A Letter To an Online Teacher: Create Your World!
Dear Online Teacher,
What you do is miraculous.
You speak in front of your computer. Your image and your words (which are miracles onto themselves) are captured by a camera and a microphone, disassembled into millions of mega pixels and audio packets. They are funneled into your computer, to a network, and through complicated, but beautiful, mechanisms. They descend upon the computers of your students where they inspire, encourage and cajole them to new understandings of the world.
Isn’t that amazing?
In his Ted Talk, Andrew Blum discusses “The Cable that Connects us All.” The internet is essentially a “belt around the world” that carries information across the sea and to our neighbors’ houses on actual cables. These cables connect servers by traveling vast distances under the sea and under the ground to places such as 60 Hudson street, NYC., which is “the building that powers most of the world’s internet.” It is a magical (but profoundly tangible) place that contains more servers than any other place on earth.
My favorite Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, states, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
It is also a miracle that all of the words and images that have ever existed can be zapped around the world in seconds, allowing grandparents to see their grandbabies, scientists to gather data about pollen dispersal and you to find the perfect recipe for pork loin. It doesn’t get any more miraculous than this. Until we realize that we not only observe the miracle, we are a part of it.
We are a part of the miracle.
We can speak the words that help a student be seen and heard, which is perhaps the most generous and beautiful action anyone can ever participate in. We can speak those words from anywhere. Whether we own it or not, we are powerful vessels of information, ideas and inspiration that can help others be their best selves.
How can we bring this level of awareness into our online teaching lives? How can we help our students bring more awareness to their lives? The tools necessary to be a mindful online teacher are somewhat different than those necessary to be a mindful live teacher. Here are some rules that I teach (and live) by.
Tune out the advertising.
How sad that an ad wants you to think that a certain kind of soap will make you happy. How ridiculous that princess films champion unhealthy bodies and white skin. How infuriating that ads use cartoons to entice children towards products that hurt them.
Students should know how to avoid being manipulated and deceived by ads and commercials. There should be whole courses, in both high school and middle school, dedicated to helping people become prudent shoppers and careful creators of their own lives.
Alas, there are not. In fact, many students are exposed to advertising as a part of their curriculum.
That leaves us, teachers of the present and the future, to do what we can, where we can, to help our students become more aware of the cesspool that is advertising. We must use spare minutes in class to analyze advertisements and commercials. We must argue against consumerism and for legitimate lives at every chance that we get. My next post will be full of practical advice to help you bring an awareness of the dangers of advertising to your online students.
Give your students opportunities to be seen.
Everyone wants to be known. Allison Gould, Mommy Blogger and yoga teacher, says it beautifully in her post “See and be Seen.” She states that the need to be seen is why:
… late at night while nursing the baby to sleep – I hop online to have silent conversations (thank you instant messenger) with my nursing buddy a few miles down the road – commiserating about how to get our babies to sleep through the night and sharing stories about funny things our pre-schoolers did. It’s why when my husband and I sit down to dinner after long days at work, we want to tell each other about the things that happened during our days. It’s why my mom calls me to tell me about something she heard on the radio. It’s why we click “share” on facebook. It’s why my four-year old says, “Mommy watch me!” almost as much as she asks “Why?” about anything and everything. It’s why my 8-month old cries and thrashes her arms around when she wants someone to attend to her.
The need to be seen and heard is fundamental to our happiness, and it is essential to each student’s learning. Being “Seen” online requires different tools than being seen in person. Learn some tools for seeing online students, here.
Find more time.
There is more time in your day. You just have to choose what it is that you are going to do and what is not going to get done. There is an art to making sure that the important tasks get done and letting the rest slide. Do you want to work around the clock forever? No. Figure out which tasks bring you the most joy and the most money. Then let the rest go. This post will offer tips.
Take a media and work Sabbath.
Everyone benefits from a break. There are reasons that most religions insist upon a day of rest. Many religions and cultures also have an extended time of rest, each year. Why is this and how can we use it to refresh and inspire our work and remind us of our calling? This post will consider the history of the Sabbath and discuss how it can be implemented in our lives.
Make a beautiful and effective space to work in.
Some spaces inspire you. They have a purpose and when you are in that space, it is easy to get your work done. The space that you work in has to provide you with peace, calm and everything that you need to work thoughtfully and effectively. In this post, I will share with you some of the elements of a successful home office.
You may not have thought of yourself as a creator of beauty and joy. Perhaps you are teaching ESL, or accounting or advanced pedicure techniques for speakers of Urdu. But whatever it is that you are teaching, you are a teacher and a person. All people have the power to help others rise up, to take them from the mundane to the divine and to show them their own beauty and their own worth.
I look forward to sharing with you some practical tools to help your students walk in the digital world with the grace of the gods.