It seems I really cannot identify days anymore. Sometime this week I was sitting at my desk at school looking at my screen when I asked myself what exactly I was doing. The question was nothing overly existential at that time; I just simply forgot what I was doing as my eyes slid left to right and back again over an unknown number of tabs that had gathered as a collection of gremlins to taunt me that morning.
I pulled my already slipping glasses away from my face, shifting my black covid gear in the process. I squinted at the blurry figures sitting behind the plexiglass at the front of my desk. I knew who they were as much as a teacher could in this situation. We were in class. They were my students. We were in second period or maybe first. I don't know. Honestly, this could have been my fourth period. I am embarrassed to say that I just do not remember.
I returned my glasses to my face and adjusted the ear bands of my mask under the frames. My group of similarly masked students looked around at one another talking among themselves in a muffled, undecipherable chit-chat while they awaited me to remember what exactly I was doing. "The tabs. The tabs will tell me," I mumbled to myself.
"Mr. Bucon, are you ok?" one of them asked.
That was a loaded question that propelled me on one of my unannounced free-flowing, rambling self-talks meant to sort through a scattering of thoughts. "Do any of you feel as if you have so many tabs open on your computers that everything just starts blurring together?" Many of them nodded enthusiastically as I turned from them back to my screen. "You know, we had spent so much time remote-learning. I was constantly organizing these stupid tabs so that I could move from one topic to the next in those Google Meets that now I worry that all I see are open tabs everywhere. I think it is making me sick."
I looked up at them again, needing a bit of understanding and compassion.
My eyes started to well-up a little. We have all been there over the past year as the way we have typically navigated our harried days has morphed into some bizarre control-fest which has led to frustration, disappointment, and tears. I used my hand to point out the open tabs on my screen.
"I have Renweb open on the left to do attendance then I slide to the right to go over the agenda for the day. I have Classcraft ready for the random event and Google Classroom open for our assignment today. Look at all of these other documents. I am grading work, I am creating documents for next week, I am constantly checking my email. I think I could do all of this and not even look at you. This is not normal."
I sat there, frozen in a moment of helplessness of my own making. My life had become this dystopian reflecting mirror of computer tabs traveling endlessly into the ether.
"I love teaching. I know other people are going through similar feelings at their jobs," I continued. "Life could be a heck of a lot worse out there. I am just waiting for a time when I do not need to sit here looking at a bunch of open tabs. I just want to close them all right now."
I sighed. Most of them nodded.
I am positive that my students and I all have different perspectives on what I mean by closing all of these tabs right now. I actually spent the latter part of this week considering what carried me to this moment.
The most obvious has been what it means to be teaching during a pandemic. I struggled last spring being thrust into a situation none of us were truly prepared to undertake. This year began with the hope that if everyone wore masks, we sat six feet apart, we cleaned the desks after each class, and we did a "deep-clean" at the end of the day that we could have a full school year with some minor tweaks and interruptions. However, a recent long stretch of remote-learning has blended with current in-person instruction, and we have become attached to technology, locked into gliding through tabs and joining Google Meets.
I have tried hard to keep remote-learning as personal as possible. I did not want to fall into the trap of handouts and videos and slides and impersonal instructional programs. I did not become a teacher to teach remotely. Being there for my students when they need my assistance is one part of the job I continue to embrace. The past year is the epitome of one of those times.
The figurative tabs, though. Maybe those are my deeper concern. The figurative tabs are those ones that are not attached to technology. They are the ones we constantly keep open in our minds: families, jobs, doctor's appointments, shopping lists, car servicing, housekeeping, birthdays, holidays. What do I need to do today? Which "tab" is at the forefront?
Everything we have done in the past with varying degrees of challenges has had a dark haze of red, orange, and gold pandemic colors hovering over us for a year. What do we want to do? What do we need to do? What can we do? What should we do? What shouldn't we do? How can we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? How much longer can this last? These questions have become additional tabs in my mind.
I do not foresee the days becoming any more recognizable to me. Unfortunately, I will still have numerous open tabs in mind as well as on my computer in my classroom. The challenge will ultimately remain as it always has been.
The past year has been a learning experience in so many ways. I have had to make adjustments in how I look at life and how I address the twists and detours a pandemic can place in my path. I have relearned lessons that I discovered long ago. I am reminded to move to the forefront those things which are most important, those which require our immediate attention, those in our hearts. I am reminded to be OK with not finishing every item on a list because tomorrow will come as a new opportunity. I am reminded to be patient with myself and others as we all struggle to do our best in challenging times.