I headed to college toting a red Royal portable typewriter. Five years later, I was hired to teach mass media. The school issued me a Sony portapak to teach high school students to shoot black-and-white interviews for public-access TV. With 25 pounds of reel-to-reel strapped over shoulders, they aspired to Walter Cronkite and Jane Pauley greatness.

I had majored in English; thankfully, we got through those years without electrocution.

Reassigned later to English, I gladly worked with students unlocking Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I taught them to write essays making sense. Everything went splendidly until, at Clarke University in the late 1990s, we English faculty were asked to use CAI — computer-assisted instruction.


Suddenly students and I plunged into MOOs, MUDs and Daedalus online chat software. Clarke sent us English faculty to Michigan Tech University where Cynthia Selfe educated us on best practices for teaching via computer. I learned to write HTML code.

Unbelievably, I had to teach college students to point-and-click.

Rather than always being in a computer classroom, students often logged on remotely. I discovered immediately how much vigilance it takes to focus students and ensure accountability virtually.

Initially, some instruction time was lost to messing with technology. Students grew frustrated. I searched out experts and attended conferences to learn ways to better succeed.

Of course, eventually students became savvier. By my last term at Clarke, I’d collaborate with students outlining multimedia literature projects to be launched virtually. But when it came to technology, all I said was “Make it happen.”

Now with hybrid and virtual learning part of our pandemic panacea, I realize how easy I had it as a college professor. As always, Clarke provided workshops and up-to-date technology. Tech staff generously guided us whenever we got stuck. I taught college students who are mature and highly motivated.

Time was on our side.

Because people have behaved badly, COVID-19 has stuck around far longer than predicted last spring when schools closed. So this fall, time is in short supply. And teaching K-12 poses different challenges.

Although Dubuque Community School District administrators have worked wonders to develop good safe solutions for both virtual and in-class instruction, today’s teachers are juggling way more than I ever did. Many are teaching children too young to sit still. Teachers have to tailor expectations knowing how parents stress over balancing work with assisting their children’s at-home learning.

On top of drastic shifts in instruction, K-12 teachers are constantly proctoring space — when passing in hallways, when kids go to restrooms, at recess, during lunch, and in tasks that used to be so simple like passing out papers or pencils.

And they are doing it all behind masks. This week find a way to thank a teacher. And for goodness sake, wear a mask.

Fischer is professor of English emerita at Clarke University. Her essay, “Saving Grace,” appears in “Contours, A Literary Landscape,” available at River Lights Bookstore.