Our  Perspectives from the “Classroom”  series will be shared every Wednesday bringing you a reflective piece from one of our St. Paul faculty members.

Dr. Jonathan Gnoza grew up in Staten Island, NY and moved to Connecticut in order to attend graduate school at Yale. While working on his doctorate in Classics (Latin and Greek) and Renaissance Studies he began to teach at St. Paul, where he is currently completing his tenth year of teaching courses including Latin, history, and philosophy. He has also taught waltz, chess, and archery as opportunities have arisen. As a very introverted homebody he does not really mind the current phenomenon of staying in his house as much as possible—it’s what he would be doing anyway—but he does look forward to the glorious day when “stay home” gives way to St. Paul’s “welcome home!”

We’re pleased to bring you Dr. Gnoza's reflection on his teaching in the “classroom” of unchartered distance learning at St. Paul.
Dr. Jonathan Gnoza
Perspectives from the “Classroom”

What have I learned from conducting classes online? Well, LED strip lights are currently a popular decoration for teenagers’ bedrooms!

That is, of course, not the only thing that I have learned.

Discussing my online teaching with me in an email, a parent of a student remarked, “distance learning is not anything you learned in college.” True! I sometimes tell my students that one of the most important skills which a person can have, especially in the workplace but anywhere really, is the ability to teach oneself new things; for the further one advances, the fewer will be the people who have gone so far as to be able to show the way, and great advances require doing things that nobody has done before, which necessarily means doing them without being shown how. To me teaching online presents an exciting opportunity to get some more exercise in teaching myself things that I did not learn in the course of my schooling.

That includes learning the relevant technology. Two months ago I had never heard of Zoom. The program confronted me with something completely unknown. Fortunately I did not have to learn it on my own. The St. Paul faculty, staff, and administrative team thoroughly support each other, and so we helped each other to learn Zoom just like anything else on which we have collaborated. Yet training does not amount to experience. Running Zoom for a group of students required some time of figuring and tinkering, as does all learning. While I was getting the hang of running Zoom, the students demonstrated laudable patience, which I greatly appreciate. They helped create an environment in which online learning can flourish.

Online learning also presented me with the challenge of figuring out how I could do my lessons and assessments in a new format. I found that I could transfer many of my practices and routines from the physical classroom to the virtual one, but I also had to adjust some things. In all honesty, that process of sifting and adapting goes on still. Yet, as Denise Odell, then chair of the World Languages Department, reminded me when I first started working at St. Paul, Rome was not built in a day. Here again I have to express my gratitude to the students for bearing with me and all their teachers while we build the virtual Rome.

The classroom, however, does not constitute the whole of the students’ experience
at St. Paul, and my personal goal of trying to preserve as much normality as possible in these abnormal times also includes the students’ extracurricular experience. Whereas the current circumstances make impossible many of the activities that students would be doing or planning this time of year, one thing that I have been able to keep going is the chess club. Actually I find it very interesting how something as ancient as chess has the potential for adaptability to modern technology, i.e. chess.com, which enables dedicated students to play on.

Adapting to new circumstances presents challenges, but this particular situation also has its exciting aspects. One of my students has returned to Korea and currently attends her online lessons thence, which means that I am being broadcast around the world. Now, how amazing is that?