Teacher trauma: Embracing technology

Tomorrow I teach my seventh class. It’s easy to remember the exact number because that’s how it is with trauma. The actual experience may fade into a haze of chalk dust, but the number of times you’ve experienced such agony remains.

Chalk dust? Whom am I kidding? There is no chalk. And that’s part of the problem. These college students don’t know the asthmatic repercussions of a chalkboard covered from top to bottom in cursive writing. Heck, they don’t even know what cursive is! They never experienced the chalk, which could only be described as leprous as it squeaked across the blackboards and busted a classroomful of eardrums, losing remnants of its chalky body. They don’t know how a cloud of chalks-that-once-were would hang like a low ceiling, highlighted in alternating glorious and claustrophobia-inducing colors by the flickering fluorescent lights above. I’m fairly certain that inhaling that toxic cloud daily was the onset of the nationwide peanut allergy epidemic — or perhaps just my fear of disco balls and anything that hangs above my head and reflects light.

This is where we can’t relate. It’s not just a generational difference or a referential difference. I genuinely believe that young people’s full lung function, made possible by a lack of classroom chalk pollution, enables them to sigh more deeply (and audibly) in my general direction. And as is the case with yawns, one audible sigh begets another — until the whole classroom is issuing air like a synchronized release of a bushel of balloons. Maybe I should just be glad the sighs haven’t morphed into full-on flatulence noises. In the world of teaching trauma, you have to count your wins where you find them.

I keep thinking I will get better at this. I love teaching in the sense that I love sharing knowledge. And I am an experienced and beloved public speaker. Throw me in front of a conference with hundreds of viewers and I am relatable, informative, funny and inspiring. Throw me in front of 18 18-year-olds and I am received in a way that is one step above flatulence noises. My jokes fall flat. My excitement goes unmet. At some point in the lecture, I start touching my face to make sure there is no food chilling out on my chin. Something must explain the blank and confused stares! What I wouldn’t give for spinach in my teeth!

Part of my problem, most definitely, is that I don’t embrace the technology they’re used to. I haven’t uploaded the lesson onto the Slack app ahead of time. They didn’t get to read the lesson prior to being given the lesson; I require them to engage their actual listening skills during class. (OK, more like beg them to.) I have not set up a voice recognition software so that everything I say automatically gets typed up on the screens before them and uploaded into their computers. But is tech really all there is to teaching?

My dad was an amazing teacher. The most irritating occurrence in my teen angst years was when classmates would come up to me and tell me how much they loved my dad when he had been their teacher. Kids of all walks of life would glow as they sang his praises.

“Mr. Langrock was the bomb. I never cared about learning before Mr. Langrock. He’s your dad for real? Aw, man, you’re so lucky!”

I would get all huffy and scream back, “Oh, yeah, well, he’s kinda lame, too, ya know. Like, I’m totally grounded right now just because I got detention every day last week and sneaked out of the house at 3 a.m. So clearly, he’s, like, actually the worst.”

My dad used to do wild science experiments in the classroom. He’d crack goofy jokes and wear mismatched clothes. The kids were most certainly laughing at him, but only because he was in on the joke and permitting it. And they learned.

I thought I would be good at teaching because my dad was good at teaching. I thought I’d be able to command a small audience the way he could.

Instead, I’m heading into teaching trauma No. 7.

This time, I decided to super-duper prepare. When the faculty member setting up the classroom asked me whether I need any audiovisual hookups for the class, I excitedly told him, “No, I created a 20-page workbook instead.”

“Oh, pen and paper,” he replied. “Cute.”

This is gonna stink.

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Katiedid Langrock is a nationally

syndicated columnist.