[Disclaimer, of sorts — I write for my own healing. Please don’t feel that you need help. I appreciate all of your support, I really really do. I just want to know that people are listening, and perhaps that I am giving voice to someone else who feels silent — that is enough for me.]
On a Zoom call with my entire faculty, my 7-year-old comes in and out of the shot. He’s a bit of a ham, so he’s waving and making faces and it sort pains me to make him leave because he’s so joyous. I playfully shoo him away, and the call continues. My colleagues send private messages saying how he amused them, added levity to their day.
In the call, we’re teaching each other and sharing tips about how to do remote learning over the platform so as to replicate what happens when we are physically in the classroom, surrounded not by tiny squares on a screen but real live bodies. In the classroom I can see my students’ expressions, I can see how their body language indicates whether they get what I’m saying or not. I can walk around the room, changing positions, getting closer to them when we we’re having a discussion so I’m in the flow of opinions and information, taking the opportunity to sit down to indicate that we are in the less formal space of class. That’s all lost now.
A few days later, I teach my first Zoom class and I’m disappointed. My internet kept going out because in my house of five people, everyone has two devices (computers and phones) which we all have a bad habit of double-screening and using both at once. Our TV is also an internet TV, and I personally have a habit of triple screening — watching CNN, checking Facebook, occasionally playing a game on my phone. I read somewhere that at home internet is like getting water from a garden hose, while at work internet is like getting water from a waterfall. So I’m having to restart with my students twice in a 75 minute class. And to make matters worse, I started teaching them something I had already taught in a prerecorded lecture. I left that class feeling despair, discouraged that I could actually make six more weeks of classes work.
Then I remember that my little one has worksheets to complete when I’m done with class. There are five different packets of work, language arts and math and science and social studies and another one I’m not quite sure how to categorize. He’s supposed to do approximately two pages in each packet daily. He knows that he’s supposed to do them and it’s not too much of a fight to do so, but I’m unsure as to whether I’m supposed to check them to make sure they are right or just let Jesus take the homeschooling wheel. The perfectionist in me wins out and I check and erase and make him do things over again because he’s just rushing through it — and who can blame him — and not giving his best effort. I remind him that TV and video games are on the line, because while I want the work done, I’m decidedly not running a home-based school. Every day around here will be like a weekend with the exception of doing the things the teacher sent home to do. Same for my middle-schoolers; do what you’re supposed to do and how you spend the rest of your time is up to you.
Through all of this, I want to remind myself that these are not normal times and one cannot expect to do things the normal way. One cannot expect to feel the normal way. I keep seeing folks push the adage, “it’s okay to not be okay.”
But I don’t think that’s true.
At work, we as professors are expected to provide our students the reassurance of routine. We are expected to, as best we can, recreate the physical classroom experience. I believe our students deserve for us to do our best to provide them with the education they paid for. We praise each other for doing so; folks are on Facebook and Twitter reporting how Zoom classes went well or better than expected. The implication is that the fact that the world has been turned upside down, around and to the left, the fact that we’re home with our own children who need to be fed and washed and kept entertained, the fact that we’re scared and anxious about being cooped up in our homes as well as danger of being outside of our homes, we are expected to do our teaching job as if those things were not true. It’s not okay to be not okay.
And while there are assurances from above that, for non-tenured folks on the tenure track, we are not expected to have our same rate of productiveness, I’m amazed that anyone is reading or writing anything. To be very honest — since my depression set in, the only writing I’m doing is on here, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in text messages to my friends. My productivity hasn’t lessened, it’s completely stopped. It was only last night that I attempted to read a book for pleasure. Reading a book for my scholarship is outside of the bounds of what I can do. A mentor even sent me comments on a paper, indicating that they have been reading and writing and in a very thoughtful way. My friends in academia are reading and writing. I am not, I am falling behind. It’s not okay to not be okay.
At home, we as parents need to provide a sense of normalcy for our children. They are anxious and scared themselves, seeing how a global pandemic is spreading and killing people. They can sense the panic that requires them to be in their house, with no physical connection to their friends. My littlest one has taken to shutting himself up into a closet to watch Netflix. I’ve joked about it by saying we’re playing a game, but I suppose that he feels safer there than in the wide space of our home. My older two kids are trying to adjust to teachers’ expectations; in the case of my middle-schoolers, 12 different teachers combined. I have to join google classrooms and pull information out of my children like extracting wisdom teeth to ascertain just what the hell is going on school-wise. I am a pretty hands-off parent when it comes to my older two’s academics, only interjecting myself when measures of performance — grades — seem to be heading in a downward trajectory. I’m quite lucky that my kids are self-motivated, but in a time of upheaval, I can’t be sure what’s actually happening on that front. But I need to be. My children’s mental and academic health depends on it. It’s not okay to not be okay.
In all of my major roles, I need to be okay. I get that I don’t need to be 100%, but I’m feeling at less than 50%, and I’m pretty confident that counts as being not okay. I will keep pushing through on the immediates, the non-negotiables — teaching my classes as best I can, being a parent as best I can.
But I’m not okay. And that does not feel like it’s okay.