(Found Feather circa 2015)

Oratory. When I taught 2nd grade at the Carmel Catholic Mission, there was an oratory balcony over the pews. I imagined the oratorian saying his peace about peace. What an art it must have been. I also imagined what if the two muppet curmudgeonly dudes Statler and Waldorf started heckling during the homily.  

Oratory, the foundation of education? Has that art been lost in K-12? We learn that teachers not to be like the days past of the sage on the stage. But perhaps we can learn from those teachers who came before us and use those unique skills while virtual teaching? New to teaching virtual school, I have been feeling a bit imposture syndromish lately. I am practicing new skills that don’t quite fit me. I am not comfortable with them yet. I haven’t made them my own.

I watch some of my colleagues teach virtually. There are a handful that stand out. They have presence online. They are present online.

How can I learn to use my voice and be confident in my voice while taking the stage, so to speak? I am much more comfortable facilitating learning. I want my students to take the spotlight. I prefer decorating the sets, making the costumes, and standing at the edge of the curtain. I am used of being in the supportive role. I am now at the virtual school, where it is show time. Lights, camera, makeup. Each class is recorded. We don’t know who is watching us and who will pop in our virtual class. Today I had a virtual teacher evaluation. A pop in. Oh, hello. I’m being observed. 

The stakes just went up. I am being evaluated. I wonder if I am being too quirky. I catch myself singing again as I am switching screens on a screen share. Uh-oh. Flashback—When I taught at brick and mortar school, my last admin said that, “The kids loved coming to my class, probably too much.” She said that I wasn’t strict enough. She said I wasn’t serious enough. My confidence bashed again. Then the shutdown.

At the end of the school year, all of us teachers were fumbling teaching online. Where as flip-flop flash forward, at the virtual school, there have been teachers there since it’s start almost 20 years ago. They are pros at teaching virtually. I am a novice. I am practicing. Improv is one of my strategies that I am trying to teach myself. I need to get out of my head, mute the frumpy ogre in my mind, and teach. Yes, and…Teach from my heart.

What did Aristotle say about oratory in his book Rhetoric? I took philosophy many moons ago. It is time to brush up. And so my journey to discover more about oratory skills begins. I am practicing. I am trying to be more aware of my speaking voice. For some time, I have tried to hide my accent. It comes out when I am tired or have too much wine. I try to code-switch and sound more proper. I remember when I was studying abroad with other teacher leaders in graduate school. One of the profs from another college corrected my English in front of my peers when I asked her a question. I tried to then explain that I was talking informally with my peers and didn’t know that I had to talk proper in a doctoral seminar class. I thought I could talk freely. There is so much I could write about code-switching, and may do so at another time. In sum, I support my students no matter which code they are expressing themselves with. Voice, Code, Rhetoric. What can teachers learn from philosophers of the past to help us with virtual teaching?

Some of my 8th graders are emerging readers. It is important that they have the access and supports to the middle school curriculum. If my students can’t read it yet, then at least I want my students to hear it. Hence, I am starting to make an audio version of the readings. I hope that it is helpful for my 8th graders. I am practicing reading aloud with more expression. When in person teaching in front of my elementary students I wasn’t nervous while reading. I would just have fun. Now, online, the stakes are higher. We have pop in teacher evaluations. I need to start to up my game while I feel like I am glued 8+ hours a day to my office chair. The kitchen is behind me and the dishes are on both sides of the sink. My voice is somewhere among the suds. Here is the poem Caged Bird written by Maya Angelou. 

What strategies and skills are you learning as you move in teaching from in person to virtual?