When Jonathan Hull, an English teacher at Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School (MCNDHS) and a Fellow of the Academy for Teachers, decided to try his hand at flash fiction for an Academy contest, he drew on his experiences teaching online during the COVID-19 shutdown.
In his short story, Hull speaks in the voices of students offering excuses for lateness, capturing a range of the obstacles his students faced during the pandemic and the school shutdown. Some students logged on from New York, other from different time zones and even different countries. Some didn’t log on much at all. In the story, a student speaks poignantly to the remoteness in remote learning, making the excuse, “This isn’t even real school.” However, despite what Hull calls the “fragmentary weirdness” of that time, so well evoked in his story, “There was a lot of capacity-building. Students did learn. They did form relationships.” He is proud of the progress that MCNDHS students and faculty made even during that time. “But I was very happy when we came back in person in the fall because there’s no substitute for in-person learning.”
This year, Hull has been amazed to see that even when attendance fluctuated because of the virus waves, some students always showed up ready to learn. And new immigrants to this country continue to enroll at MCNDHS and arrive full of aspirations, with excitement for the future. On the day of a big snowstorm in January, Hull discovered that some of his students had never seen snow before. He brought his class to the park across the street from school and organized a snowball fight. The students’ joy was unforgettable. Hull says of this year, “Every day, there are more students who come. Every day, something good happens.”
Acclaimed author Julia Alvarez, who judged the Academy for Teachers contest and selected Hull’s story, “Class Starts at 8. It’s 8:39.”, as a finalist, admired the way it “paints a world of many challenges — indeed after reading the story, I realized that it is a small miracle that our students show up at all.”
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