The first Zoom check-in with my first grader's class was a hot mess. There were close-ups of faces with no sound. There were booming voices from grandmas asking how to turn on the video. However, there was no blame to be tossed at anyone. As the teacher said later, we're relying on technology to save us, and we're realizing that there's still a learning curve with it.
It's been strange getting this virtual portal into the homes and lives of my daughter's classmates and knowing that they are also peering back with some curiosity. After the first meeting, I had thought to myself, "This whole crisis would look a lot different if there weren't grandmas who are trying to make it work." I also noticed that only half of her class made it online.
The first week of virtual school was mostly just about checking in — seeing who was there, who they were with and what technology they were using. With 7- and 8-year-olds, even if they were die-hards with gaming systems, they weren't aware of how to teleconference. Plus, an extraordinary amount of multitasking was happening: The teacher was trying to get her kids into their online class, and a mother was giving her son her phone because she had an online college class at the same time.
Before the class logged on, there had been two phone calls from the teacher directly; both times it was an investigation of the level of our technology. Did our family have access to the internet? Did we have computers, or a laptop, or a tablet? Did we need one? How about a phone with internet access?
During the COVID-19 crisis, I had been streaming talks by my governor on a second monitor in my office. She would describe New Mexico as a rural state, as a frontier state, and in my cocoon of technology, it felt amusing. At the beginning of the crisis, when the internet had slowed down, I was convinced that for a change, I was not the only one working from home in my neighborhood. And I thought all those not working were all trying to watch documentaries about tigers.
But the teacher's questions on the phone call focused on the harsh realities for our school district, like those of many other rural districts, having to work with a lack of access. Our towns had been carved out of the desert and were streaked with not only financial poverty but also poverty of access. It isn't so much a feverish need for ventilators in our county and state, thankfully, but it is about a lack of cheap high-speed internet needed for workarounds during the pandemic, which many urban areas in the United States take for granted.
It became evident, too, during the Zoom check-in with the kiddos that there were different dynamics at play when the teacher asked about their time in quarantine. The first day, she said to her students, "Well I'm not going to ask what you have been doing on vacation," pausing to be careful about mentioning the stay-at-home orders' overlap with spring break, "but what have you been doing with your time home?"
One boy, sitting next to his grandma, piped in to say that he had helped his mom work. "Around the house?" asked the teacher brightly. He glanced at his grandma and stared glumly into the screen, saying, "No, work."
A little girl, her grandma next to her as well, spoke about how she's been sewing masks with her mother and grandmother. "To donate or sell?" asked the teacher in Spanish, as the class is bilingual and the girl is a native Spanish speaker. The girl chirped, "No, para venderlas. Por dos cincuenta." — "No, we're going to sell them. For $2.50."
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: finelightarts at Pixabay