to fix the ugly bits until next time...while hoping there won't be a next time, and feeling queasily certain there will be. Fall, at least. (I have a new course prep for fall, so that will be double fun. Zombies are about to make a comeback, I think, in my genre-centered syllabus. Most of the horror of them had been stripped out in recent iterations--zombies as metaphors, zombies as characters, not zombies as harbingers and victims of pandemic. Now that fear of infection is back.).

My poor high school class...so the district froze the grades. Whatever they had by March 12 is what they have, unless they raise the grades. We have to provide assignments that will let them do that, but we cannot penalize students for ghosting the classes. The directive from On High is to offer material that they want to show up for, which puts a shit-ton of pressure on us. If we're ghosted, then the failure is ours, right? Be more fun! I am fortunate: my class is D&D, and while we are not going to finish their home-brew collaborative adventures, we are going to do pick-up games for the next month during class time, during which yours truly will DM for whomever shows up. I kinda hope the ghosting continues, because I can do a game with 4 or 5, but if everyone decides to come, I will... um. Fake it.

But I have made some things. That bag of shredded up yarn has now become yarn. Soon it will become a rug. Order from beautiful chaos.

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