THE TEACHER'S DESK: Hal 2021 

The older I become the more I understand the old adage, “The fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all.” As our snowy February found its warm end and March began, Corbin teachers embarked into unknown territory, teaching a dual classroom – both virtual and in-person at the same time.

Now, this might not seem like something major to fear, but imagine facing over 25 teenagers looking to you for guidance and you are not sure how things will unfold as the day begins. Oh, there is preparation, but with technology, teenagers and my clumsy approach to breathing, things are bound to go wrong.

On the first day of this endeavor, I honestly was not sure how I was going to approach the situation. I had a plan, of course, but wrestled with: Would my virtual students be able to hear my lectures? Should I move the camera? Do I stay in one spot? Should I teach from my desk? What tie should I wear? Do we have enough ketchup?

As it was, I decided to move the camera and rest it on the front desk in the room. The digital martinet sat where a student would sit. Consequently, I lectured that very first day, trying hard to acknowledge the physical class as well as the camera sitting up straight on the desk in front of me, its one black eye watching me like some drone plucked out of a Terminator movie.

Indeed, it was odd to think behind that unfeeling eye -that dark monocle, was the gaze of 10-20 students at home. As such, I kept talking to it sincerely. You see, when teaching virtual, I can see my students on my computer screen. However, when lecturing in front of a class, I do not see them - just the camera.

However, after a few days, the “unknown” became more familiar. The anxiety of our new teaching situation dissipated a bit. While normal has long since disappeared with the unbridled face, there came some fluency. I even went so far as to cut out paper arms and tape them to my camera, making him look more human.

I’ve named him Hal, but my students do not get the reference.

As the week unfolded with chaotic grace, I can undoubtedly say . . . in-person instruction is more beneficial than virtual to such a degree these words do not do it justice. Having students in class, immersing them in discussion, looking them in the eye, even laughing together over how weird Lady Macbeth is, was nothing more than real. There is no better word than “real.” As a teacher, I missed that engagement, and it was so tangible I felt giddy at the end of that first day.

Though, I often think it weird that my classroom has become the setting of a Ray Bradbury short story. But that’s okay. Hal understands. His unblinking eye often seems like an intelligent nod to my verbal satire, regardless of the fact that I was against him from the beginning of the year. Circumstance has made me adapt. Now, Hal sits in my room and watches me lecture live. As I teach, I fumble through my mistakes and delusions like a clumsy idiot wanting to make a difference while helplessly plugged into the world.

Even as I write this, his eye is fixed on me while his monolithic body rests on the back of my desk. At least for the moment he is turned off and not watching…. or is he?

Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.theodore@gmail.com.

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