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Greetings to writing teachers everywhere as I’m writing this on the last day of August, 2020. Oh my goodness, what a summer this has been. I have spent the last seven months at home on the northern California coast, going out only to the post office, grocery store, and any doctor’s appointments; going to Zoom meetings and doing workshops and presentations online; missing family and friends that I can no longer visit; and trying to advocate for racial justice and for free and fair and unobstructed voting—which hasn’t been easy cooped up in my home office in this fairly isolated rural community.
What has kept me going has been getting to teach a small class for teachers pursuing master’s degrees at the Bread Loaf School of English. Virtually, of course, via the ubiquitous Zoom. With in-person classes at the Vermont campus cancelled, Bread Loaf declared a “summer of writing” and asked students (all teachers) if they wanted to sign up for small tutorial classes during which they would work on a major writing project. So I met for six weeks with three teachers—twice a week via Zoom and then individually through FaceTime conversations and over email, a mini version of the kind of online teaching that so many of us will be doing this fall and perhaps all year. The luxury of working in such a small group isn’t lost on me—I feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience. And I have learned so much by working along on the three projects: one on the way clothing works in multiple ways to both constrict and liberate characters in contemporary Latinx fiction; one on the nontraditional and very effective rhetorical strategies used in CCCC Chair’s addresses by scholars of color; and one on the history and development of Afrofuturism that argues for its inclusion as a central feature of high school English curricula. All brilliant projects.
But I also had the privilege of getting to know what these teachers are facing as fall term approaches, what their fears and hopes are, and what they expect their students to be struggling with when they meet them (partially in person, partially online). This pandemic that affects every aspects of our lives is leaving its mark on our students in so many ways. Teachers find themselves delivering lessons and books (along with meals and even medicine) to the homes of students, looking for workarounds for students who have no access to internet or no place to work quietly at home, working with technologies that are necessary but also very frustrating, arguing with local and state officials hell bent on fully opening the schools no matter what, and, most of all, worrying about how best to keep students safe, not to mention their families and themselves.
Add to all this the polarization of our communities, the stoking of hatred and bigotry, and the veritable tsunami of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and outright lies arriving minute by minute through social media and other sources intent on creating ever more chaos and division. It’s a lot. It’s enough make us despair, to give in.
But teachers are not likely to do so. In fact, teachers I know are more determined than ever to teach, even against all odds, and to learn and to help their students learn. That’s why I’ve seen—all summer long—teachers across the country creating imaginative ways of engaging students online, exciting curricula to get and keep their attention, determined ways of making real connections with students, and ongoing commitment to creating spaces for listening, for understanding, and for civil discourse.
I know it’s a tall order. But if anyone can deliver on it, writing teachers can. I’d so love to hear from you about what your teaching will be like this fall and about how your students are doing.
Image Credit: Pixabay Image 768696 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License
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