Know what pounds my cake? Not adapting to a pandemic. But I’m not going to cite all the national/local cases—we’ve all heard them a million times before. Instead, I’m going to cite how I almost blew a golden chance by passing up a virtual Read Across America at Mountain View Elementary School.
Recall that many Arizona schools have gone to virtual or hybrid learning. That means full- or part-time online instruction. My daughter Zooms most of her college classes at Northern Arizona University. As a musical education major, she’s also had to Zoom her student teaching. So, she’s on both ends of online education.
But adapting to this type of education was not problematic for her. She, like most members of “Gen Z” were born in this evolving technology. As a four-year old, she helped me hook up a VCR, DVD, and PlayStation to the family entertainment system. As a nine-year old, she guided me through building my author website. And I’m sure if asked right now, she could reconfigure a more efficient APS power grid—overnight. There just ain’t nothing these Gen Zers can’t do!
Not the case for me. As a Baby Boomer born in the era of vacuum tube technology, I marveled at the development of solid state circuitry and went dizzy with the dawn of nano-chip technology. But my adaptations were clunky. My once steep learning curve flattened. It may have something to do with aging brain cells. Or maybe I’m too complacent with the present technology and don’t want to fix what ain’t broke.
As an in-person elementary school presenter, I was happy with my modus operandi for six years. But this year when asked to present on-line, I balked at the offer.
First of all, I can count on three fingers how many Zoom meetings I’ve attended (the first being a baby shower). Secondly, I’ve never presented in Zoom. Thirdly, I’ve never presented on Google Meet—the local school’s online meeting platform. With three strikes against me I wanted to turn the offer down.
Before the pandemic, I was comfy-cushy as an in-person presenter for the past six years; proud of only needing a few years to comfortably work a smart board with Power Point. Now in the heat of virtual learning I’m once again in unfamiliar territory. I got on YouTube and spent a few hours viewing tutorials, but because of the upcoming class presentation I felt pressured and didn’t understand a thing. I spilled my inadequacies to the school’s event coordinator, feeling naked in the rain!
She assured me that I was not alone; that many presenters were like me (OK, maybe not so naked), and that she’d schedule a few practice sessions. I felt a little better and joined one. I did so poorly I had to schedule another one. Then another one. So shameful!
With one day to go, I scheduled a practice meeting with my daughter, the Gen Z Queen. She’d never participated in Google Meet before but figured it had to be similar to Zoom. Well, she got it, and I still didn’t. She recommended that I get help from the teacher since I didn’t have enough time to jack up my confidence.
I emailed the seventh grade teacher my slides in case my internet dropped or I succumbed to hypothermia from being naked in the rain for two days. That made me feel a little better, knowing at least I had a Plan B. She emailed back, saying she’d be happy to facilitate the meeting in case I got washed away in shame.
The night before my presentation, I lay restless in bed. Once asleep, I had nightmares of all the YouTube tutors laughing, jeering, and scolding me for being a Google Meet moron. How could they be so cruel?! I closed one tutorial window, and it popped up in another window continuing to mock me!
That morning, at 5:30 AM, I got up, took a shower, and washed my hair. If I’m going to be a moron, I may as well look like a well-groomed one. After getting a vente-sized Starbucks latte, I prepped my backlight, headphones and computer in my dining room—my back wall full of family photos and shelf of classic novels.
I entered the Google Meet meeting about 15 minutes early, about 7:30 AM. Thankfully the teacher was already there. She had viewed my slides ahead of time and really liked my presentation. That eased my mind a little. She also mentioned that her first class contained some gifted students who could assist both me and her should we encounter any technical glitches. After hearing that and sipping some latte, I really felt better.
Show time! At 7:45AM, the teacher thanked all the students for joining and offered incentives for participation. She introduced me, and I gave a brief bio. My presentation was an original, ~3000-word short story that I read entirely. I also included pictures on every slide. After every third slide, I inserted thought-provoking questions for the students to answer.
Sometime during my first few slides I got a chat message from one of the students: “Your voice is reverberating; push in your headphones jack more firmly.” I must have bumped it when reaching for my latte cup. “Thanks,” I chatted back and pushed in the jack. At least three more students acknowledged my sound correction. I am liking these seventh grade students; they’re so much nicer than those YouTube tutors in my dream!
Many students engaged in the question/answer period—sometimes presenting arguments with supportive reasons. They must have been following my story closely! After the presentation, a lot of them chatted their gratitude for hearing my story. The teacher also seemed excited about her students’ participation. After dismissing the students, she wanted to know if I could present more short stories if I had them—and I did!
After that first experience with Google Meet, I didn’t feel so naked in the rain. Take that, YouTube tutors!
Jane Ruby is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and short story writer. She’s judged many association literary contests and is now in her third year as the Literary Contest Coordinator as well as Secretary of the Association. Learn more about Jane HERE.