Transitions: Out with the old, in with the new

Elisabeth Kubler Ross says there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I pass through all of them daily since the loss of my Normal to COVID-19 over spring break. I really liked Normal—he was comfy like an old pair of house slippers, and he was predictable. I got to my day job as a high school English teacher at Paschal early to prepare for the day, met with students and taught classes all day, then hustled over to TCC Trinity River on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to meet with more students and teach two more classes. However, Normal has left the building and is presumably communing in the woods somewhere with Elvis and Tupac.

I tried denial (“No worries, we’ll be back next week.”), rapidly moved on to anger (“You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t do a writing conference if we’re not face to face.”), phased into bargaining (“Just let me sit down with these three students. We’ll get these papers hammered out before anyone coughs.”), interspersed with bouts of depression (“I’m going back to bed. This is too much!”), and finally, I learned acceptance (“Let’s figure out how to get this done.”). Indeed, this new Normal was going pinch like a new pair of Sunday shoes, and unpredictability added another inch to the height of the heel.

There have been plenty of obstacles to overcome in our quest to continue teaching and learning in the time of COVID-19. Because Ft. Worth ISD was hit with a ransomware virus in early March, no one was allowed to take our tech home over the break. When TCC began moving to online mid-March, I had no laptop and spent some quality time fuming at the idea of prepping Google Slides for class on my iPhone. Nope. Not happening. However, eventually the Trinity River librarians loaned me a Surface Pro, and I was back in business. (By the way, anytime you’re in a jam, ask a librarian for help; they are amazing problem-solvers.)

I took some online graduate classes from Tarleton last summer using Blackboard that were good practice for online teaching, but nothing prepares you like jumping in the deep end of the pool. Our first couple of classes were not without challenges—some students struggled to get into Blackboard Collaborate, no one likes to turn on their camera (even me, but I have to) and screen-sharing took a bit to figure out. For my high school classes, I often use Screencast-O-Matic to record lectures with slides, so I’ve started doing that for my TCC classes, too, and posting those videos on Blackboard. It’s a good tool for re-teaching or for students who are absent.

Some of my students purposely chose face-to-face (F2F) classes because online learning is difficult for them. For a short time, it looked like small, F2F gatherings would be an option, until we had to close the Campus altogether. And we rapidly transitioned to Plan C: Zoom. Now we do online check-ins where I speak to each student one-on-one about their progress. I’m not gonna’ lie: writing conferences are more challenging. I have to do a lot more written feedback, which is labor-intensive and time-consuming than verbal conferencing, but it’s doable.

So here we are, limping along as we break in these shiny new heels. We still miss old Normal and probably always will, but we’re making friends with new Normal. He’s a little standoffish (what with physical distancing and all), but we’re embracing acceptance. We are getting it done.

An adjunct for TCC Trinity River Campus, Cynthia Zepeda paint, draw, craft, create and baking bread until yeast became scarce. Also spends an excessive amount of time holding the world’s neediest pit bull.