It’s a few minutes before 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 10. I’m sitting in my classroom, Zooming my heart out, when it happens.
I’ve already been hit by one Zoom-bomber the first week of school. I’m lucky that it was just disruptive — loud music and distracting video — not the abusive behavior that some of my colleagues have experienced. That was definitely enough for me to learn my lesson.
So, I’m making my students wait in a virtual waiting room while I carefully check each name against my roster, losing a few minutes of instructional time in the hopes that the rest of the class meeting will be uninterrupted.
My main computer — my personal laptop, purchased with my stimulus check during the Spring semester — is sitting on top of my Teacher’s Edition of our class textbook. The Teacher’s Edition is, in turn, sitting in the vertex of our family’s card table, which is a shallow parabola after years of use. Absolutely everything I need is within reach — I’ve got my coffee (in a travel mug, since the table isn’t a reliable surface), a water bottle (just in case I finish my coffee), and scattered Post-its with reminders, to-dos, and notes about students that I want to remember. Once I sit down for the morning, anything that I can’t reach easily might as well be in another part of the city, for the good it’ll do me.
My second computer is a school-issued Chromebook, and it’s balanced carefully on a TV tray. I mark attendance by hand as the students come in, but I have to mark it electronically so our attendance office can have the record, too. A swivel to my right-hand side does the trick (as long as the online system is working). Sometimes I swivel too quickly, and my whole work station shakes ominously. Sometimes I don’t get the angle of the swivel quite right, and I get a quick pang in my lower back reminding me that, despite my mostly-virtual life, I’m still a corporeal being who isn’t as flexible as she used to be.
So, I’ve taken attendance two ways. I’ve done my daily social/emotional check-in. I’ve asked a few follow-up questions to get a few students to unmute and share. And I’m Zooming away, feeling very silly talking to myself in the empty room, but willing myself to believe that the students on the other end of the line are listening, rapt with undivided attention. I am tethered to my laptop by the wires of my earbuds. If I drop a Post-it, I have to just let it lie.
That’s when, a few minutes before 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 10, despite my best efforts at security, I get an unwelcome visitor in my classroom. His name is Pablo, and he’s our 15-year-old, 22-pound cat. Pablo doesn’t know that he’s walking into my classroom. He thinks I’m hanging out in what the kids call the “cat room.”
I watch in impotent horror as Pablo stalks through the room — my classroom! — climbs gingerly into the litter box, and proceeds to drop a Zoom bomb of his own. He’s less than four yards away and I can see absolutely everything. There are no secrets left between Pablo and me. And, of course, there’s absolutely nothing I can do, tethered as I am to my laptop, my Teacher’s Edition, and my parabolic card table, to stop him. Nothing that I can do to mitigate the effects of the foul air now wafting through my classroom. Nothing to do but to keep teaching, eyes watering, throat choking, not sure whether to laugh or run away and never look back.
We found out last week that schools are likely to remain closed for the rest of the semester, until at least Jan. 28. I understand the reasons why, and I am grateful for the leadership that we have at the district level that makes the tough decisions, and answers the impossible questions.
It’s just that, sometimes, it feels like it’ll be hard to make it another week this way, much less another four months. Last Thursday, at just a few minutes before 11 a.m., was one of those times. I’m positive there will be more.