BEING PART OF VIRTUAL CLASSROOM VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE

Virtual learning is in full use now. From elementary school to college, students are adapting to this new style of education. Some students and parents like the system while others declare it’s the worst possible solution for educating the young while Covid-19 rages. Schools and systems counter that each student has a choice between this new presentation of material and the well-worn classroom setting. With the number of pandemic cases and deaths surging, I’m not so sure the classroom is the safest place for a child, regardless of what politicians say. 

As a student, I’m sure my successes in a virtual setting would have been limited. Back in the day, my best learning came through visual sources. Memorizing the multiplication tables or spelling words or some poem came easier when I could see those things. It were as though the material poured out through my left hand and into the pencil I used. Then I saw it and took a mental picture of it until those numbers or words were clearly in focus in my mind.  

Is it possible to visually learn in virtual classrooms? Do students make a connection with a room in which they aren’t present? I have no doubt that in today’s world I would have been diagnosed with ADHD. I never could sit still, and my attention span was less than a few seconds. Looking at the blackboard and copying material from it helped to keep me focused. It also gave me material to review that was personally written. I’d have never made it if teachers passed out endless handouts and presented mind-numbing power point slides.  

Over the past months, I’ve watched Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Bill Maher virtual shows. They have struggled mightily to be funny. The fact is that they need audiences to give feedback. Without them, jokes fall flat, and the comedians’ timings are off. At times, the lack of folks laughing makes for painful shows and monologues.  

My success would have been terrible as a virtual teacher. I’ve always declared that many teachers are frustrated actors or entertainers. We, too, require audiences to perform our best. The most rewarding thing about teaching is the interactions with students. Watching as they finally grasp a concept or as they develop their own voices in a discussion of a topic is best done in person. I also would struggle with a virtual classroom because it’s static. My style always included movement.  

Walking back and forth in front of the classroom or between aisles felt natural. Standing still and reading notes without ad-libbing would have bored students and me as well. As I’ve said before, I’m old school. That goes for teaching classes as well. Nothing was better than a white board and a new dry erase marker.  

Students shouldn’t have to lose the most important part of education: socialization. A person might be a brilliant mathematician, but his life won’t be complete if he has no idea how two get along with other people. Perhaps in the new year we Americans will be wiser and will do the things necessary to end this plague. Until a vaccine is available, the best we can do is wear a mask.  

Help your children as much as possible in school. If nothing else, discover just how much more difficult it is now as compared to when you were in a classroom. Insist that they finish all work before moving to video games or outside activities. Most of all, talk with them and listen to them. This whole situation is worse for them. The affects might well last for the rest of their lives. Hang in there, folks. We can get through this.   

THE FALLING LEAVES

 Last fall, the leaves cooperated by falling from the trees early. A dry, hot summer and strong winds combined to wither leaves and disperse them into other yards and the field behind my house. I know that folks didn’t appreciate that, but my work was cut in half. 

This year’s outlook is a bit dimmer. A couple of gusts have knocked some leaves from their branches, but too many trees still hold leaves that are green and healthy looking. That means that I’ll be working on blowing and mowing them until the end of the year when, once again, I’ll run out of energy and surrender the war to Mother Nature. 

The fact this year is that I don’t mind the leaves so much. For one thing, I’m not working. The coronavirus has kept me from feeling safe inside school buildings this semester. The extra time keeps me from feeling rushed to get the piles of brown detritus from the yard. The rain has held off for the most part, so I don’t feel compelled to remove the soaked stuff before it smothers the grass.  

I like leaves much more now. For one thing, the fall smells from wooded areas are more acute this year. The combination of leaves and pine needles remind me of times so many years ago when Jim and I would play outside. A subdivision sits now where we roamed in the woods with other boys in search of adventures. We’d wade through knee-deep waves of leaves made by winds and time. At some point, one of us would let loose a loud squawk as a foot sank into wet ground that oozed up over shoes and soaked socks. That mattered little at the time as we concentrated more on the game we played or the imaginary war we fought with opposing armies.  

For some reason, I’m a much mellower guy these days. The afternoons find me content to sit in a rocker on the front porch while I read a book, listen to the songs I’ve discovered by Keb Mo, or just rock and simply enjoy the weather and view. Leaves might be blowing across the front yard or through the woods on either side, but I just don’t care. They’ll be there waiting for me another day. Our dog Sadie pokes her head close to the bottom rail of the bannister to keep watch for critters that intrude or cars that pull in the driveway. She walks over to my rocker for a pat on the head before returning to her sentry duties. Fall life is a brings a slower pace that leaves no longer spoil. 

No, I'll never enjoy the worst fall chore of all: ridding the yard of leaves. Before that job is completed, I’ll have gone through one prescription for an upper respiratory infection caused by the mold and dust from the decaying things. I’ll have lost half a dozen or more golf balls in the middle of fairway as they hide in plain sight under leaves. Maybe a maturing mind and more contented spirit keep me from obsessing so much to never have a single floating leaf sitting atop my grass.  

Happy fall!  

SMALL SERVICE BUSINESSES SAVE THE DAY

 Like many other homeowners, Amy and I aren’t taking a vacation this year. We’re dedicating that money to fixing things that are needed at our home and at the place we have in Gallatin. We’ve been lucky because in both cases, the work has been completed by local companies. 

A month or so ago, we traveled to Gallatin to visit our daughter who lives in Hendersonville, about 7 miles from or condo. Our first act upon arrival was to turn the thermostat down to cool the place off. The unit ran for just a minute and then stopped. Thinking it might have frozen up, I left it off for a couple of hours, but when I turned the a/c back on, again the unit ran for a couple of seconds and then quit. A phone call was placed to a large heating and air company. A technician came out with the understanding that a service call would be $89.00,  

The man worked for a while and informed us that the fan had died. He said one was available in his company’s shop, so we agreed to having it installed. After his completing the job and us paying another $600, we were ready for some cool air. The thing ran for more than two hours at which time the temperature had risen from 74 to78. We called the company again, and the next day the same man arrived. This time he went outside to check that piece of equipment. Surprise! The compressor was dead and that meant the entire heat and air unit would need replacing. This bigger company gave a price of right at $8000 for a gas furnace and a/c unit. 

I was put out that we’d paid $700 already to find out a new system was needed. The company offered $500 credit toward a new unit, but my principles got in the way, and I refused. Our condo neighbor suggested we contact his serviceman.  

Rick Apple is a one-man company. I called, and he offered to drop by our place and look at the unit, thereby keeping us from making another trip to Gallatin. He called to tell us that the system did need to be replaced. His bid for doing the same work as the big company was about half the price. Rick also told us that we could call him at any time to get help with any future problems. Apple’s Heating and Air Condition Serivices saved us plenty of money and gave us a person on whom we can count for quality work and prompt service.  

We signed a contract in Knoxville to have our roof replaced in June. On several occasions, we contacted the company to see when the work would start, but each time we were told others were ahead of us. I was tired of waiting by the first week of October and called Daniel Hood Roofing Systems. I talked personally with him, and he assured me that work would begin within one week of our signing a contract.  

The crew showed up on a Friday and removed the old roof, replaced some plywood, and put down shingles on most of the roof. They cleaned the area and place trash in the dumpster the company provided. Two workers swept the yard with large magnets to find nails that might have fallen in the grass. Daniel dropped by the house to inspect the completed job and thanked Amy and me for our business, I can’t remember the last time a business made me feel that appreciated. The finished product is beautiful, and Daniel standing behind the work of his crews allays worries.  

Spending on a house never seems to end. Repairs are a part of homeownership. The good thing about an otherwise unfortunate situation is discovering local small businesses that provide excellent services to customers. Most folks don’t mind paying a fair price. They do want to feel valued as a customer and confident in the services of the provider. I’m proud to say that Apple’s Heating and Air Conditioning Serivces and Daniel Hood Roofing fulfilled both. Small businesses are the backbone of America, and these companies are sure to be around for years to come.  

By the way, as we left Gallatin, I discovered that the garbage disposal was leaking. I’ll be looking for another “guy” when I go back. It’s always something.  

VOTING TWICE

 As of this writing, more than 40 million Americans have voted in the 2020 presidential election. Even with coronavirus cases hitting nearly 60,000 each day, folks are putting on their masks and heading to the polls. I tried to be safer this year in by voting in a different way, but things didn’t work out so well.  

I filled out the standard absentee request form online. For some reason, electronic signatures aren’t accepted, so the form had to be downloaded, signed, and mailed. At that point, I was still committed to this method of casting my ballot so that I could stay safe and protect my loved ones from possible infections.  

I put the request for a ballot in my mailbox on September 21. Worries arose about the form arriving at the right place because of the shenanigans pulled by the new director of the U.S. Postal Service. For most people, pulling out sorting machines that could handle mail, cutting overtime hours for employees, and making deliverers leave without having pulled all of the day’s mail certainly led to distrust of the post office.  

After a week or so, I anxiously checked the mail each day for my ballot. Each day my disappointment and anxiety grew when it didn’t arrive. By the second week, panic almost set in. On the Thursday before early voting began, I called the election commission. The worker there was polite and helpful. She checked on the status and relayed to my ballot arrived on September 29 and that workers were now working on processing requests from September 27,28, and 29. It took a full week to send a single envelope from northwest Knoxville to downtown Knoxville!  

On October 14th, my brother Jim and I met at the Karns Senior Citizen Center. We’ decided to cast our ballots the regular way. Always the worrier, I suggested we meet no later than 7: 00 a.m. to avoid long lines. My arrival time was 6:40, and Jim drove up a few minutes later. We queued up with others and stood behind just five people.  

No other voting ran more smoothly, at least until I gave my name to the poll worker. She frowned and scanned the computer screen and then announced that I had requested an absentee ballot. I confirmed that but told her I’d done so nearly a month ago. Because I was so concerned about the post office’s possible failure to turned around the ballot in time to count, I decided to vote in person.  

The worker, who told me she was a trainer, made several calls to unanswered phones before getting in touch with her boss. After another couple of calls, she informed me that I would have to fill out a provisional ballot. I assured her that I planned to toss the mailed ballot in the trash if it ever arrived. Part of this new process involved filling out several forms and signing my name more times than I had since college. I thanked the workers for all their help and left to polling place.  

Jim sat in his truck and waited for me to come out. He’d been finished several minutes before and laughed at me when I walked up. He asked if I was going to vote absentee again. The reply is one that can’t be repeated here.  

That afternoon, I retrieved the mail, and yes, just as you've guessed, the absentee ballot was in the stack of envelopes. I shook my head as I deposited the whole thing in the garbage. Voting in person was the best decision considering that I can’t be sure the mail service can get the mail-in one where it goes.  

I’m proud that so many Americans are taking part in this election. Prognosticators say this could be a record turnout. Regardless of which candidate voters choose, they can feel good in knowing that their participation in the process strengthened democracy. Also, those who vote have the right to voice complaints; those who haven’t participated forfeited that right. So, make sure you vote.