My daughter recently sent me a photo that she had taken on her college campus. The image shows a big expanse of space with lots and lots of students in it. What was the most striking feature in the shot? Everyone is on their phone. Beneath the photo she wrote; “The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us.”
This so heart-breakingly exemplifies my experience of late teaching at the college level. For the very first time in over a decade, I am beginning to wonder how long I will continue teaching. I am questioning what I do not because I am burnt out, or out of passion for what I teach, or lacking in creative ideas for lesson plans. I am not considering life out of academia because I am retiring, or because I am wanting to do something else. It is purely because I do not know how much longer I can teach to students who are so rarely in a position to learn. Based on recent conversations with other teachers at both the college and secondary level, I am not alone.
Regularly, students come to class exhausted, sick and hungry. Regularly, students show up expecting the information to be predigested and then down-loaded to them. Add to this the technologies. Right up to the moment that they step into class, they are on their phones. And then, it is the first thing they go to when class lets out. Many have told me that even when it is not with them in the room (as it cannot be in the class I teach) it is what they are thinking about nonetheless. Recently a student told me that she cannot wait to get out of class to rush back to her apartment so that she can be freely on her phone without interruption. She has noticed how much she is just dying to get back to catch up on what has happened, on what she has missed for the last hour or two; only to be left too often with an empty feeling and a wondering about why it is that she is doing this.
I am watching myself very, very closely now. I am asking myself to be aware of when it is that I am the hardest working person in the room. I am also watching them very, very closely to see if I can discern when it is that they cross over into some place where there is no coming back from. A place where the human call can no longer reach them. A place where they officially have become zombies, interested only in the call of their master; the screen.