Less is More (Or Is It? Asking For A Friend)

Michelle Bulla, January 2021
Less is More

It occurred to me that I should / could now – finally – envision my way to the end of the semester in my elective course, Exploring Teaching As A Profession.

Maybe.

It’s Monday, January 11th. We’re totally remote for the remainder of this week (now with classes for 35 minutes per day Tuesday through Friday, after Asynchronous Monday).

We’re due to be back in hybrid mode in-person with whomever comes into the building on their assigned cohort day, simultaneously streaming to students totally remote (or self-remoting) next week. Asynchronous Monday will still exist then, but classes will be 40 minutes Tuesday through Friday from then on. Or is it 41 minutes? I forget.

That’s if we go back in.

The semester ends January 29th.

That leaves me with less than three weeks for the course.

Already, I know that we’ve not done half of the projects we would usually have by this point. Typically, students would be fully immersed in their mini-internships with another educator right now. We’d be done with our second round of “Edcamp Lessons” (we’re in our first round), and we’d be gearing up for our second round of in-class visitors to speak on a range of topics related to teaching and education. This round would be with visitors from Central Office to explain things like budgeting, technology, how the Board of Education and the Superintendent function, and how instruction and curriculum are addressed from a district perspective.

We never got to the first round.

We’re not going to finish reading our supplemental book, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater.

I’m trying to figure out how we’ll do a final portfolio, despite not having as many items to include as usual.

I’m feeling frustrated by how much my students have missed out on.

Due to a global pandemic.

During the most contentious election season of – hopefully – their (young) lives.

Through an assault on the government and democratic processes of the United States by extremist, entitled, lied-to insurgents, led by the most outrageously narcissistic liar ever to hold the highest office in this country.

And yet…

They adore our class time.

They support each other and are eager to learn more.

They are teaching each other about the Black Lives Matter movement, Broadway, anxiety and depression, how to get organized, badminton, how not to get hurt at track practice, the roles of families in addiction, how to saddle a horse (live your passion), what video games can teach you about life, an introduction to music theory, how to keep toddlers productively entertained, and more.

Many are choosing to teach the entire class via Google Meet, rather than in small groups in breakout rooms.

They talked about how scary the assault on the Capitol Building and election proceedings were, and listened with attention to how they might support peers during difficult conversations in other classes, making room for all voices and ensuring that those who spoke up felt validated.

They follow along to Slater’s book, asking brave questions about the difference between sexual and gender identity, listening to how Luke became Sasha, identifying how Richard’s home life and social environment set him up for colossal mistakes.

They took turns starting class with news that related to education by bringing in an article, summarizing it, and facilitating a mini-discussion of it either from their bedrooms or sitting in front of the desktop, acknowledging peers online from home as well as peers live in the classroom.

They explored the frameworks of educational philosophy and how those shaped the philosophical pedagogies we study in teacher preparation programs. They reflected on their own philosophies, their own learning styles, and had epiphanies about how / why those teachers who didn’t do it “their preferred way” actually were following their own set of beliefs.

They interviewed educators, asking about their “why” for why they teach. They learned how they got into the profession and what brought them great joy in it. They presented those interviews to their peers. In a Google Meet. By sharing their own screen. And answering questions.

They took notes on the history of education in the U.S., from the earliest schools to the present day. They identified aspects of schooling that needed attention. And will name those that need change in a personal reform agenda.

They wrote an “I wish my teachers knew” letter that was sent to and responded to by an actual student-teacher at a local university. Those were incredible and unbelievably touching…it’s been forever since September, and yet feels about six minutes ago, too.

There are other things I know I’m forgetting. And we have three weeks to go.

We addressed a lot of topics.

There’s more we could have done.

There’s more I wish we had gotten to.

We did less.

But we persisted. And we survived.

In a time of social-distancing, ever-changing school day paradigms (our 6th? 7th? we’ve all lost track…), anxiety and panic over our health, sorrow over those we’ve lost, and country-wide fear over our very democracy, we formed a community. We held space for each other through it all. For them, for each other, for me.

And as we approach the end of the semester, they – somewhat shockingly – still want to be teachers.

I’m calling this one a win.

Michelle G. Bulla is a high school English teacher and the 9-12 department chair at Monroe-Woodbury High School in southern Orange County, NY. She’s also a Teacher Consultant with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, and a member of the Executive Board for NYSEC. Find her on Twitter @china93doll or via email at mbulla@nysecteach.org.

Comments:

At some point in the future, when looking back at this past episode in life, you will be amazed how present you and your students were. ~ V.H.

Reads like a poem! “They identified aspects of schooling that needed attention. And will name those that need change in a personal reform agenda.” I’d be interested in hearing what the students identified
. ~ J.H.

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