Hey teachers, I know it’s been a struggle to communicate with your students ever since you moved to remote learning this spring. At first, you were dazzled by the number of tools you could use to make distance learning work. Teaching from afar won’t be so bad, you thought, when I can use video conferencing tools to approximate the experience of having a one-on-one conversation in the classroom.
You were innovative in those first few weeks, setting up mass emails to parents, sending text messages to students, even using the old-fashioned phone call, doing whatever you thought was necessary to get in touch with your students and get them engaged in learning. But what you started to realize when your emails weren’t replied to, when your text messages went unread, and when you reached disconnected phone numbers and full voicemail inboxes, is that these weren’t exactly your students’ cup of tea. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Remind, even Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube: none of them quite did the trick. Your students refused to turn on their webcams, their internet lagged in and out during online meetings, and they never, ever, ever checked their school emails.
But then, you came across me. Sure, I was your last resort, but in the same way that you wouldn’t refuse to drink from a sketchy looking puddle you come across while dehydrated in the desert, you decided to take a chance on me. It was like the moment in a romantic comedy when you stumble on the person you’re meant to be with. I was right here all along. While you graded, I sat here wishing you would give me the attention I deserve. So that first day, when you wrote on one student’s missing assignment, “Timmy, you turned in a blank document. Please actually fill out the assignment before you turn it in,” I knew this was the start of a beautiful love story.
Sure, I have all the disadvantages of texting with none of the advantages: I’m informal and impersonal, useful for only communicating short, direct messages, and I can’t do emojis or gifs. And I get how it makes you want to scream every time you get a new email notification that says, “Katie Ross added a private comment on Week 6 Vocabulary Quiz.” But you must give me some credit because the students actually use me to send you messages! Especially when you give a zero on assignments and say, “This is missing and late.” That’s when they really engage, and you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, knowing there are actual human beings on the other side of those Google Classroom accounts. Human beings who don’t use spellcheck (because that’s not a feature I offer — sorry, I’m too chill for that), but real children, nonetheless.
Yes, sometimes I have to tell you things you don’t want to hear, but that’s what being in an honest relationship is all about. Sometimes students just use me to write “k thx” like they’re using AIM in the early 2000s. Sometimes students will use me to discuss a completely unrelated topic to the assignment that they are commenting on, and you will tear your hair out asking, “Why don’t they just send me an email?!” Sometimes students will use me to write, “How come I have an F in this class?” as if you could properly respond to that question in the limited space of a private comment. Sometimes, even after you’ve responded with five comments or so (including a Zoom link to office hours that they don’t click on and a rant about how they’ve turned in basically nothing the whole semester), they will respond with an infuriating, “OK” and still not turn in a single assignment.
But occasionally, you’ll be trying to wrangle students into doing work during a frustrating synchronous class session, and a student who has not even joined your online meeting will send you a message through me that pops up as an email notification, transmitting a thrilling ping to your amygdala. The comment will read, “Do we have class right now?” and you will say “Yes” and put the Zoom link into the comment box, and every once in a blue moon, that student will actually come to class because of me. You’re welcome.