Feb 22, 2021
We all have those rare exhilarating moments in the classroom when we realize that everything is going even better than we had planned it. Recently, I’ve been having many such moments as a result of the fact that after my computer crashed last week I was given a loaner on which Zoom flashes and flickers, and occasionally the browser abruptly closes without warning. I find that this encourages flexibility and innovation in the virtual classroom, and as a result I am at my absolute best as a teacher this week, even if that might not be abundantly evident to my students. Accordingly, I have become persuaded that instructors should learn to revel in technology glitches and COVID-era difficulties as opportunities to be creative and think on our toes.
Every challenge presents an opportunity to better your teaching. “Stop complaining, start improving!” is what I always say when I am complaining about the attitudes of others. So here are a few tips on how to make s’mores over this trashcan fire of a year.
1. Did your sound stop working on your very old laptop? Excellent! Conduct your entire class session in mime, and type in the chat box inviting your students to vocally interpret your movements (in Yiddish or English depending on their level). When you notice a grammatical mistake, make a very angry face and have the students guess why you are making it. This exercise works especially well if the technology issue lasts the entire semester. In your end-of-term teaching evaluations, you’ll be delighted to hear what the students think you were teaching them. Won’t it be fun to see if it matches your learning goals?
2. Is your baby crying during your Zoom class? Hold your baby up to the camera and discuss. What is desire, and how does it get expressed? Where does language come from, and is crying a kind of language? How does this situation help your students better to understand the moment in Y. L. Peretz’s “A Woman’s Wrath” when the child issues a wail and the mother despairs as her husband makes light of her woes, too obsessed with his study to care for his family, or the moment in Celia Dropkin’s “In Sullivan County” when a baby cries while her mother contemplates the mountain? The more the baby cries, the more theorizing and interpreting can be done! In fact, my recommendation is that you let the child cry it out, because those who sow the uninterrupted tears of a child will reap in intellectual reward, as they say.
3. Let’s say, just as a random example that definitely didn’t happen to anyone this year, that you uploaded the wrong reading to Canvas for a class and you arrive only to discover that the students read a text you did not intend for them to read. Let’s say the text they read is an article that you had saved to your hard drive with the wrong name — the name of the thing you meant to assign — and you never bothered to open the file to make sure it was the correct one. Let’s also say that the article they read is one that you started reading once about two years ago, but you didn’t really understand it and gave up. This is terrific, terrific news. It is honestly the best possible situation. Ask the students to teach you about the article. Now, you never have to read it, and in addition, the students are gaining some good teaching experience and demonstrating mastery of something only tangentially related to what they were supposed to be learning. And if you don’t understand their explanation, that’s not a problem; just nod your head while muted and pretend to understand. Or turn off your camera and go get yourself a cup of coffee. This does not undermine your authority at all. Acting like a Zoom student will merely enhance your students’ realistic teaching experience.
4. OK, so your kid was using your laptop for Zoom Sunday School and they left a Zoom background up that is their drawing of the burning bush. You log in to Zoom and your username says “Moses” and you are sitting in front of fire. It was a serendipitous mistake, and there is no reason to be embarrassed! Your students are definitely going to be listening to everything you say now. Go with it, and give your instructions, telling the students that everything you are saying to them is a divine revelation and they should write it all down and be mindful of the commands and do them. Your students say they will do the commands, but will they hear them? No, of course not, you’re muted.
5. Every time it rains, your Zoom crashes. This is a great opportunity to teach your students to take responsibility for their own classroom. Send your lesson plan and notes to your students ahead of time, so they can conduct the class in your inevitable five to twenty second absences. Do not, however, let your university administration know, because if they realize that your students can conduct class without you, your job may be in jeopardy.