What to do when life gets hectic and your Splash class student enrollment gets doubled in size at the last minute

Author: Grace Jiang

Kate and I sit side by side at the head of a brightly lit, empty classroom, surrounded at all edges by black chalkboards, facing rows of long wooden tables and bright blue plastic chairs. It reminds me of my recitation classrooms. At the tiny, back corner of my mind, thoughts of uncompleted schoolwork begin to emerge, but I push them back. Today, it’ll just Splash that’s on my mind; Splash, just Splash, only Splash. 

I decided to teach for Splash 2021 on a complete whim. 

“Do you want to co-teach my Splash class with me?” my roommate Kate had asked me one day in October. 

“What’s Splash?” I had said (the beginnings of a promising story, I know).

“It’s a program where you can teach anything to high schoolers. But really, I’m just required to have a co-teacher or observer.” 

“I have nothing I can teach. I don’t know anything.”

“Come on, my class will be on biochemistry and genetics. You can just talk about your succulents for ten minutes in the middle of the lecture.” 

Succulents? That sounded nice. I agreed. “Sure, when is this?”

“November 20th-21st.”

That had sounded pretty far away. Splash was pushed to the back of my mind.

Kate and I scroll through our laptops sitting in front of us. The air feels sharp, yet the classroom’s quietness is almost calming. I look at the succulents on the table to my left. They’ll later be part of a succulent show-and-tell interlude to Kate’s lecture. I check the time.

“Should we join the Zoom?” I ask. 

Kate tilts her head down, the beginnings of a nod. Her phone rings. She answers. 

I hear the voice on the other side faintly through the call. “Hey Kate, uh, would you mind 20-30 additional students joining your class?”

It’s less than ten minutes before our class’s scheduled start time. I know what this must be; I’d heard ESP staff discussing it earlier: a teacher of a different, simultaneous class had an emergency and could not make it to the scheduled class. It seems like ESP had been unable to find a replacement teacher in time. The students could possibly have no class to attend. The other class was biology-related, similar enough to our own class I suppose. Kate knows this too. 

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” answers Kate through the phone. 

Kate and I join the Zoom room. The next few minutes are a flurry of action (or virtual action, I guess, as our physical classroom is still looking quite empty). Numbers popping up steadily in the waiting room. Double-checking waiting room names with the names on the roster. Letting students in one by one. Zoom cameras off, unknown faces behind unknown screens. It sucks that we have to teach virtually for Splash again this year, but it’s the way it is, and I can’t really be too disappointed I suppose. 

Suddenly, confusion begins. “Is this ‘A Biologist’s Casebook: World’s Strangest Life Forms’?” types a student in the chat. “I was sent over from ‘A Biologist’s Casebook: World’s Strangest Life Forms.’ What class is this?” 

Kate and I glance over at each other. We explain the situation. New students join the Zoom. We explain the situation again. Some students understand, many more are confused. “What do you mean the class is canceled?” “Why couldn’t the teacher make it?” 

Kate and I explain the situation again. We type it out in the chat: “We are very sorry that ‘A Biologist’s Casebook: World’s Strangest Life Forms’ has been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. This class is called ‘Molecular Biology and Genetics (With Succulent Interlude).’ If you are here from the canceled class, you can instead stay for this class, but also feel free to leave if you do not want to attend this class.” We put this information onto a slide in our Google Slides presentation and screen share it with the Zoom class. 

Slowly but steadily and surely, conflict is resolving. Our scheduled start time arrives. The waiting room activity has died down mostly. 

Time passes much more quickly than it has ever passed when I sit in any of my school lectures. As our scheduled end time reaches our sights, Kate and I realize we have too much content to teach in under two hours. We skip through the content of some slides and speed through the final succulent interlude.

It is 5:55, the end of our class. “We’ll email out the Google Slides so you guys can look through information we may have skipped or merely skimmed through today. We hope you enjoyed our class!”

The chat begins to fill, messages after messages passing by almost too quickly to read. “Bye!” “Thank you!” “See you!” “I learned a lot!” Soon enough, the Zoom meeting is empty, devoid of students. The physical classroom resumes its silence. Kate and I nod at each other, and we close our laptops. 

… 

Two hours sounds like so long, enough time to introduce so much content, to learn so many new things. It’s a shame that, in reality, two hours is so short, that time passes so quickly when doing something you enjoy. A month ago, I wouldn’t have expected this, but I kind of really did enjoy teaching at Splash (even if I only had the minor role of teaching two short succulent interludes). Maybe, next year, I’ll teach my own whole Splash class. Maybe that class will be about succulents. Maybe, I’ll teach for other ESP programs in the future like Spark or HSSP. 

Maybe, one thing’s for sure. Splash was definitely an experience, perhaps an insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things life-changing experience, but a life-changing experience nonetheless. And I’m glad I did it, I’m glad Kate asked me all that time back to co-teach with her, I’m glad I said yes. 

I recommend trying out Splash to anyone who’s the slightest bit interested, whether you want to be a teacher, student, volunteer, or just someone popping in to say hi to the staff and axolotl plushies.

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