Teaching 101: A true story from the pandemic

Thirteen students in front of me. Ten student icons blinking back.

I am teaching a lesson on identifying signposts in fiction. An important skill as one reads for comprehension with the hope of developing critical thinking skills. Since the class is so packed, it is actually pretty easy to find students to participate and answer my random questions, thrown in to make sure students are paying attention.

Any teaching diatribe has to have questions and breaks. It is only an arrogant or uncaring teacher who moves quickly through dense material and does not slow down to gage understanding.

I despise calling on students at home because you never know what you are going to get. Delayed responses, typed responses in the chat due to broken microphones, or even no response at all. Those are my least favorite.

I am starting to gain confidence. Kids are getting it and responding. They are asking questions. They watch a short Pixar and Disney clips and then asked to identify the fiction signpost. The success makes me bold. I venture forward and I cold call on a student at home.

“Michael?” I call out. “Which signpost is being represented in this video?”

Silence.

“Michael?”

Silence.

“Okay, I will call on someone else,” the kids around me snicker and a kind student in the front raises his hand to answer.

Ten minutes later, the lesson done, Michael’s disembodied voice is heard over the speakers like the voice of God.

“Ms. Merritt?” He booms.

“Michael,” I answer. “You’re back.”

“Yeah,” he answered.

“Well, I’ve just got to know, Michael. What happened?” There is a pause, another silence.

“I was getting a shower,” he answers.

“What? You took a shower in the middle of class?” I asked completely confused. The students in front of me laugh and bow their heads so I don’t seem them. A less couth student loudly whispers, “What?”

“Yeah, I didn’t get one this morning,” he started.

“So you thought the best time to remedy this was during our class?”

“Uh, I guess it wasn’t a good time,” he answers. “I’m sorry.”

There is nothing to really be done here, so I try not to cause him any shame, and I push away any feelings of anger.

He is a virtual student. What consequence do I give for leaving for fifteen minutes to get a shower during class? Do I have enough energy to make this a thing?

The answer is no.

“Okay, Michael, well, I can’t give you credit for the classwork assignment and I need you to get started on the vocab assignment.”

“Okay,” he answers. “I will.”

“Oh, and Michael?” I respond. “Can you never do that again?”

“Sure thing, Ms. Merritt. Won’t happen again.”