Friday, May 28, 2021

Jazz Hands

This has been a year (and a half!) of teaching while sitting down. It has been 18 months of waist up business attire and knowing what our neighbors are up to 24/7. It has been so many things, both good and bad, and I hope it is just about over so we can go back into the sunlight.

Have you ever gone through a series of tunnels when driving? Here in Boston, when you are going to the airport, your route may take you underground (where we buried the highway) and then outside-- for a brief moment --before you are plunged into another tunnel that goes under Boston Harbor. The tiles on the inside of the tunnels are coded to let you know what you are under: brown for under land and blue for under water. Or to put it in Paul Revere: brown if by land and blue if by sea and the airport on the other end of the second tunnel will be…

But, last year when we were all pivoting to teaching remotely, it was like entering the first tunnel. It took a bit of time to get our eyes adjusted to the dark and we may have lost our navigator for a few minutes, but we looked at the walls, figured out what we were under and hoped to settle in for the ride. For any of you who have ever driven to the airport in Boston, you would not be surprised to know that there was, of course, bumper to bumper traffic in the tunnel. And for further frustration, you entered the tunnel in the left lane and your exit was four lanes over on the right. So now, you cannot tell how much longer you will be in this tunnel or when your exit is coming up. I think that sums up pandemic teaching: you are plunged into darkness, you need to recalibrate your bearings, people are a bit panicked and all trying to get to the same place, and you don’t know how much longer the journey will go on in this lane before you need to move over and get out.

So, we learned how to teach remotely; we did it quickly and mainly in fits and starts. Then we re-started in the fall as masters of breakout rooms, shared screens, and the elusive polling feature.  We learned how to write online quizzes and exams. We saw students at times and on days we ordinarily would not be available, because, honestly, where were we going? We got used to seeing our students in class as if they were a grandmother’s wallet full of school pictures.  It seemed fitting that this part of the journey was tiled in brown. And then, there was talk of a vaccine and we emerged from the first tunnel into the light. It was a brief respite from the crowded darkness and we blinked because the light was a big change.

It was, however, like the trip above, just a moment before we entered the next tunnel. We had left the one that had us buried underground and moved onto the one that is underwater. It has more clearly marked exits and will get us to our destination more smoothly.  It is newer and brighter than the one we just left, but it is still tiled in blue. Blue for people who didn’t make it there, blue for the students who didn’t have the experience they were anticipating, and blue from the isolation of all this time underwater.  I think we all have some fear of being blinded a bit when we leave this tunnel as my esteemed colleague Steven Foster mentioned in his last post here. He raises the issue of how much time will we need to get readjusted to our surroundings? Even good changes are hard.

I know that in time, we will forget the feeling of being in these tunnels—and I also know that today is not that day-- but it will come. As we look in the rearview mirror, we will have glimpses of this tunneled life—something we see or hear that brings us back to the tunnel—and for me I think it will be saying goodbye with jazz hands instead of a casual wave. And I’ll sigh and be glad we made it to the airport and on to the next journey.

(Elizabeth Stillman - Guest Blogger)

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