By David Patent | M.S. IDD&E ’21
It’s a Tuesday morning in April. 7:30 am. I would be in the office by now, preparing for my face-to-face lesson at 8:45 am. After class, I would move on to some course development for a project that my unit, the English Language Institute, and the iSchool are working on. Then lunch. (Chipotle? Jimmy John’s? I really need to start bringing lunch from home!) Some grading and lesson planning in the afternoon, and then off to my 4:00 pm class with Professor Edmonds at Heroy for some student presentations and perhaps some group work on Unit 8, bouncing ideas off one another, impromptu discussion, clarifications on our final projects, and then the day is done.
Except it’s no ordinary Tuesday. I didn’t sleep well because of a nagging sore throat. (Allergies? I’ve never had allergies.) I’m at the kitchen table at 7:30 am, preparing for a synchronous online lesson, trying to remember all the extra steps needed to make things go smoothly, to keep students engaged—at least those whose Internet is working. The usual extra-linguistic classroom cues that have helped guide my classroom practice for the last 20 years have evaporated. Levels of alertness and engagement or quality of mood and attitude become difficult to gauge in the flatness of our new classroom proxemics. This is language teaching in the Time of Coronavirus. I make jokes and imagine students perking up.
My wife’s an “essential worker” and out of the house, so when class ends, I go downstairs, ignoring the dog’s pleas for another walk. My kids are watching YouTube videos instead of doing their online homework, so that’s a conversation. I scrounge around for lunch—my kids will have to endure another one of dad’s makeshift meals. By the time all is said and done, I’m back upstairs working on that iSchool course that probably won’t run, but who knows, right?
Next thing I know it’s 4:00 pm, so I’m back into a synchronous online session, this time on the other side of the window. Things happen slowly. Presenters struggle to get their slides to run. There is a long silence as Professor Edmonds breaks us into groups using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra’s clunky breakout group feature. Now in our groups, one of my peers sounds like a defective robot, but we still manage to complete our group task, and then class fizzles out.
The day is not done. I’m right where I was when it started, feeling like I did more and got less done. Yet I am motivated by the resilience of my international students and their willingness to engage in new ways of doing things, even when most of them are stuck in the isolation of an all-but-abandoned campus just wanting very much to go home. Whether negotiating a grammar exercise in the digital space of a video conference breakout room or writing an essay in a shared Google Doc, they inspire me to run it back on Wednesday.
David Patent (United States) is an instructional language coordinator at the English Language Institute at Syracuse University and current M.S. IDD&E student.
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