Tonight, as I was planning for Tuesday's English 161 lecture on Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walked Away from the Omelas" and Betasamosake Simpson's "Big Water" and the last class of Chariandy's "Brother" Camosun College announced its (effective immediately) transition to online classes for the remainder of the semester. UVic announced their transition yesterday. In the last 24 hours I have lost 57 in-person students. I won't see them again before the semester ends.
I'd just like to say, for the 60,000 plus of us here in YYJ that are either teachers or students in post-secondary institutions (that's one fifth of the population of Greater Victoria), this is a heart-breaking time. And not just because of the virus. My dad's 83, so I get it. Flatten the curve.
But losing the classroom makes me want to weep. To have the opportunity to discuss literature with a group of people, to look at Scarborough in the 1980s and listen to the old school mix that Chariandy's friend made for him, and talk about race relations. To hear the stories of the students. To see their different responses to the novel (and now miss their different reactions to the short stories). To muse with them about how Tara Beagan, in the Belfry's recent performance of her play "The Ministry of Grace," made the audience complicit in colonization.
Or in my Geography classes, where we were just about to begin oral debates, engaging in 23 person discussions about the correlations (or not) between health and wealth. The resolution that child labour should be abolished. How do we have these discussions online? How can we repeat the moment of clarity that comes upon a group when the ceiling opens up with a particularly astute comment, or an honest response, or a tentative idea?
This is going to be a lonely time for many of us. I know that students will hang out and, in the warming weather, go to the lakes or return to their families. But there's an atmosphere that's created in the classroom. Making knowledge beautiful. Holding possibility in our hands. Creating space for that. It's a magic that can't be entirely reproduced with all the online tools that the Society of Environmental Journalists is generously throwing in my direction, or the Facebook group of suddenly-online teachers that's sprung up. That magic is what we've worked to produce through people in a room, sharing thoughts and feelings. It doesn't transition well, and especially at short notice.
That's what we really lose here. And so that's what we need to make sure we reproduce in other ways to keep ourselves sane in these coming weeks (and months?). My students are used to me tapping out the rhythm of a poem with dance steps. They're used to being asked to get out of their chairs and act out a scene. It's an honour to bring them ideas.
So as this windy night transitions to spring, make plans to still see people. To commune with nature but also to reach out (whether by phone or from a metre away) to those you love and those you want to hear. Teachers like myself are rootless outside the classroom. All that energy. Nowhere to put it. No one to listen to them. Our poor partners... You don't know how much you love something until it's taken from you. Let this be our opportunity to both love what we do, and do our best (and our not best) job of getting through this.