Time out, please: Moving through triggers in the Zoom classroom

By siri gurudev

Zoom is exhausting. I recently read about how this platform makes it more difficult for you to read other people and requires from you more concentration than when you’re in person. It also doesn’t allow you to check out from big groups and only talk to the people you feel the most comfortable with. I’m a hyperactive person, and staying in front of a computer makes it more tempting for me to open multiple windows and read stuff while attending a meeting or a class. Then there’s the fusion between workplace and home. On any given day, I get distracted with my pet or the dishwasher breaks and then someone comes to fix it during class. And I don’t even have kids or tense relationships to deal with in my house. However, as the pandemic continues, I have found a good thing about Zoom that’s related to the possibility of taking a time-out from group activities, and I wonder how that could transform my teaching practice in the near future.

I get frustrated when some students check out or get distracted. But since I’ve been that student, it keeps me thinking.

When I am in class, I get easily triggered with discriminatory comments that people make or white cis dudes taking all the space available, and no one doing anything about it. But class settings are not very permissive for one to take a time-out. If you check out of class, by looking at your phone, computer, going out of the classroom or not engaging somehow, it’s immediately seen as rude or insensitive. Not engaging for a moment can affect your grade participation-wise or even worse. I remember one time when a professor I had high hopes on turned to be really disappointing and despotic. So, I grabbed my water bottle faking I was going to fill it up, went to the restroom, and cried. Don’t even get me started with the time I had to have a class with my ex-partner. It was the worst.  

As a professor myself, I have had to do work on this. I get frustrated when some students check out or get distracted. But since I’ve been that student, it keeps me thinking.I get frustrated when some students check out or get distracted. But since I’ve been that student, it keeps me thinking. After I observe my ego getting hurt when a student is “ignoring me,” I can explore what’s going on. I recognize we’re not our student’s counselors, but it’s useful to observe and assess instead of judging right away negatively. For example, I have had students of color in my class that use headphones. At first, I was like, 100% no, and I know that it’s a common rule in classrooms. But then a Black women co-worker told me like, oh yes, I was like that as an undergrad because I needed to protect myself and have a coping mechanism to face the fact that every 5 seconds some racist bulls5$$/& comes out of someone’s mouth. That’s why every professor should be an intersectional feminist, at least when interacting with their students, creating assignments, and leading class. They should even re-consider strategies as the semester progresses. The way students learn and act in class is affected by factors such as their race, class, and gender. Sounds obvious and yet…   

In this sense, I have found very comforting the fact that I can turn off my camera and sit in my bed for a moment when I get triggered in a Zoom class. I can stand up and stretch, and let my feelings pass through my body. Sitting on a chair for hours is not bearable for everyone or even productive for their learning. I have come to know about this through sharing space with disability scholars. I recently attended workshops and talks by associate professor of feminist studies Alison Kafer from The University of Texas at Austin, and she always says at the beginning that if you want to lay down or be in any position your body needs to, that it’s okay. Experiencing this has been very transformative. One time she brought printed copies of her lecture in different font sizes for people who couldn’t fully comprehend only by listening or reading an average font size. To be honest, carefully listening while lying down face up or reading while paying attention to a lecture that’s not in my native language, such as English, sounds like a dream I would like to live in all the time. 

Classroom settings like Kafer’s are radical. They present a lot of challenges, especially when we’re teaching children or young adults. We face the dilemma of enforcing rules versus advocating for a more free-will approach. I’m not here to provide answers but to invite us to further reflect on these issues. I know that turning off the camera isn’t entirely well-received in seminars on Zoom, but I feel it’s just not as terrible as when one leaves a physical space. Actually, my possibility to turn off the camera and breath has allowed me to return and truly engage instead of being present physically but absent mentally. The question that remains is: What can we learn from our quarantine teaching experiences to be better teachers in person or otherwise?

Image credits: blessingmanifesting.com

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