In the spring, it was different. I knew those kids. We had spent six months building something before having our school year hijacked. What we knew about each other carried us through those cold, desolate, scary spring months in New York City. It was a dark time. I felt alone and my students felt alone, but at least we had each other. We had a shared history. This history helped us make something out of nothing.
Now, with the hustle of the first week of school well underway, the cold realities of this strange year are slowly sinking in. I’m sitting in my empty classroom teaching students who are represented by icons on a screen. These icons occasionally sound like humans, but are mostly silent. They don’t smile or smirk. They don’t fidget. They don’t laugh. They don’t walk in tired or frustrated. I see names, but they are faceless. We have no history, no memories, nothing to fall back on. It all feels so empty, so fabricated.
I’m worried. I’m misgendering students and forgetting who is even in my class. I’m trying desperately to hang onto details that emerge about who these young people are, but it all seems so rushed and frenzied. Outside of a name and student ID, I have no idea who they are. I’m not sure I ever will.
And, I’m sorry, but teaching math doesn’t make any of this any easier. As someone who places a heavy emphasis on relationships and human connection, the Common Core is incredibly divisive. It lacks humanity and only furthers the distance between my students and I at a time like this. How the hell is the distributive property and right triangle trig going to help me reach my kids?
Maybe there are math teachers out there who can press on with content no matter who or what or when or how. Maybe these teachers can have no semblance of knowledge of who is on their rosters and still be effective. Maybe knowing who their students are beyond a name and an icon is a curse for these teachers. Maybe knowing their students gets in the way. At the same time, maybe my students need a teacher like that. Maybe they would prefer a teacher like that. Why complicate things?