Cameras! When a parent is with them, the camera is on. I saw some of my students’ faces for the very first time. I have gotten used to teaching with only my own face to animate the screen, but what a different experience to be able to look at someone else rather than look into the Zoom mirror. Five hours on Zoom staring at myself is tiring. Five hours on Zoom engaging with other people is energizing!
Voices! Microphones were unmuted. My students HAVE VOICES! AND TEETH! THEY SMILE! It was amazing. I will say that relying on the Zoom chat (and email and text) to communicate means that my students literally write all day long, and as a writing teacher, I don’t mind that. But how quick and convenient to have a conversation through voice rather than fingertips typing on keys.
Glows! When I first taught high school a long time ago, I remember a student racing to my room ahead of his mom during parent-teacher conferences. “Miss E, I need you to brag me up because my moms just heard a lot of bad news.” I never want a student to leave a conference feeling like they heard bad news about themselves. It’s my job to see and name their brilliance. And naming their brilliance has the most extraordinary effect, because it usually begins to emerge and grow.
Reframes! At the same time, I need to be honest about concerns. Reframes are a way to tell the truth but tell it better. One of my students exemplified this so beautifully yesterday. He has only turned in one assignment this quarter, and I wasn’t sure what positive direction the conference could go. But I started by asking him what he feels like he’s doing well right now and this is what he said: “I feel really good because I asked you for all my work this week.” And a conference that might have taken a turn toward deficits was magically righted. Yes you did! You’ve got all your assignments now! You know just what you need to do! Look at that initiative! Look at that commitment to growth and improvement! Look at that realizing what you need and asking for it! Rather than focusing the conference on what he hasn’t done so far, we could focus on what he’s going to do going forward.
Dynamics! My students are 17 and 18 years old, nearly grown, and it seems important to them that I see them as almost adults. But with their parents they are always a child, and I love seeing the family dynamics at play–the eye rolls and the sass, the affectionate shoulder bumps and laughter. I also feel so inspired seeing parents’ hopes and dreams for their children and hearing the encouragement and words of wisdom they share. I think every parent said some version of “As I always tell her… [insert encouragement and words of wisdom here]”–accompanied by their child’s eye rolls or head nods or both.
Assignments! Monday and Tuesday were a frenzy of submitted assignments as students prepared for parent-teacher conferences. We only have conferences twice a year, but maybe we should have them every quarter because they’re surprisingly motivating. In the third quarter of a very long year of Zoom school, I don’t mind the energy of “I’ve gotta get my grade up rightthisminute.” Of course the focus on grades and missing work and the absurdity of a student’s 12.75% in class (where does a number like that even come from??) makes me reflect on all the ways school isn’t working to promote learning. Points accumulation, yes. Learning, not so much. But those are concerns for another day.