Second Tab Syndrome

I’m writing this with five tabs open on my browser and a couple other programs running in my brain. The other week I had a conversation with a student that helped click some information into place about why students are struggling in person in my classroom. “I was watching Hamilton on a second tab during online school last year,” this student confessed to me at the end of my lesson, and when my jaw dropped she was quick to tell me it was only during one class – where the teacher was not particularly engaging in online lessons. In that moment what I realised was that my students are opening second tabs in the classroom because they have unlearned what a classroom environment is.

Full disclosure, when I took notes in grad school on my laptop, I had a couple tabs open and cannot say that I never looked at Facebook during a lecture. It was, however, rare for me not to be focused on the lessons, and I also knew that it was lowering my own engagement. I also knew what would distract from others. A friend of mine was once trying to check the score of a baseball game during our lecture, and her computer wasn’t muted, but she was quick to apologise for the disruption that never happened again. My students are unaware of their own behaviours disengaging not only themselves but their peers from the learning environment. I watch in amazement at what was once blatant disrespect become the norm as students start side conversations, and I have to actually explain that when they talk over me, they miss the content they will be assessed on. Not only that, but one group recently learned that when they don’t all pay attention at the same time, they get less opportunity to ask deeper questions. Several weeks ago, I made a point in class about the biblical description of cherubs, and I had to respond three times to three different students asking if cherubs were in the Bible. By the third time, I made my point about how I wasn’t going to have time to answer other questions because I’d answered the same question three times.

Coining this inability to put all their attention into a learning space “second tab syndrome,” I’ve had lots of conversations with students and peers about how I want to shape better learning spaces and scaffold better listening skills for my students. I really want to be a better teacher, and I want to be a better human being. I see those side by side as I try to educate well but also care for myself as a living, breathing, currently wheelchair-using person.

Friday night I’d felt rather frazzled trying to get through my content with students who kept asking questions about my food allergies instead of taking notes about atonement theories. However, suddenly a comment came up about my diagnosis, and I had their rapt attention as I relayed the details of my nerve damage and how my chronic pain hasn’t kept me from the classroom because I believe I have a calling to teach young people about Christian doctrine and encourage them to know what they believe. This was actually tied to a comment I had about how I try to speak kindly of others – particularly the person who gaslit me after I called out their bad theology when they told me God was punishing me with a disability.

My real life examples are often tied to how Christians have hope of a resurrection where there will be no leg spasms and such, so the comment was not out of the norm for me to make, but the complete attention from the group was. I didn’t have much time to spend reflecting on what made that moment different because I had some errands to run before I changed and headed off to the Staff Celebration Dinner (formerly called Staff Appreciation Dinner or SAD). It’s a night of a lot of feelings. It led to a great conversation with Paige as we debriefed a lot of hurt we want to heal from and how we want to live God honouring lives. I’m particularly grateful for Paige as a friend because as I reached a rare emotional peak in my words about how hard it is to live with a disability sometimes, she reached over to hug me and asked to pray. Her prayer did wonders as we invited the Holy Spirit in to work healing in my hurt and bring good fruit in my struggles. Our picnic bench prayer time was a moment for me to close all the other tabs and be fully present in the moment, and I’m grateful I’ve got people to keep me grounded from thing to thing instead of getting overwhelmed by what is outside of my control.

Often times my counsellor and I talk about how my attitude and response is the significant range of my control – I can’t control what other people say or do. If they are hurtful to me, I am called to respond in love. I’m not always good at it, but I’m growing. I gave another helpful example in class (actually that was the line of conversation that brought the comment that led to rapt attention about my disability) about how I used to regularly insult a particular person who had hurt me, but then I was convicted and actively apologised to the people who heard me make mean comments (and stopped making them). That weird saga connected to me reading all those books on prayer brought two excellent books across my path this week.

It’s a rough segue here, but it all wraps back to the second (and third and fourth) tab running in my brain – one of the books emphasised our need to slow down and be still, be in silence, to listen to God. Then this morning the new visiting locum gave a beautiful message about how we need to slow down and listen. He was wearing a stole that I immediately noticed had cute sheep on each side with the gold embroidered words “Feed my sheep” across the two sides. This mattered because he began his sermon saying he often settles himself into prayer or calms his nerves by repeating slowly and intentionally “The Lord is my shepherd.” He then preached an eloquent message referencing how Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice,” implying that he is speaking. Are we listening? Do we have a second tab open? I confess, since I post my blogs on Sunday afternoons, I frequently hear sermons while my mental second tab is making bullet points for a blog post. Today, I was fully present in that sermon – because I’d had a couple of significant lessons of being fully present this weekend: with Paige at my bench, with my student at his senior recognition, with Molly at the soccer game (who I’d sat next to Friday night when we both looked stunning and completely forgot to get a picture with), with Nigel and Helen in the car this morning to church, and in fact right now as I am on a “work date” with Katrina where we each came prepared to get something done while at Starbucks and can have amazing conversations in the car and in pauses from work.

I don’t know how to eliminate this second tab syndrome from my own brain let alone my students, but I’m finding the value in being fully present in the moment. The other tabs can wait until later.

I’ll get a bit more work done tonight, and then if it’s not pouring rain, I’ll sit at my bench and listen. All other tabs closed.

Since my mom always says I don’t post enough pictures – here’s the only one I managed to take with me all dressed up plus one from the soccer games.

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