By Mr. Justin Bonner
Upon receiving the email asking me to write this article about coming to NCS during a pandemic, I could only think to myself:
Madeline seems to be assigning me homework. I thought it was supposed to work the other way around.
Is this a passive aggressive way of punishing me for calling her ‘Hopper’ in class? I haven’t returned her unit project yet. Hasn’t she realized that I probably can’t handle another assignment? Hmm, maybe a 300-500 word essay causing me existential dread should make me be more compassionate toward my students and reduce their workloads.
Amidst all of these thoughts, one reigned supreme: This is something I can deal with tomorrow. Afterall, I’ll see Madeline in class. Surely she’ll remind me. Of course, during class, I blew through zoom limits, and everyone had had enough of speaking to me. No reminders would come. Tomorrow turned into a few days later when I helpfully received another email (Thanks Nisa). A couple days after that I managed to finally reply, giving my guilt-fueled assent.
This is basically a microcosm of teaching during a pandemic, complete with anxiety, guilt, communication breakdowns, and countless emails.
On the face of it, everything was supposed to be easy. My wife and I were moving from Connecticut, but we grew up in DC and our families are here. I was switching from teaching college to high school, but much of the subject matter was the same. Even my class sizes were significantly reduced. What could possibly go wrong?
The easy (and, probably by now, expected) answer is “everything.” The real answer is a little more complicated. In some ways the transition has been smooth. The admin team went above and beyond the call of duty to speed up the summer paperwork, which allowed us to buy a home. My teaching colleagues have been warm, welcoming, and surprisingly protective when it comes to my time and workload. My students are bright, engaged, and curious. In the broader community, I am continually amazed by the mature and eloquent ways with which students express themselves during Cathedral services.
Of difficulties, of course, there have been many. Most of them were relatively mundane: transitioning to new IT systems, having OneNote randomly delete materials, trying to figure out what a D day was and why we couldn’t just call it Thursday… The biggest challenge, though, has been disconnect: Not being able to easily pop in to chat and/or commiserate with a colleague; not being able to know whether my jokes have landed because all of the remote students are muted and the in-person are dazed from having to wake up so early; not being able to tell who that masked person who clearly knows my name is…
In all of this, you might have noticed a pattern. The people have consistently been the best part of this experience (But if I never again had to respond to an email or distribute a page in OneNote, I wouldn’t complain).