Nerd Teacher – Calls With My Students: Learning on the Periphery of a Harmful Institution
The Anarchist Library
Title: Calls With My Students: Learning on the Periphery of a Harmful Institution
There are moments where I want to say things like “I don’t understand why people hate teaching online,” but when I start that sentence, I remember all of the reasons why I find it abhorrent. It’s all related to the forced feeling of school: maintaining strict attendance policies, having to continue with a curriculum that never made sense in the first place, being required to grade kids for simply doing their best in a shitty situation, and the lack of care that many of my colleagues put into it.
And when I’m saying “care,” I mean the actual ability to give a shit about what matters most: people.
The amount of time they spend complaining in the staff WhatsApp group and online meetings while acting like the cops they really wanted to be is more draining than anything. I don’t care for the complaints about kids not turning their cameras on (in their own homes, on their own computers). I hate the repeated messages about which kid is missing which class. And I really am disgusted by the head of school refusing a bare minimum request to create a ‘between class’ atmosphere as best we can because “the kids know how to video chat on their own time” and “it shouldn’t be our responsibility” to provide that (ignoring that sometimes the ‘between class atmosphere’ the kids want is to communicate with adults who are outside of their immediate families).
Oh, and I hate it because it’s a super useful tool that’s being implemented terribly because, two years later, everyone’s still acting as if we should only be using online spaces temporarily. The ableism of our supposed education system is on full display, and people still refuse to acknowledge it.
But there has been something that I do love about teaching online: I love having the last ten to fifteen minutes of a class for kids to just… exist wherever they want to be. Whether that’s them getting off Zoom and doing something else, switching to a personal space so they can chat, or just hanging out with me, I didn’t care.
All I knew was that these spaces felt… free.
I don’t like teaching online for the full class time because no one has the focus for that, not even myself. But also, teachers rarely, if ever, use the whole class time during in-person school. I mean, I’ve literally listened to my head of school talk about how he’d start class with a story based in a lie to get the kids’ attention, dragging it on for at least ten minutes. He claimed it was because he “can’t share too much of himself” with the students because it’s “not professional.”
Personally, I prefer to start my classes off with honesty. Sometimes it’s a story about myself that they reminded me of, sometimes it’s bothering them about things they’ve been doing, and sometimes it’s letting them know that I’m also falling behind because I’m overworked. I don’t see the need to lie to the kids to have them be engaged with what I’m saying. I suppose that’s why a few of the kids have written feedback for me saying that I seem to be the most authentic person they deal with.
Anyway, because I don’t want to teach for the full class time, I often give the kids a bit more time to go get snacks or tea and work on the copious amounts of work my colleagues think they need to be doing since they’re at home (because, as they claim, we’re supposed to “make up” for the “decreased amount of teaching time”). I frequently end classes by telling them to just go outside or open the window for a few minutes; I tell them to just ‘get out’ of the school mode as much as they can.
But I had a few kids wanting to hang around and just… talk, which I loved. So I left the room open and gave them the additional space to just stick around if they needed to ask questions or if they wanted to talk about… whatever. Sometimes they stuck around to work together on different projects, even for other classes; they occasionally would pick my brain for those other classes because they know I have a wide range of interests. Other times, they just stuck around to talk about nothing and everything all at once.
Honestly, it’s in those spaces that I noticed the most learning taking place because I saw the kids trying to solve the problems they’ve openly acknowledged, the problems that they feel are the most pressing. I saw them trying to figure out how to deal with school while simultaneously feeling that everything they were doing was pointless, telling each other that trying their best was enough and that just getting through the class to get away from it was all they needed to do. I listened to them talk about their fears of “never being able to get a job” because of one bad grade, which is something that just highlights so many of the lies around why schools even exist.
I saw one student who tried so hard to convince their classmates that high school doesn’t matter, telling them that the point was to crush their spirit. I listened to them tell everyone about all the ways in which school was designed to hurt them, to make them afraid, to silence them. And I listened to them recount their past experiences in other schools, talking about all the times that their past school punished them for their neurodivergence.