Just another day teaching seventh grade…virtually…
Second period students encountered a glitch with the sign-in link for my class. I wondered why no one was showing up.
By the time the problem was solved, there were only twelve minutes left in class. What do you do?
Monitor and adjust. That’s what teachers do. All. Day. Long.
I gave a shortened version of my shortened lesson and threw out the assignment for the day. A few minutes later, I was sending the kids to lunch.
An hour later, I had the kids working on Achieve 3000, a reading intervention program. Ten minutes before switching, “Philip” showed up in the “waiting room.” I clicked him in.
“Where have you been, Philip?” I asked.
“In the back yard,” he answered innocently.
I sighed, wishing I could be out in my own backyard. I couldn’t find it in me to reprimand the boy.
“Okay,” I said to the darkened screen. “You need to get started now on your intervention work.”
The next class came in, sat down, and listened to my lesson. “Milo” unmuted himself at one point for clarification on a point I had just made. I could barely hear his question for the screams of little children in the background.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ramsey,” the boy apologized, exasperated. “My mother left my little sisters with me while she went to get groceries.”
“No problem,” I replied with a sigh and a chuckle. “I have four sisters. I can totally relate.”
I answered his question – or what I thought was his question – and he went back to a muted darkened world in the cloud.
A few minutes later, my lesson was interrupted by the shrill howling of my orange tabby, Buster. I couldn’t really mute myself. I was teaching.
“You hear my cat?” I asked the invisible crowd.
Thirty mics on. Everyone affirmed the presence of my noisy feline.
“My cat does that all night long,” said Maria. “I can’t get no sleep.”
“Well,” I replied, “that’s his ‘I’m gonna puke’ sound. So, in a few seconds, you’re going to hear a lot more great things.”
And they did.
I had to monitor and adjust once again.
“Look,” I said, “we’re almost out of time. We are just going to read the attached article and listen to the audio play while we do so. I’m going to let you skip the questions I had planned. But the only way I’m going to let that happen is if you all unmute at the same time and say, “We don’t have to do the questions.’”
“We don’t have to do the questions!” X 30. Virtual music to my ears.
We listened to the robotic, computerized narrator for a full seven minutes. With one minute to spare, I switched to the doc cam that displayed a message for the class:
“Say goodbye like a robot!”
“Good. Bye. Human!” Thirty little robots fully engaged. At last.
No link glitch for last period. No barfing Buster. No late kids coming in from a leisurely stroll through their backyard. The lesson went great. Lots of kids raising their emoji hands and remembering content from yesterday. I started the robot reading again and relaxed for a minute.
My email alerted me that a message had been received.
The boy had missed the first three days of school to be with his family. They needed time to grieve the recent loss of his sister.
“Mr. Ramsey, this is Anthony. Is it okay if I clock out for a while?”
With a lump in my throat, I messaged him on my phone: “Of course. The offer is open whenever you need it.”
Finally, the class came to an end. We moved into our independent work time. I left my “class” open so that anyone needing assistance with assignments could pop in.
The “doorbell” rang. I looked up to see “Paul” in the waiting room. I clicked “admit.”
Finally, he was in. “I’m having problems staying connected, Mr. Ramsey.”
“I understand, Paul. Don’t worry about it. You’re a good student. We will get through this.”
“What can I help you with, Paul?”
The boy switched his camera on. Such a small kid. Standing in a darkened room. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Mr. Ramsey, I don’t have any school supplies.”
Second lump in the throat for the day. I thought for a few seconds and then replied. “Don’t you worry, Paul. I’ve got you covered. I have an idea. Let me make a few calls. Hang on. I’m going to mute my mic. Don’t go anywhere.”
I called my principal to see if the boxes of leftover free supplies that my colleagues and I had packaged up were still in the office. He told me that they were right where I had left them. Then he agreed to meet the boy at the office door tomorrow and gift him with two of those packages.
I hung up and unmuted. “I’ve got you covered, Paul. When you come to the school for your sack breakfast and lunch, swing by the office. Your school supplies will be waiting for you.”
His smile was all the thank you I needed.
Tim Ramsey has been a public school educator since 1983. He has served as a teacher in the elementary, junior high school and high school settings. In addition, he has taught community college and graduate-level classes. He served as a school administrator from 1998 until 2013 when he retired. A true advocate for children, Tim quickly decided to go back to the classroom where he is currently a seventh grade writing teacher at Westwind Elementary in the Pendergast Elementary School District.