Early in November, three Suffield Observer volunteers and I were scheduled to speak to fifth graders at McAlister Intermediate School for a unit on journalism. Because of the pandemic, the show would be virtual.
The problem was we were locked out of the virtual classroom. E-mails were transmitted. A new link was distributed. Three of us made it in. The fourth, the one slated to lead the presentation, was shut out.
When the classroom came into view, the teacher was standing in a class sparsely populated with mask-wearing students. The face of the teacher was one of intense composure as if she were the director of a theatrical production a hairsbreadth away from a fiasco.
We were to speak to two classes at a time. One, with half its students, would remote a few feet away into the virtual class hosted by the class we had on the screen, which had its and the other class’ at-home students remoting into it as well. There were enough levels of virtual reality to confuse a sci-fi fanatic.
There are limitations to a virtual meeting platform – live mics, awkward visuals, distracting pets, etc. Imagine that cumbersome universe populated by children. Throw in Internet drag, overtaxed hardware and a youthful tendency to test boundaries so pervasive the Suffield School District had to ask parents to enforce students turning on their laptop cameras.
It’s not easy to be attentive in class. I remember the shoulder taps and times being called on to keep me on task. Watching the at-home students, I observed the restlessness. One was bouncing in his seat. Another reclined on a couch. One was digging into snacks.
My portion of the presentation focused on the concept of “news” and finished with the proclamation that anyone can be a journalist. Last year, I couldn’t get through 30 seconds without being interrupted with questions; this year, everyone was on mute.
When it came time to questions and answers, however, it was clear that the students had been paying attention. The questions were thoughtful and perfect for the assignment ahead of them. There was an apparent eagerness, which translated into published articles this month.
Education may be efficient in a real-world setting, but the mark of a well-taught lesson is a student’s motivation to learn and a teacher’s ability to provide the means. The trick in extending a lesson into an education is to be willing and ready to adapt to a changing world.
As our virtual trip to McAlister demonstrated, the teachers and their students have shown they are up to the task.