I miss meetings. A basic definition of the word goes, “meeting – (noun) a coming together of two or more people, by chance or arrangement.” This totally meant something different to me before, and I have learned new meanings for it now.
I am a teacher. As for me and my fellow teachers, we are known to be always in the presence of other people. So, given our current situation due to the pandemic, I have lost that kind of presence. Now, I miss greeting delighted little preschoolers a good morning when they come to school. I miss telling the running and sweaty grade schoolers in the hallway to be careful in their play. I miss saying hello to the high schoolers eating on the floor along with their friends, having a good laugh. As mentally draining and physically exhausting as a profession teaching can be at times, I miss all of that.
Apart from our students, I love being around my colleagues. Every workplace has its established culture. Every company or organization at times tend to build families within circles. When I became a coordinator for a department, I did not really know what to do. I only knew that I had a big responsibility and that I get to have the chance to create a family. When the pandemic changed the course of the world, all the practices and systems I and my colleagues developed were no longer as effective or as efficient. Everyone had to learn, relearn and unlearn things to create new ways to cope with the shift. As for me, this shift meant dealing with a remote team, a team I cannot actually be with.
I know that it is part of my responsibility to supervise and help my co-teachers bring out the best in their craft. We are all different, and teachers have varied personalities, preferences, strategies and styles. For teachers, it takes quite some time to really understand their strengths and weaknesses. I can no longer count how much I learned about appreciating our differences and strengths, from out of dealing with our team during this pandemic.
Every conference, every encounter is special. Some are simple, some are complex, but all are meaningful and worthwhile. It is in these meetings that I closely get to understand diverse circumstances in life. The best meetings are mostly those quiet moments with the individual members of my team. We get to talk about the what and the how of their whys. Every meeting is indeed a gem. There is always an unknown story that emerges. Our meetings thus pushed me to be the leader I never thought I can be, while our more formal department-based meetings became like family gatherings to me. They can be stressful at times, but a family works out ways to make things better for each other.
Now, there are no longer classrooms or faculty rooms to visit. No teammates to sit beside with and have fun quick chats with about how our days go, or how hungry we are, or how much “checkables” we have. Now, our greetings are in Facebook Messenger, where a conversation may not be as effective as a live one, not allowing us to know how the person on the other end really feels, or where the talk can end suddenly with no goodbyes. I once found myself thinking how hard and impersonal our online meetings can be compared to those actual physical ones before.
There are considerations too even in the simple acts of emailing and setting up the online meetings, with many believing that an email is much preferred than a long call. Nevertheless, a meeting cannot be avoided sometimes, but should be done in a respectful time, all to keep the team in the loop. In a time like this, a meeting also does not have to be long, and it shouldn’t be, because it’s different now. Gone are the days when we can just call in everyone to huddle and discuss. As for me, before setting up the Zoom meeting or even clicking that call button, I would really have to think twice.
I know that a teacher juggles a busy day, trying to make students keep quiet through a small screen, while also attending to a family at home. There are teachers who have children who also need to get ready for school. There are those whose only breaks are to eat or pee, so a moment off screen is appreciated. But working from home is still in a way a luxury compared to those who still need to physically report for work for various reasons. There are teachers who have no Wi-Fi, no device, no budget for both, or have stressful home environments where it is difficult to work. And on occasions when they need to physically report for work or a task, there are no fellow teachers around to support.
So I would just like to give a shoutout to my team, the English department, and tell them this: I can’t wait for a reunion with you all! Stay strong! Until then, we just need to make do with being chat heads in each other’s phone.
Bianca Camille Guese is a teacher at Elizabeth Seton School. She also paints, watches Netflix series, reads personal essays and memoirs, experiments on preparing meals, and lately, just enjoys walking wherever.
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