Embracing Distance Learning (I'm into it!)
March 12 2020 was the last time I taught in person in a classroom outside of my home. I left work that Thursday not feeling so great, I felt like I had a fever. I was scheduled to do a photoshoot for a funky vintage clothing store, typically I would be buzzing with excitement instead I felt hot, achey and worried. If I'm being honest, in the past I have worked a zillion times feeling the same way, never giving it much thought. Photography and teaching are my self care, I love what I do so missing either for illness are not something I am used to. Thursday the 12th was different. All day I was in a slight daze of anxiety, people were talking about this virus, this really contagious virus. Much like not taking my personal health always so seriously, I also wasn't one to take "the news" so seriously either but this seemed different. I got to my shoot early and the model was running late so I stopped at a Drug Store and bought a thermometer. I took my temperature in my car and confirmed the heat I was feeling was from within me, I had a low grade fever. I did something I have never done before, I cancelled the shoot at the last minute and drove directly to a walk in clinic. The clinic Dr. stood what seemed so far away (now we know that distance as the new normal) and told me there wasn't much she could do for me, I would need to go to the ER which she strongly advised against unless I had symptoms. I had no symptoms so I went home and laid in bed and literally stared into the air. I was still coated in an ever growing thickness of anxiety. There was no way I could go to work the next day, not with a fever. My students are my friends, I have a deep respect for every child I teach, there was no way I could potentially infect them. I had to stay home. I missed the last day my school was open, March 13 2020.
The next day, my brain raced, jumping from one post apocalyptic scenario to the next about what would become of life as we know it. I was scheduled to have one of my slammed packed, logistical nightmare shooting and teaching weekends (I love the madness of those kind of weekends, btw). Email after email my photoshoots and lessons cancelled, by the end of the day my schedule was wiped clean. What do I do now? I was so sad. I felt lost. Even though I was so down, I knew that I would never want to forget this time. Life as we know it would change and I wanted to capture my experience as the transformation was occurring in real time. I also knew that creativity would save me. One of my deepest beliefs is that creativity is a survival skill, it was time to put that to the test.
Friday, March the 13th, I started a self portrait photography project documenting my mental state of being each day. I post these images daily to my social media accounts. I am often told my posts are some of the few bright spots in peoples days, wow... I take pictures, that makes me happy, looking at pictures makes them happy then I am happy all over again. Faithfully, my creative outlet has not failed me. I am not only surviving, I am THRIVING!
Now to the matter of teaching. The classroom is my where I find peace. Showing kids how to do cool stuff with cameras is my best life! There were no classes though. No classes means peace, no best life. Not only was I depressed about my own loss, I started to think about all of the parents at home, overwhelmed, fearful, not prepared to take on an entire new job title on top of their other titles. I knew parents would need some support. I knew my students would be missing my crazy silliness and playing with my cameras. There had to be a way I could fulfill my own needs as well as the needs of families.
That is when I started making videos!
Everyday for two months (excluding weekends) I made a new photography project video to share on social media. Without being able to lend my students my fancy cameras for class, I knew my projects needed to be accessible to any age child with any type of camera. The creativity kicked in and before I knew it I had a decent size library of videos.
Shortly after I started creating content for what was now being called "distance learning', I was asked to do some of some distance photography teaching for Atlanta Celebrates Photography. I was ridiculously prepared as I had been using my quarantine time to not only make videos but also to start writing another photography book for kids, I really never skipped a beat. I was ready to get my teachin' on even if it was just on a screen.
I turned my old teeny studio into what I now call my photography playground, it is full of fun inspiration! I do the majority of my teaching in this sweet little space.
I did not expect to fall in love with the virtual classroom. Teaching like photography is all about making connections. How in a million years could I ever connect with anybody through a screen??? The connections are there, they are just different. I can't see body language, tone of voice and eye contact are different but they are replaced by other subtle beautiful details of a person life. Now I see where they live, literally where they are coming from. I get to know them just at a much slower pace.
Sssshhhh, don't tell anyone but sometimes I think the virtual classes are better. When I teach my pre-schoolers online (you read that correctly, haha ) I find that they have better focus on the projects. They are less distracted by people and things in the room so they really pay attention and engage with what we are doing. My older students are awesome too. Fewer distractions makes for a much more captive audience.
The possibilities are crazy cool for what you can achieve in a virtual classroom. With the right preparation, I can share an amazing display of resources with my students. We can literally travel the globe together. I feel like I'm the host of a really cool educational T.V. show where the viewers get to have an interactive experience. I'm over here channeling Pee Wee Herman meets Ms. Frizzle, haha. I get very excited at al the possibilities as well as being a part of the changing landscape of education as we know it.
It's the next best thing to being there. I would never try to say that being in person isn't good or that I don't miss it like crazy pants BUT virtual is pretty awesome. I am not certain of the exact date I decided to embrace online teaching and let my imagination run wild with teacher fantasies but I do know that my life changed that day.