Digression: Teaching at home

remote teaching

For my students at Sacramento City College, who survived the spring 2020 semester

Thank God, for the social media post written
by some teacher as despairing as I who said,
It’s not teaching; it’s damage control.
To which I hollered at the screen,
No shit, Sherlock! and which, under other circumstances,
might have helped but now, no soap.
Which is, I realize, a reference to money, not soap.

Though, really—soap? Forget the stores bereft of
hand sanitizer, toilet paper, soup, pasta, meat
and, in the first week of quarantine, all frozen food.
Soap is the answer, they say. Soap is the savior,
liberally applied to hands (don’t forget between
the fingers) under warm water, two minutes
of serious washing… and did we not know how
to properly wash hands before? Did we need
instructional videos?

But I digress.

What I need are students to reappear, those who’ve
vanished into hibernation, which we should all be
emerging from now that it’s trying to be spring.
But from what I read on social media that they’re
terrifiedjoblesspanickedstoppedintheirtrackshopeless.
As they should be. They’ve had their young worlds
upended—as yes, we all have, every bloody bit of humanity
on the planet—but they have no spare tires around
their middles to carry them through crisis. They are
flailing in deep water, using every stroke they know to
stay afloat. (As am I with overwrought metaphors.)

As am I, reaching into the void of cyberspace to
try to find them, engage them, assure them that they’ll
pass, just finish these assignments, I’m not giving new
ones, hang in there, keep going. And occasionally my
radar pings—a response!—to reveal a plaintive
email from a student struggling not with classwork
but a recent breakup on top of an aborted semester
and a worldwide pandemic, asking the unanswerable:

Will everything be OK? How do I go on?

And somewhere, deep in my own despair over
the ending of what I recognize as my insulated
bubble of a world, I reach inside my beating-too-fast
heart and let words spill through my typing fingers:

You’re already OK. You really are.
You’re breathing and walking around.
You’re already strong and successful.
You’ll be even more so with every year.
Love will come again. 

And then—after I send my long-winded response,
along with the video of people in isolation singing
“You’ve Got a Friend”—I worry that it sounds trite,
something a grandma might send in a cheesy
birthday card. But she writes back, says she’s
lifted by it all, and I can breathe again.

But I digress. Which, as another student
who briefly surfaced said, was new to her.
I never knew what digress meant, she wrote.
I just liked the sound of it. You used it in class
and I looked it up and now I know.

So there. Amid my floundering damage control
I taught one person something useful and
helped another find a bit of hope in darkness.
It helps, a little.

About janishaag

Writer, writing teacher, editor
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1 Response to Digression: Teaching at home

  1. mmlegrand says:

    Excellent! Life is all about the digressions, I think — but it has taken many years for me to understand this. Fear nothing, calm down, and watch.

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