“YOU’RE ON MUTE!”
by Greg Cunningham, Remote Learning Specialist
According to Merriam-Webster, some of the most popular words of 2019 were crawdad (aquatic animal that looks like a small lobster and lives in rivers and streams), snitty (disagreeably ill-tempered), and tergiversation (evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement).
I’m betting the most popular word of 2020 will be mute, as in “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU–YOU’RE ON MUTE!” Or “CAN YOU MUTE SO THE REST OF US DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOUR YAPPY DOG DURING THIS MEETING?” I use the word at least five times a day.
When society begins to crawl slowly out of bed (or from under the bed) and faces the shock of wearing something other than sweatpants, online meetings will wane. Schools will continue to meet remotely with students, and offices will continue to meet virtually for much of the summer and possibly beyond, but social gatherings will gradually move from computer screens to socially distant physical locations.
No longer will we feel obligated to join online meet-ups featuring high school friends we haven’t spoken to in fifteen years. Nor will we be forced to smile through catatonic cybernetic cocktail parties. Though social Zoomposiums have allowed us to stay in touch, they all too often congeal into robotic small talk:
“What is everyone up to these days?”
“I helped my son design and build a working hovercraft from parts off the vacuum. He is out there testing it around the neighborhood. How about you?”
“I got a message on Netflix that there was no more new content to watch.”
If you think these social meetings are awkward, try being the teacher holding a Zoom conference with a gaggle of elementary school children who can’t meet in a classroom. Keeping elementary school students organized in the classroom is already like herding cats; on Zoom, it’s like organizing monkeys at the circus while the banana truck is unloading.
However, for teachers there is one major online advantage that the classroom does not and never will offer: the mute button. The fantasy that every (and I mean EVERY) teacher has had in the classroom has become a reality during online meetings: students can be muted! For many teachers, this is the only possible way to find order amid chaos. Are the students more apt to pay attention? Not likely, but at least the teacher can get through a lesson without constant interruptions. Don’t be shocked if teachers try to find a way to install mute buttons in classrooms once everyone returns to school.
It’s important to note that teachers moved from the front lines to online rather seamlessly and are doing whatever they can to interact and stay in touch with their students. During these times that feel like the plot of a bad 80’s sci-fi movie (think Night of the Comet) students need their teachers more than ever.
Parents, on the other hand, are dying for school to reopen. They are discovering while their children are at home that they are not always “a joy to have in class.” And the feeble jest about “must be that new math” is no joke—there really IS a new math! And you have no idea how it works. There’s no mute button available at the home classroom headquarters, which used to be the dining room table. Could you blame the teachers if they’re watching these scenes with just the faintest hint of a sly smile?
Possibly for the first time ever, there is something on which parents and teachers agree: SUMMER VACATION CANNOT COME SOON ENOUGH! Parents often dread summer vacation, but now they’re ready to abandon the science project of a full-scale model of the Milky Way galaxy. Until vacation begins, for many the mute button has become their best friend: in school meet-ups to calm the active (read restless) student, and in social online parties to muffle that exasperating (read pretentious) bore they always avoided in high school.
Until we can safely head out to the nearest pub, beach or stadium, we will find ourselves feeling peevishly snitty because we can’t order fried crawdads to distract from our tergiversation. No need to protest: it’s a mute point.
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