Just as I was getting my sea-legs back for writing on a regular basis, the teaching world was turned upside down. Probably the last thing the world needs these days is another take on how the coronavirus has changed things, especially in the world of education, but I tilt at windmills.
I think from the teacher-side of things, the most important thing to say about quarantine and distance learning is this: no one, and I mean no one, got into the teaching business so they could be an Internet Content Creator. People become teachers for a lot of different reasons, some good and some bad, but I don’t think that “I’ve always wanted to crank out YouTube videos and conference on Zoom all day” makes the list.
I will be curious to see, especially if the shutdown continues to drag on through the coming academic year, just how many people quit the profession. Whether that’s younger people quickly disillusioned or older people who can no longer learn new tricks, I think we’ll see some serious fallout as the shutdown stretches on. The learning experience in this temporary solution will be less than stellar. Just what that exposes about school and learning, and what lessons we draw from it, remains to be seen.
That’s not to say no one will be good at it. People are adaptable and some teachers will find that content creation is actually fun, or at least challenging and rewarding. Some will fight hard to preserve the old way of doing things as best they can and some will happily embrace the new world of learning. But I think it’s important to realize that creating online content is difficult and that no teachers are properly trained for it.
Whether all that will be part of the drive to return to on-site learning or whether it helps forge the new world order in education remains to be seen. A lot depends on just how long this will drag on. Not only is that unknown, it’s also going to vary quite a bit by jurisdiction.
The unknowns and unknowables about the coming months means that teachers–the ones who are inclined to prepare, anyway–are preparing for more distance learning for the foreseeable future. In my case, that means (among other things) creating videos of all my basic lecture content on YouTube. I’ve always been afraid of real Dominicans finding out what I say about the Summa or real philosophers finding out what I say about Plato or Aristotle or the meaning of life, but the time has come to laugh at those fears and realize that, most likely, only students will ever see these videos. YouTube is a big place, after all, and there is plenty to distract us in this online world.
And so, while I very much hope to return to writing some day soon, my life has been consumed these last few months with the new normal of a perpetually-online teaching life. Once I have a good head start on all my lectures, I hope that I find time and pressure to write again–perhaps to better explain my teaching! But recording lectures takes an enormous amount of preparation, time, and energy. Never again will I laugh at people who make their living creating content for consumption on the internet; it is, indeed, real work. So this, I suppose, is some kind of self-apologia for the end (?) of my blogging and an invitation, if anyone reads these pages with profit, to follow my creative work on YouTube for the near future. I would always be interested in critical feedback (and of course, slam that like and subscribe!).
I personally look forward to a complete restructuring of the world in which we live and so I find all this more exciting than distressing. And it turns out I like being online and creating content in a variety of ways. I told my parents when I was 12 that I wanted to be a professional video game player, even knowing at the time that such was impossible. It turns out, of course, that I was simply born too soon and that it is a profession nowadays. But my teaching career and my video game longings have apparently served me well: I have been training all my life, it seems, to be an online teacher.