Anne Garbarino is the Form 2 & 3 English Language Arts teacher & Literacy Coordinator at Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls.
“Ping!” “Ping, Ping, Ping!” Has become the soundtrack of my Covid-19 era teacher identity. Our GVP Google Hangouts App functions like text messaging and group calls. I have it loaded onto both my computer and phone, and often get messages like “Miss I don’t see any assignment on kids a to z.” “Can we talk on call I need help in writing Counter Argument” (heart emoji, heart emoji, smiley face, weird maniacal looking rabbit)[sic]
I actually love the periods of constant barrage. It signals that my students are engaged, responsible, and see me as a source of help even when I’m not physically present. Even if it is a reminder that my “posts,” “assignments,” and cobbled together videos are less-than-perfect, warranting some follow-up and even complaint. “Why did u put the movie on BrainPOP two times” Not to mention that my students have completely forgotten everything Amy Pun and I have taught about punctuation.
Along with “chatting” my new favorite work hobby is watching the number of “turned in” assignments uptick on my Google Classroom page- it’s like magic! No lost student binders. No teacher clipboards with checklists bearing now-strange codes I have to reinterpret when putting into the gradebook. It’s all just digitally there for me to grade, comment, send back for revision, and then follow-up with an emoji sticker on Hangouts. I’ve never been so organized (or free with stickers). Without this forced change, it could have been years before I tried this platform.
Of course, the assignments don’t get turned in by everyone. Some of my earlier chats were like sad, unrequited love notes that might as well have been messages in bottles: “Hi Friends, just reaching out because I notice that you have not started writing your Opinion Letter on Google Drive yet. It is due tomorrow. Does anyone have questions about how to get to the document on the drive?”. . . anyone. . . anyone. . . ?
Thankfully, as a teacher, I have a wonderful network of support. Crispin calls students and families on the good old fashioned cell phone, and until recently he and Denise have even been delivering packets of work by bus. Danielle, Katelynn, and Cassie have been a huge help for everything from tech support for students and teachers to creating a schedule to keep us all on track. Some of the students themselves have been amazing. They help me experiment with new websites, get back to me with feedback, but most importantly help each other find assignments and figure out how to do the work on the iPad. The fact that every student has an iPad and a wifi connection is amazing, and something I can thank Dr. Amy and our development team for setting into place this year through grants. Many of my other teacher and administrator friends feel so helpless right now without the contact that this technology allows.
It’s not the same of course. I miss hugging and high fiving the students. I miss watching them act, sing, dance, and play. I miss the amazing volunteers and my two interns and all they bring to our classroom community. My heart truly aches for my Form 3 homeroom, who will miss the trips and traditional graduation events we’ve been looking forward to all year, though we hope to celebrate in other ways.
But at least we are staying connected, as best we can. Our live Zoom classes put us in each other’s homes playing fairy tale character charades. Family members are walking through and sometimes yelling in the background, including my own. We’ve finally learned to “mute” but everyone understands when background noise happens. And when the live classes are missed, which happens too, my heart is once again lifted when I hear another “ping” on a group chat and see one of the absent students has written: “Guys what did we learn about today Can you guys tell me about it”
Yes, yes we can. But first, let me tell you about how to find the question mark key.