Posted by: patriciamar | March 26, 2020

Where are my Students?

     I have been sitting in my home office among my devices for days.  My phone is on my left.  My tablet is behind me on the futon, my desktop PC in front of me and my laptop (constantly running Zoom) raised on a Hong Kong moon cake tin at the exact angle for my Zoom camera view.
But where are my students?
     This dramatic and sudden shift to entirely online classes has inspired an impressive show of support from publishers, educational companies, teacher trainers, educational institutions, and professional organizations.  The past two weeks, I have basically been in grad school, constantly watching courses, seminars, tutorials and webinars– live and recorded– participating in workshops and attending practice sessions with colleagues and peers. Then I move to my own classes on Canvas and Google classroom, adapting and changing and pondering, and then further altering to try to make the experience as real and as meaningful for my students as possible.
     Thus far, reactions have been mixed. Some student can’t take it.  They either can’t commit or can’t focus.  They don’t even show up.
     Others are thriving.  “This is just like meeting in person.  No, it’s better,” one student told me.
     Teachers, students and administrators around the world are pushing, struggling, and sometimes crying about what is happening in education due to Covid19.  It is interesting how we are doing it together, all at once.
     For some time I have been on a quest to discover how to best create, or inspire, global students.  I want my students to be global citizens.  Here, purely by chance, a worldwide pandemic has given me a thought-provoking new perspective.
     I came across the following writing passage in an email draft from about the same time last year.  It seemed appropriate to post it now, when so much has changed, meanwhile nothing has changed at all.

Spring 2019
     My quarterly inspiration jolt came all in a rush this week as I finished three programs, two that had been going on since the beginning of my time in Japan.  I said goodbye and good luck to many students, 16 of whom were about to study abroad for a year in the U.S. or Canada. Two more are going to community college in Hawaii, two more are headed to Davis to the IEP and then to Community College, and one is headed to a 4-year university in Malaysia.
     It was the last student speech in the last class yesterday that really left me thinking about life as a teacher and life in general. This young high school student is about to study abroad for a year. He got up to give his final presentation, and spoke in a voice so much louder than it was three months ago.  He said that through this program (an academic writing and pre-study abroad program), he had changed. He said that he didn’t know when he changed; he couldn’t identify the moment, but at some point he realized that it had happened and he was a different person now.  Even as an English language learner, he put into words this common occurrence in life, when the experiences that are happening cause a shift in the very essence of Who You Are. You don’t usually know that it’s happening or even that it’s going to happen but you realize eventually that it has, and you are not the same person that you used to be.
     We try so hard as students and as adults to change ourselves to be some person or some way, but it really doesn’t matter how hard we try. It’s the experiences that actually do the changing. More important might be the willingness to put yourself out there, to do something or be somewhere or experience something different.

     The rest has to do with your brain and your heart.

     Another one of my students, for his final presentation gave a talk on quantum computers. He described the amount of information in your brain as 100,000 downloads  of the movie “Back to the Future.” That description, that analogy, is somehow so deep and complex (and awesome) that it’s difficult to comprehend. 

     It is impressive how much our brains and our bodies can do– on a normal day, in the face of change, and even in the chaos of a global pandemic.

     Students are so great and because of them and what they inspire me to do, I keep changing as a person, always for the better.


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