As a high school teacher, I’m used to pressure. But right now that pressure is a different animal. It’s fierce and it’s fast on its feet. It looms over me, glares, ready to strike if I turn away for a minute. And I have to face it head-on.

Distance learning is upon us. I’ve had just weeks to become an online instructor. A good one. One who inspires 150-some learners to be curious, confident, connected and perhaps, like me, comforted by being back in touch.

We’ve been hearing that most students are anxious to get back to class. Many are wondering how this is going to work. (And a good portion of mine are wondering how on earth this teacher is going to become woke so quickly.)

It begins to feel like we teachers are Fitzgerald’s ineffable boats, beating on against the current. Yet there are buoys in the waters: tech professionals. Colleagues who offer encouragement after a decidedly unsuccessful try at a WebEx meeting, who don’t take offense when we curse the Cloud, who kindly forgive when we forget … everything they just taught us, basically.

Those instructional gurus who calmly claim yes we can and, as surely a good yoga instructor, get us to stretch our computer-weary brains in ways we didn’t think were possible.

Thankfully and undeservedly, I have been gifted my own personal pantheon of geek gods. They work with unflagging amounts of helpful energy in my building. I give most of my business to one in particular, without whom I might have lost my battle with distance learning before the animal even bared its teeth.

My hero is a stalwart, unflappable, kind person. He is the co-worker who can see you tear up in frustration and not make you feel embarrassed, nor let you give up.

On Monday, he spent his time — all of which could have been used in far more efficient ways for the greater good of the educational community — holding my hand in virtual solidarity while I limped along the path of much resistance. There we were, for what seemed like hours, he on his screen with the patience of Job and me on my screen with the focus of a gnat.

We trudged through everything from assessments to Zoom. (Frankly, I felt Zumba would have been more up my alley.) Yet we stuck with each other. And then … he let go. He said I was ready. Crazy (but patient) man, I thought.

On Tuesday, I used the apps. (Or programs? Or platforms? Oh, whatever.) When I posted a question on my discussion board, my students responded! The first time I looked, there were four. Then there 20 and more! I ran shrieking into the living room and scared my husband and my dog. I jumped for joy. Then I went straight to my webmail, typed my mentor’s name and screamed, “IT WORKED!” in the subject area.

As you would guess, he said I was awesome.

But, reader, you and I both know who the essential worker is here.


Nora Wise is an English teacher at Woodbury High School.