Well, today is the day. I just hit the “submit” button to turn in the final grades for my class, “Critical Thinking through Argumentation and Debate.” To my surprise, I was absolutely overwhelmed with one of the strangest feelings I have ever felt. I am not even sure how to describe it cause I am not really sure what it is. I have never felt this before in 57 years, 3 months, 19 days and change. Whatever it is, I am feeling it as I write these words.
All of the above?
I have never bonded with a group of students in the manner I have bonded with them this semester. And I have been at this a very long time.
As we looked into each other’s eyes through the distortion of both varying degrees of resolution and obfuscated pixelation, we really saw each other with more clarity than ever, fueled by the deep desire to connect. To be there for each other. I looked into my student’s eyes and observed a quiet desperation, cloaked in the veil of social and conversational appropriateness. I am certain they likely saw the same desperation staring back at them, albeit a desperation emanating from me, their leader, a positive minded leader, attempting to lead by example.
We can do this!
We got this!
This will all be over before you know it!
Hang in there!
I am so proud of each you!
You all toughed it out!
As I know, and as they likely full well know, I was floating in the same sea of desperation and weirdness. We could all see through everything. Just weirdness. Damn weirdness. Fucking weirdness.
We were no longer in the realm of teacher-student. We were fellow survivors wading in the same rickety and rocky vessel in the sea of weird. When I hit submit, I submitted the final declaration of this strange time. I submitted to saying goodbye to them. I submitted that this leg of our journey is now over. I submitted to the idea that many of these students will be forever etched in memory. I submitted to my connection with them. I submitted to my love and care for them. I submitted to the idea that I will never look at life the same way.
Damn did I try to be the most accommodating professor I could possibly be these past eight weeks. Still, some failed the course, as my attempts at accommodation can only go so far as to not stray too far from the great importance of academic integrity. Pandemic or not, the degree has to mean something.
Many years ago, Communication Theorist Marshall Mcluhan came up with the notion of “hot and cool” mediums of communication, also coined rich and lean. The hottest or richest form of communication humans can engage in is in-person, face-to-face engagement as we can closely read facial expressions, take note of body cues, reach out to touch if necessary and detect the presence of olfaction. In other words, all those things you cannot effectively do in a “cool or lean” electronic classroom. Yet, in a very strange way, that perhaps you really have to experience to understand, what we lacked in limited communication channels, we gained in virtual geography. These students spent the last eight weeks with me at my kitchen table, at my home, my sacred and safe place where I am most me. And I with them in their sacred places.
Weird. Just weird.
I feel privileged to be their educator. Their leader. Their “safe space.” My Zoom students never wanted to leave the class. In some cases, we went over our three hour scheduled class session. Every time I had to press the “End Meeting” button, it felt a little bit like I was letting go of the hand clinging to dear life off the cliff.
These were my quarantine buddies, my friends, my lifelines, my fellow pandemic travelers. How exhilarating it was to have a few hours of time away from the weirdness around us to talk all things critical thinking: love and relationships, social policies, ethics, free speech, debate protocol, how to argue, how to win, when and how to lose, when to quit and when to stay the course and what it means to be a person of character. You name it, we spent several glorious hours talking about it. We transported from our weird reality of social distancing to the land of theories and concepts…ironically drawing us closer and closer together, distancing be damned.
Sure, some classes bonded far more than others largely due to the nature of the course itself. For some courses I did not even have remote meetings. Yet for even those students in which a pandemic bond was never really formed, I long to see them, in person, one day and just hug. Connect. Be humans together.
I instruct all my classes that if you ever have ANY doubt whatsoever about pressing the submit button after writing something that may be, well, potentially unwise, don’t. Just don’t. Bad idea. You can always submit it later though you can never, under any circumstances, unsubmit a message.
So today I paused before I pressed the Webadvisor final grade submission form. I did not want to do it.
But I did.
I love them all.
I will never forget this semester.