Teaching online lessons doesn’t require smart dress, the students only see my head and shoulders at the bottom corner of the screen, but, perhaps for personal morale more than anything else, I have continued to wear a jacket, trousers, shirt, tie, and tidy shoes. I don’t suppose it matters what I wear on my feet, but if the rest looks tidy, then the shoes might as well match.
This evening was a time to be dressed smartly, our Year 9 parents’ evening was scheduled. Real parents’ evenings used to mean having thirty-six five minute slots in three hours. It meant sitting at a table with three chairs on the other side, one for the student and two for their parents or family members. It meant having a pile of thirty-six books beside the table, so as to be able to show parents the progress (or lack of it) being made by their offspring.
Then Covid came along, and everything changed. The parents’ evenings were to be hosted on a platform called School Cloud. The evenings were shortened by half an hour and two ten minute breaks were put into the two and a half. There would no longer be an opportunity to stand to greet people as they arrived and to stand to bid them “goodbye” at the end of the conversation, no longer an opportunity to meet face to face, no longer non-verbal cues to provide clues as to how people might feel. Instead, they would appear online through their own webcams and conversations would be the subject to vagaries of Wifi connections.
I have always put on a suit for parents’ evenings, it seems courteous to those who have taken time to attend. So I put on a dark suit, pale blue shirt, red tie and polished my black shoes. On the webcam, it would appear that I had taken seriously the meetings with the parents.
I set out the twenty-six students’ books, set my schedule on my desk and at four o’clock clicked on the symbol to meet with the first parent and her son.
Two and a half minutes later, the connection was lost. Refreshing the page brought a notice that there had been a distributed denial of service attack, someone had bombarded School Cloud’s server with so many demands that it had crashed. There the evening ended.
Schools across the country had a similar experience. countless teachers and perhaps fifty times as many parents discovered that there would be no meetings.
Sitting in my suit, I felt like someone dressed for a party to which no-one had come.
The evening convinced me that there is nothing like meeting actual people in a real place.