24 April 2020

Women of NEU: Christine Egan-Fowler on the challenges of teaching by Zoom

“It’s obvious that kids miss school and so do I.” NEU member and Art teacher Christine Egan-Fowler on the challenges of teaching by Zoom

When asked to write about my experience of teaching remotely, I felt the pique that I'm sure my students feel. My attention span is usually really good, but when even the doorbell ringing.  presents a real life or death threat to isolating families, writing suddenly seems an alien task. 

My experience of Art teaching by Teams has been mixed; as has even the ordinary daily duty of morning roll call remotely, it has all been challenging. In my usual world, registration is a short, active pastoral time; I know my year 12 form students well and can spot if they are ready to learn. In this new world, I have asked my students to create 'a timetable ' and I know their teachers are sending them work to do during their 'working from home days', I greet them virtually at the start of each day, but none of us really knows what is ahead. I can only be cheery and reassuring and urge them to create a good space and to get down to work. 

It’s obvious that kids miss school and so do I.

As an Artist Teacher, I look to Artists for ideas; Robert Rauschenberg in 1953 caused a collective, world- wide intake of breath by asking artist Willem de Kooning to give him a drawing ‘one he would miss’. Rauschenberg then spent a month, as long as we have been on lockdown, erasing the drawing. This durational labour was a difficult daily task; removing layers of work and leaving only a ‘trace’ behind. Resulting in a beautiful work, in both physicality and concept. Rauschenberg called it 'poetry'.

Teaching remotely has made me 'erase' most of what I have known as the teaching day, for over 30 years. I 'erase' the noise and physicality of my days in the Art rooms, the chat at the sink and the joy of the noisy collective jostling, the buzz of creative endeavour. I have worked hard, however, to create an on line teaching presence, as have all my colleagues. I think of what I would need if I was in my student's shoes.

When I’m on a Zoom lesson there are so many things I want to ask the students; about how they are coping, but it all seems intrusive. Instead, like all the teachers I know, I am trying to set tasks that promote independence, a thirst for research, something to distract, challenges that I would have wanted in their situation.

I’ve turned to my ten year old Tumblr account; ‘artistteachercefThe Fleeting Glimpse’ (another nod to de Kooning) and asked my students to set up their own equivalent. This provides a starting point for a more bespoke approach to getting’ evidence’. It’s the process of research and response that I’m looking for, its the start for a critical conversation. Galleries, especially BALTIC, have made superb resources and I think I have become a virtual signpost to the world's museums and artists. There is a whole world 'erased' in the last month, but the traces left have given me opportunity to see the delicate detail that underpinned my school days, I think there is poetry to write...

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