An Email and A Window

Connor (not his real name) came to class last week, but he wasn’t really there. He logged into Zoom and I could see his name projected in his box, but he was unresponsive to my questions. After multiple attempts to engage him through private chats, I removed Connor from the class. While I did it without calling attention to his removal, it was the first time in over twenty years that I kicked a student out of my class.

Let me start but saying that I don’t know if removing Connor was the right decision. I second guess these decisions hundreds (thousands?) of times. These are the decisions that occupy my time when I stare at the ceiling at 3 AM. Do I worry about World Hunger? Climate Change? Democracy? Sure. But at 3 AM, I replay the recent instructional decisions I’ve made. Should I have asked that follow-up question instead? Should I have organized that lesson differently? Was the feedback I provided effective? These are the things about which I ponder while the rest of my family sleeps.

So, to preemptively quiet my worrying insomniac brain, I emailed Connor immediately after class. I reviewed what had happened and explained my rationale for removing him from Zoom. And then I simply asked:

“What’s going on?”

Connor responded within the hour. In his reply, Connor apologized for being unresponsive during class and then explained that he’s been struggling with the expectations and assignments from his classes. As Connor describes it, some of his classes are being taught synchronously. Others are being taught asynchronously. And one of his classes is being taught entirely through email. The multiple delivery approaches, multiple forms of interactions and the variety of expectations and deadlines were creating tons of stress for Connor. In his email, he writes,

“I’ve been getting hammered and I’m really stressed out. I’m just struggling keeping everything together.”

While Connor and I are going to meet later this week to work out ways for him to be successful in these waning weeks of the semester, I am now reflecting on his email and what it says about our students’ experiences this semester. In a way, Connor’s email provides a window into the chaotic educational world in which our students are trying to live and learn.

I’ve been trying to come up with a good metaphor to reflect the experience as Connor describes it. Here’s my best effort. It’s like Connor is simultaneously living in multiple foreign countries with different languages, different customs, different foods and different norms of practice. While he’s navigating these diverse lands and trying to figure out the norms and customs, Connor is also trying to learn the content we’re attempting to teach.

I still don’t know if removing Connor from the Zoom was the right decision or not. You can email me at 3 AM. Maybe I’ll have a better answer then, but I doubt it.

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