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Ed Connor Linda Geiger Key

Dear Connor: Thanks for the lesson in digital classrooms

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

10/06/2020

My second-grade grandson is sitting across the double desk in math class. He’s here from Atlanta, a visit that’s been postponed four times since March. I guess I could feel like I’ve committed a crime in these covid-19 days, but eight months into our new world transition, we’re learning coping skills. You’ve done the same.

We start with a simple question: How much risk am I willing to take? We probably fall into three categories: The “who cares; it’s all a hoax” folks. The “I’m good inside until there’s a trustworthy vaccine.” I have friends for whom this is a viable choice. And the rest who’ve had to figure a way to work, raise kids, take care of family and friends and make do.

Most of us fall into that third group. We are not arrogant, entitled jerks and we don’t have the wherewithal to withdraw. (Just so I am clear: I am not talking about the recent presidential irrational exuberance.) We’re not care-less; we are coping.

Hence, Connor is here. I have had a front seat to digital learning and remote working. Connor is, for now, on the digital side of Georgia’s hybrid classroom. His parents have been home-based staffers for two international companies for a decade.

Our tiny house is an explosion of electronics, wires, plugs, devices, apps and an odd assortment of analogue things like notebooks, pencils and paper. I’ve lost track of how many devices are streaming on the house WiFi network. I am burning sacrificial incense to Keys Energy that the extension cord to the mainland stays connected. The Cat 5s are delighted with the stuff they can swat off flat surfaces.

Last March, as covid-19 closed our schools and businesses, into every house tumbled adults and children unprepared for the rigors of living, working and going to school cheek-by-jowl for unending months. Back then, we celebrated front line workers as heroes and we made notes to ensure teachers got the pay increases they deserved. That euphoria has faded; there is “bad news” aplenty and not all families adjusted well. Not everyone can afford the devices or has the skills to respond when an app fails or the Zoom video freezes. We are still helping folks figure out mute buttons. Imagine the challenges for a classroom teacher.

Watching Connor’s teacher slide smoothly between her in-person students and her digital friends, as she calls them, is akin to watching a maestro direct the orchestra — or herd cats if it’s the 30 minutes before the lunch break. She’s got their attention, the lessons are a complicated layering of multimedia; there are breaks for jumping up and down and practicing mindful yoga with a tree pose. This teacher is 100 percent present for her students. I am pretty sure she spent the summer learning the digital technology, honing every on-stage skill she has and probably practicing in the mirror. She’s not alone, of course; teachers around the world are doing the same.

They should get thrice the pay, an administrative assistant and an on-call geek — with a monthly bonus. Teachers who can’t or won’t adapt and adopt ought be gracefully encouraged to find another career. PS: If you’re thinking she’s some youngun fresh out of school and born with a device in her hands, let’s just say, she is a woman of a certain age.

Zoom and Google Classroom, among others, have in six months created the applications that are powering our schools and businesses. The technological advances, though they remain clunky, are stunning. A decade will pass before we know the extent of the changes wrought, but over the past eight months we have begun to see the shape of our new world. Someday in my lifetime virtual reality and holograms will free us from our screens, from fidgeting in chairs during a video conference.

In the meantime, we’re stuck with nipping and tucking ponderous software and heavy devices into a home office and a classroom. No one’s definition of effective includes working from the bathroom because it’s the only quiet place and going to school from the kitchen where there’s a table. But we are taking huge leaps in the ways we communicate and get things done. What would have taken a generation without covid-19, will be simply the way things are done in 10 years.

And, should you be frowning because we’ve had off island house guests: When Connor leaves on Sunday, Ranger Ed and I will hunker down for a week or so to spare our friends any chance that we’ve got the ‘vid.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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