As the Concord Academy community transitions to “HyFlex” learning in STAC 2, teachers and students are making adjustments and learning how to engage in the classroom in this new age of COVID-19. In an interview, english teacher Sabrina Sadique shares some of her experiences teaching online, tips for self care, and expectations for the weeks ahead:
What are some activities you have embarked on during this time of social distancing? Any new hobbies or skills?
I now use a guided meditation app on my iPhone for a timed reset between classes. I also open my morning with different permutations of breathing techniques and rhythms. Changing the tenor and tenure of inhales, exhales, and breath-holds over various arcs of time helps me refocus. It also delineates an awareness of time when time feels so undifferentiated and elusive these days.
How has your adjustment been to online teaching this fall?
I have loved using Padlet and adapting to new technologies, thanks to my brilliant colleagues at Ounce IT who helped me acclimate to this new pedagogical mode. I love using handouts or inscribing notes on the white board prior to class in order to frame and ground thematic discussions. The format of Padlet accorded a smooth transition in that regard. As for the reduction of the organic tactility of the classroom from a 3D to a 2D space, I mourn it. There is no way around not feeling that lamentation. I miss the discursive spontaneity, the logical lines of sight, the small but assuring noises of desks inched closer for greater heed, the at-once-ness of informal conversations between students before and after class… the sudden hush when a large truth of life is bored into meaning by a single poetic word or a line of verse. I miss all of it. In that regard, I am still adjusting to our hyperreality.
Are there any aspects of distance learning you like? Any that are not as favorable?
I do like the magnification of student profiles when seen on Zoom. I am always assessing facial expressions in order to glean the degree to which a literary or philosophical concept at play is being registered. A frown, a vigorous head nod, a questioning look, a broad, knowing smile says volumes and are significant, instant data for teachers as we modulate our instruction in real time. However, total body language palpably doesn’t come through the ether of Zoom. So yes, the opportunity cost of facial magnification is the absence of the whole gestalt—the fullness and full scope of a student’s being.
What are some suggestions you have for students and faculty for de-stressing during this time?
MEDITATION. Tending to plants, the quiet struggle to keep them alive indoors. Biking through unvisited trails. Slow, heedful walks. Listening to Pádraig Ó Tuama’s gentle voice as he unfolds poetic reaches in the podcast, Poetry Unbound (which, by now and since its release, I have conveyed to all advisees, students in my courses, and some faculty). I also love Rhiannon Giddens’ albums: I have been listening to There is No Other on repeat, alongside Gustavo Santaolalla, The Silk Road Ensemble, Benjamin Clementine, Kayhan Kalhor, and Olafur Arnalds. These incredible musicians ground me the way touching leaves and barks and observing their textures do.
As we transition to Hyflex learning in STAC 2 for some students and teachers, what are some aspects of this new model you are looking forward to?
The gain of the brain and metaphysical elasticity! I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am for HyFlex teaching. Historically, my friends have always teased me for leaping into uncharted terrains with full on, effervescing gusto as if some sort of revelation awaits in the thickness of uncertainty. I can’t wait to explore both my awareness and students’ senses of knowing and being expanded while we contend with perceived spatial obstructions. Can we feel just as united as we did in pre-pandemic classrooms, wearing our masks, our desks at least six feet apart? Perhaps no, perhaps yes. My irrepressibly optimistic self would like to say, “Yes and yes and yes.” Probing and delving into hindrances—both misperceived and real—can be so generative. I will be learning anew, learning to teach anew, and imparting what I know anew to my students. Which also means I will be “unlearning” (I invoke the brilliant Laura Twichell’s magnificent Convocation here) and relearning my consciousness through the most familiar literary fields. My discipline of study (English Literature) is precious to me; it’s my compass in life… I must confess, I was in awe of the technology with which our classrooms have been outfitted. A “certain of Slant of light” (to use Dickinson’s words) and concavity have emerged through the setup. I am eager to experiment with the geometry of the room through the TV while I am in it and watch myself in it through numerous screens. Part of me wishes I was teaching Gender through Black Mirrors through this matrix and part of me screams, “NO! Don’t wish for it! That’s next fall!”