Five things I’ve learned about myself, as a teacher and a human, from doing All The Things on Zoom

It’s week whatever. I know; me too. The term is over, more or less, but you’d be hard pressed to convince The Kim Who Lived Through February; I mean, this has been the least noticeable end of term in history. I submitted grades for one of my classes on Monday afternoon and then went, huh. Whatever.

I know that we, like all other humans who write on the internet, have been talking a whole lot lately about how to survive The Great Weirdness; I’m sick of top tips, though, and truth be told I don’t have any new ones. (Wash your hands! Crochet a grocery store! Curate an online doggy fashion show!)

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June the Vizsla rocks the upper east side look; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/magazine/dog-fashion-shoot.html

So today, instead of more erroneous and boring tipping, I thought I’d share five random, funny, occasionally profound things I have learned about myself after weeks of Zooming my students and teachers (chiefly of the yogic variety, but also senior colleagues, trusted friends, and a badass trainer called Alex).

1. It’s surprisingly tiring.

This is not a thing I would have guessed. When I first learned (on a VIA train on my way home from teaching my last ever, maybe goddess save me, live class) five weeks ago that we were going online, I thought, “ha! I got this. I already have class websites. I’m dynamic and adaptable. Plus, I can now teach in pyjamas!!”

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Three teachers in onesies. Not me. Could be me, though.

Turns out, though, that engaging with humans over the internet, even when video (and, occasionally, funny hats and sunglasses) is involved, is much, much harder than IRL. The affect is completely off: I can’t feed off their energy, and ditto for them with me/each other. We sit and stare at portrait shots of one other on screen, a sea of faces freaking us all out, as we try to force ourselves into that powerful, live space of feeling as well as thinking through the work together. It’s damn hard.

The win here, of course, is that Zoom is FURTHER PROOF that theatre and performance are essential human learning paradigms. (Shout-out here to my colleagues Barry and Kathleen for putting this important piece of info in book form a few years back.)

The loss, of course, is that teaching online – unlike the IRL variety, which drives my adrenaline way up and causes me to become first very giddy, and then voraciously hungry – just makes me need a long nap.

2. My super-cute short hairdo is NOT actually low-maintenance.

Yes, I know: EVERYONE is experiencing hairmageddon right now. I feel you. The thing is, us short-haired kids really need the stylist on call; if I go 5 weeks without a snip I experience what’s known between me and my amazing stylist Erin as “critical hair mass” – the last day I can actually appear in public without a cut or else. Worse yet, the shorter the hair, the trickier the snip; it’s all short, but it’s not all the same short, people! This shit requires skill and dexterity!

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I know this hair looks easy-breezy… it ain’t easy. Me in a colleague’s epic sunnies in Stockholm during IFTR 2016.

I’m now at the stage where my hair is triggering my latent childhood trauma (I never, ever had good hair game), and I’m frantically googling “how to tie a scarf around your head 1940s style” before every Zoom meeting. Looking at yourself looking less than your best is demoralizing, and let’s face it: like all F2F media platforms, Zoom is built (cruelly, and I suspect intentionally) on the principal that all participants should have to go through the mirror stage the entire time.

Again, cue the napping.

3. At last: commuter legitimacy!

This is less what I’ve learned, than what I hope my colleagues are learning: that communicating over the internet is a very effective way to get a lot of routine stuff done, without requiring unnecessary trips into the office.

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‘You mean I can bake over Zoom? You don’t say!’ The post-war laydeez knew it all before us, peeps.

Here, I realize I am unique, and fortunate: I work from home a lot of the time, because professors have that luxury. I go to campus twice a week; that’s a 250km round-trip commute for me, which I make by car or train. I am able to live this distance from my campus office because of the flexible nature of our work, and I choose to do so because the hard-core-norm-core town where I teach is not a place I enjoyed living, or in which I felt in any way emotionally or artistically fulfilled.

Because of the above factors, commuters on my campus have been a fixture for decades, though some departments and faculties are more commuter-friendly than others. Now that we’ve ALL had to leave campus and work “remotely”, though, I’m hoping it will become increasingly normal to accommodate commuters at, say, irksome Friday morning committee meetings, after all the away folk have trained home Thursday night to spend time with their families and live their non-work lives.

Up until as recently as February I was made to feel the weirdo for being “the person on Skype”; I seriously hope that is now effing over. Because if one more person tries to subtly shame me, or any other commuter around me, for attempting to experience work-life balance as a person who does NOT prioritize living in a town “where it’s easy to raise a family” I may literally hit something with a sledgehammer.

4. Zoom-dogging it…

I’m a pretty proper teacher, most times (see haircut, above). I have a lot of great, quirky outfits and I love wearing them to teach. I’m also, however, a person who prioritizes ease (again, see haircut), comfort, and flexibility; in The Normal Times, you might find me heading down the hall at work, aiming for the bathroom with the shower in it, because I just finished a personal training session on the other side of town and then rode my folding bike up to campus, where I now need to clean myself up in order to put on the great, quirky outfit stuffed into my backpack.

There’s a paradox here, I know, and Zoom has brought it into stark relief. It turns out I care disproportionally about my hair (#childhoodtrauma), but if I can manage a clean, proper-fitting T-shirt for the upper-body portrait shot, it’s a win. Overall, on the online-teaching front, it turns out I actually could not give a fuck about style! I’m a Zoom slob – happiest when Emma the Dog zoom-bombs the yoga class by trying to lie down underneath my bridge pose – and I’m super OK with it.

Smart outfits are for walking out in, while swaying and sashaying; staying home = jammies, thank you very much.

And on that note…

5. More than ever, space matters to me.

Here we full-circle back to item #1, though I doubt we ever really left.

What are the feelings teaching elicits? How, practically and physically as well as intellectually, does it elicit those feelings? Is it possible to recreate that experience on Zoom?

This time last year I was reflecting on the amazing active learning space in which I taught my winter 2019 Performance Theory class. Since then, COVID notwithstanding, I’ve had the chance to teach four more classes in that same space, ranging in size from 15 to 40 students.

University College 1110, at Western U, March 2019; that’s Katie and Ray posing with their pod work, feeling the WALS (Western Active Learning Space) lurv.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past year on my embodied experience of teaching in this room, a space where a) I’m not the physical centre of attention; b) students need to work together (at pods, where they are seated facing each other) pretty much all the time; and c) lecturing is simply not possible, really, because lecturing more or less requires a).

Now, fast forward 12 months: Zoom is an entirely different embodied experience of teaching, and now we’re having to do a whole lot of fast-paced discovery about the shape of the thing, what it’s doing to our bodies, to the choreographic-pedagogic whole.

If we’re going to have to keep online-teaching all the courses in September, we are going to need to talk, with our students and each other, a lot more about what this means for our bodies. Rest assured we’ll talk more about it here – I’ll write an expanded piece about this very issue soon.

What about you, friends? Any Zoom learning you would like to share? We’re all ears.

Stay safe!

Kim

3 thoughts on “Five things I’ve learned about myself, as a teacher and a human, from doing All The Things on Zoom

  1. Kim, Thanks for your senses of humor and perspective. Marty Bickman

    On Fri, Apr 17, 2020 at 9:13 AM The Activist Classroom wrote:

    > Kim Solga posted: “It’s week whatever. I know; me too. The term is over, > more or less, but you’d be hard pressed to convince The Kim Who Lived > Through February; I mean, this has been the least noticeable end of term in > history. I submitted grades for one of my classes on Mo” >

  2. Pingback: Pedagogical spacing in the time of Zoom, part one | The Activist Classroom

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