Online Fall

The trees have stared changing their bright-green color, and a new semester has slowly crawled up to us. Here we are – September, 2020 – the year of Covid-19, quarantine, and online studying for everyone involved in the education. In Canada, most schools resumed in-person classes while the universities opted for online education for the whole semester. The decision about Winter semester has not been made yet, but I feel that Covid-related cases will soon go up and the second lock-down is very real in the near future.

Last week was the first time I used Zoom after two months of a summer break. I was nervous to meet up to 200 students online – I am teaching five different courses at two universities this semester. It is such a strange feeling to see my students as little boxes of moving faces instead of me standing in front of the audience and reading everyone’s body language, hearing the tone of their voices, and feeling the overall atmosphere of the room. Even though the first impression can be wrong, seeing someone in person gives you the much-needed information to establish a healthy relationship – compared to meeting a person behind the screen for the first time and trying to catch as much emotion as possible from a tiny square in which everyone is enclosed. It is such a fragmented sense of people and environment.

What I noticed right away this semester is that if before, the students would come to my class and rarely talk to each other to make friends as all of them were from different departments, and they met together in this classroom only for the required English course – if before it was like that, now, I guess, after months of no social contact and isolation, they are really hungry for communication, thirsty for any human contact. I noted this right away. They told me they were happy I chose Zoom (not asynchronous type of teaching) to meet regularly and discuss the material. They did not mind turning on their cameras. They wrote 100! messages in the chat (one of Zoom options) during our first class to greet each other and exchange their social media information. And you know, I am happy that my class can contribute, even a little bit, to the students’ feeling of belonging, sense of community, and healthy communication in these lonely times.

So, here we are – Fall semester. Cameras are on, volume up, zoom in and zoom out. It is new. It is weird. But at least we are all in this together. So, let’s get the best of this year and have maybe-the most memorable semester in our life. Zoom-zoom!

Stay humble

The semester is over. Exams are marked, and lecture rooms are empty. I am sitting inside the cafeteria and looking at my student’s card. She gave me it as a thank you for a wonderful semester. The card says one sentence: “I find you to be very humble and for that I thank you!”

I stare at this card and these few words. I have never been thanked for being humble before. Why would she think I am humble?

I have never had any special approach to this student. She was a bit behind some of the assignments and I helped her with that, but only because she was working full-time as a school bus driver. She was silent during most of our books’ discussions. She did not come to see me during my office hours. We did not have one-on-one time really. And, yet, she was the only one out of 30 students to find me after the final exam and give me this card. When she was handing me the card, she said exactly the same words as written inside: “I really want to thank you for being humble.”

Humble…this word can mean so many different things. Do I teach in a humble way? Do I speak too quietly? Some students complained about that before, so I always increase the podium microphone to the maximum. Am I teaching humble texts? Is it my behaviour, my words, or actions? I guess I will never find an answer to that.

Is being humble a compliment? In our society, humble often means having low confidence and not enough ambition. Many companies do not want to hire humble people. They want overachievers, assertive people with a high self-esteem. Nobody wants to be humble. Everyone wants to be perceived as brave and successful. Strong and confident.

But after some consideration, I realized that being humble does not negate achievement, passion, or even ambition. You can enjoy success and still be humble. You can be humble in the way you treat other people. You can be humble in the way you show yourself to the world. You can be humble in the way you think or talk about yourself. Humble means less self and more other. Humble helps you love the world around you.

Take a moment to reflect on the past year and thank yourselves for being humble in any moment of your lives. Stay humble.