Virtual Debt #SOL2021

We talk on the phone sharing shards of struggle which pierce the day of virtual teaching and each time I write or say or read the word, I cannot help but stop, wondering – “virtual teaching” – this is not quite teaching just as “virtual reality” is not quite reality. And then I open a desperate email from a fellow English teacher confessing her virtual emotional meltdown and subsequent “ugly cry” while facing a checkerboard of muted icons. She can no longer feign instructional joy to an unreceptive liquid crystal window as she enthusiastically waits in a durge towards “discussion”. She writes about the 17 years of teaching, the motivation to enter the profession, and the losses exponentially accumulating in her – compound interest.

That heaviness and shallow breathing returns to me too. That weight pressing on my lungs, near my centre which curls me forward like a rubber bug when touched. I think I am not alone in this. We may not be together in person, but we are collectively accumulating some form of virtual emotional debt wracking up expenses beyond calculation. Who knows what we might owe at this point in the pandemic?

Then, Chris Cluff speaks to me from the void of Twitter with his creative engagement group, “words keep wolves at bay”. This curious phrase has me twisting in my thoughts with metaphors and imagery wondering if “bay” should be “Bay” as in the street and the concept of imaginary wealth traded in numbers and dots on a screen. Which “wolves” am I trying to keep from calling me out on my obligation? And so, I sit and write and ponder this crushing costly debt we collectively share. This ambiguous loss. This virtual loneliness. This fee required by some unknown entity.

After listening to Nora Young on the podcast, “Spark”, I gained some insight into costs the pandemic and technology is forcing us to recognize. In the episode, “Touch, Trust, The Alchemy of Us” a neurobiologist points out the “complex emotional information” provided through the skin. When we cannot touch someone physically, we are missing a great deal of emotional information about them. There is a loss, a growing debt in relationships, yet, the episode did reassure me in the need for voice over image. She says, “hearing someone helps you understand better than reading words” and seeing them is not required to connect.

In a scuttling moment of intrusion upon my mind’s eye, I see some futuristic mechanism, massive in stature, lording over me demanding emotional labour, pushing me to extreme exhaustion, suctioning up my cognitive energy. Glimpsing the face of the monster, I startle and refuse to accept my own reflection – at least, for now. Because I have work to do, a class to teach, students who need support, so I look away and facilitate the accumulation – secured debt.

My husband waits patiently never pressuring me to break the trance of the plastic portal. The dog, on the other hand, applies more pressure pawing me, interrupting my keystrokes, demanding affection which, when given, returns in some wonderful exchange of revolving debt. He awakens me, asking me to balance my emotional account, calculating what I am giving to the screen in relation to what I am getting back. The spreadsheet is clear. This virtual debt is growing.

9 thoughts on “Virtual Debt #SOL2021

  1. This is heartbreaking. Honestly, I don’t know that I could do Zoom teaching. I don’t know how I feel about the faceless screens. I taught speech as well as English. We need every form of communication. How does one compensate when the choice is willful blindness? I don’t know. I hope this all ends soon. *sigh*

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    1. It is hard, but we are adapting and learning what works. I’ve noticed an increased importance in the written word, a focus on being really clear about what is being communicated, and an emphasis on speaking to be understood. This may be one of the unintended benefits with other losses.

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  2. This is incrediby well-written, dark, and moving. Yet it captures the reality we all silently face everyday. I especially love this line: “…some wonderful exchange of revolving debt.” The research about the emotional information conveyed through touch is something I’ll never forget. Yes, it will be interesting to see what this all leaves us in regards to emotional debt. But somehow reading this, I feel less alone. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

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  3. I’m okay admitting that I’m the ugly-crying teacher Melanie wrote about here. xo

    We need to be honest because our vulnerability allows others to know they’re not alone. If you’re reading this and feeling a sense of loneliness in this topsy-turvy online teaching world, you’re not alone.

    Thanks, Mel, for your beautiful words.

    …And I’ll echo Amanda’s comment: dang!

    “That weight pressing on my lungs, near my centre which curls me forward like a rubber bug when touched.” Yep: dang! That’s awesome imagery.

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  4. Melanie, You’ve perfectly captured the feeling of dread that seems to hang over all of us. What will this be like when we’re done? The impact on our classrooms will echo through for years – until all the kids who are in school
    now have finished. I suspect it will continue to echo through society beyond that. I’m teaching differently because so many kids missed four months of school last year. I don’t know how to anticipate what it’s going to be like when the virtual learners return. Emotional impact indeed!

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