Air advisor shares first virtual teaching experience

  • Published
  • By TSgt Samantha Miller
  • 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron

Air advisors with the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron provided training for the first time using a virtual medium to members of the National Aeronaval Service of Panama, also known as SENAN, Aug. 31 through Sept. 11.

I am one of those air advisors. Typically my job involves me going on missions to other countries, but COVID-19 has complicated that a little.

This is a glimpse into my perspective of the official story.

After hundreds of hours of planning, it's finally here. The camera is on, and the Zoom room shows a dozen faces of people I don't know. We've been here since 5:30 a.m., but I have been awake since 4 o’clock.

The morning routine, which seemed like a real home circus, went well, despite my children's best efforts. If it were up to them, they would stay home all day in jammies, eating sugar and watching TV. Instead, here we are at work. Beside me, my daughter Kinley is on her small laptop with headphones on. Her 3rd-grade class starts tomorrow, and she is getting familiar with the equipment and setup. It’s funny seeing her doing the same stuff I have been working on.

It's showtime.

My interpreter is sitting to my left, hoping that I say sentences with words that aren't too complicated to translate.

Two facilitators are directly in front of me, behind the audiovisual setup. They are also wearing headphones and are staring intently at their screens. They are making sure everyone follows the rules and uses proper etiquette in our “Zoom classroom.”

I have visitors today too. Many people from across the wing are curious about this new virtual training engagement.

Comm checks—complete. Time to introduce ourselves.

 I want to show my students my relatable and human side.  

I would love to introduce Kinley to my class, but it would take me another two days and $10 in bribes to get her to even say “hi” to my students.

It's hard to talk to the camera when my class is just a jumble of disembodied voices coming from strategically placed TV speakers around me. Nobody in the room is looking at me in person, but everyone is looking at me on the screen. I imagine this is what it would be like to be an actor on TV -- knowing they are there, speaking to them, and waiting for a reply that may or may not come.

I hope my students don't see me stressing out. It helps me relax knowing my team will do everything they can to make this a success. My team helps where they can, even when it's not required. For example, they helped Kinley log into her class when I was in a meeting and brought her markers for her coloring books.

Let's be clear here, working with my daughter next to me was never the plan. That is, not until COVID-19 happened. After COVID, it seemed like anything was possible, and yet nothing was. A year ago, the idea of homeschooling from work would not have seemed possible. Not because my work was unwilling, but because my plans were just different. Now, in-person schooling is no longer an option and I have to play with the hand I am dealt.

I can do this.

After the first few minutes of listening to the students introduce themselves I relax into a groove. Kinley is nibbling on the snacks that I've packed her and is sitting contentedly next to me. The only issue now is that things have gone so well, that we fly through everything we had planned. We were supposed to have two whole weeks dedicated to practicing and perfecting this engagement, but we only got half that time. Our team scattered to the winds when surging wildfires in our area forced evacuations. We were not able to practice, let alone meet on base for those days. Even with those setbacks, here we are, and things are going smoothly, so smoothly that I ran out of information around lunchtime.

During lunch, I pulled out another lesson. The lesson on Command and Control Structure was a great idea when I was creating it, and now it's time for it to shine. The team is good with this plan, and we get to work. The team is always there, thinking of activities, pulling up polls, and showing videos. They make me look good and I love them for it. After the students get back from lunch, I teach the lesson, and it seems to go smoothly. Nothing extraordinary, but smooth.

Then my daughter passed gas!

I try to stifle my laughter but can feel my face getting red from embarrassment. I hear giggles from the others in the room as I try to rebound, praying that the students didn't hear it. Or worse, think that I was the culprit! If they did, nobody said anything to me about it. I joked with my daughter about it, and later, we picked up my son from daycare and went home thinking the day was successful, and it was.

The story doesn't end there. Not for a mom. I had to write exam questions that night while parenting my two children. There's always dishes and the real “Never-ending Story” that is laundry. There are tasks to do, such as packing lunches, giving the kids showers, cleaning the house, and watering the plants. Some days I get started only to look up and realize it's already 10 p.m.. Finally, at this twilight hour, I look back on the day and feel exhausted but accomplished. It’s tough and it’s hard, but it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because I see my students from a partner nation and have learned that there is happiness in teaching and caring for others. I’m just lucky enough to be able to do it in the Air Force.