I’ve been working for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) as a contract instructor since September 2019. It’s on an as-needed basis for one or more of their three one-week training sessions a year. I am part of a team that provides updated proficiency training for employees of VFW.
The first year I taught at their National training facility in Annapolis, Maryland, it was in person. In 2020, they said they wanted me to teach again, but it would be via Zoom. My first thought was Omigosh NO! I can’t teach on a computer. I have never done that before. It would be like being on TV and I’m not prepared for that. And how would I do it? And how would I teach myself how to do it when I’m isolating at home?
Then, naturally, I realized that every single teacher across the entire globe was confronted with similar challenges. They don’t get a choice and I do. I could be a scaredy-cat and say no, or I could step up and be the brave woman I know I am. So I embraced my inner warrior and said yes.
I taught via Zoom in 2020 and early 2021. Then VFW asked me if I could cover in September for an instructor who was unable to come. This time, it would be in person once more, in Annapolis. I said yes.
Funny how it was a hard decision to switch to computer, but then it was a hard decision to switch back.
I’m still not comfortable being in groups, and I know the layout of the facility. I knew we would be crammed together into basement conference rooms each day. It’s a National organization, so the odds were good that I would be with unvaccinated and unmasked people. It’s a little easier for me to take risks, since I am in good health and live alone. If I contract the virus, I can easily avoid infecting others if I stay home. Still, I worried.
I had a week after visiting Italy and Slovenia to readjust my circadian clock to Oregon time, then off I went to Annapolis, three hours difference on the clock, to disrupt my sleep again.
When I checked into the hotel, the man behind the desk notified me that at that time in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, no masks were required in public buildings. Monday morning I saw the crowded classrooms and got COVID nervous. I put my mask on right away.
In my first classroom, ten minutes before class started, I tried to chat with students and they were having a hard time hearing me with the mask on. I also felt like I couldn’t make myself clear without facial expressions. I took the chance and removed my mask and taught all week with no mask on. Whenever I wasn’t teaching, I kept my mask on. Less than half of the students wore masks, and all of the hotel staff and VFW staff wore masks.
I taught all week with no mask on.
Wednesday there were no classes in favour of a Health Panel, and in the afternoon we toured the nearby U.S. Naval Academy. I had toured it on my own before, but this time we would have a tour guide.
Our guide, Jim, was excited to have a whole group of veterans and people who serve veterans. He was excited to talk with anyone about military stuff, and found many opportunities to shift the conversation to how great the Navy is, how great the Naval Academy is, and how especially great his Alumni group: Class of 1965 is. It was fun to see he never wavered in his promotional efforts. He is perfect in his roles as President of the Class, and as a tour guide.
It turns out that when you are a group of twenty undisciplined adults, touring a campus at the same time as two other groups of twenty undisciplined adults (there were a lot of us!), you move slowly. Our group did not have time to see all the stuff I had seen in previous visits to the Academy. However, having a tour guide did provide a little extra information.
*My caption became so long that I decided to turn it into a paragraph instead. This is a bronze sculpture modeled after the figurehead of the USS Delaware. His pedestal says “DELAWARE,” and people who know about the Delaware Tribe get confused about who he is. My original assumption was that this was a Chief Delaware or something. But even more confusing is that 19th century midshipmen of the Naval Academy did not like Tamanend’s peaceful nature (he is known for seeking peace, and signed a treaty with William Penn to give up his lands and create the state of Pennsylvania), so they renamed the statue Tecumseh, after the Shawnee Chief who encouraged tribes to unite and fight against colonization. Since the midshipmen were inventing a persona for the bust, the choice of Tecumseh is curious. The indigenous man not only opposed invading Americans (supported by the American Navy), but eventually allied with the British against the US in the War of 1812.
I learned that the students here, called midshipmen, are not allowed to enter the dormitories through the main entrance, but only through the side doors. They are told they must earn the right to enter through the front door, by graduating. As guests, we were allowed to walk right up the front steps and enter Bankcroft Hall, an enormous and stunning dormitory. You can see the front entrance behind our tour guide Jim, in the photo of him in a yellow shirt, above.
I had forgotten all about the new copper roof on the Naval Academy Chapel, but luckily we were there in time to see it coloured like a penny and not green yet. On my last visit here, the dome was bright green and covered in scaffolding, getting ready for repairs. The new copper has already darkened and will eventually turn the bright green patina once more.
I learned from our guide that the stained glass lining the walls of the Naval Academy Chapel are all scenes from the Bible that mention ships, or the sea. There is even a model of a ship at the back of the church.
My week of classes went well and it really was a treat to be back with all of them again. Since this training is required annually, I do get to see the same faces and I’m starting to learn them, even with an 18-month period of Zoom teaching. Many of them remember me, and they are encouraging and supportive. My topic this time was recent precedent-setting court cases in the Department of Veterans Affairs that will have an effect on some of the claims from the veterans they are working with. I was expecting them to want to sleep through my classes, but instead they were genuinely engaged and kept up with the complicated legal intricacies of our judicial system.
About a week after I got home, there was a mass emailing that one of the students had tested positive for COVID-19 using a rapid test. Three days later there was another email that said the student had subsequently taken a PCR test (the more accurate one), and was actually negative for COVID-19. As far as I know, no one in the whole training session had or contracted COVID while there. I can’t explain why no one got COVID, except that some people wore masks diligently – maybe they were the ones most at risk. And maybe a lot of us are vaccinated. I think there was a measure of luck involved too.
I return the week of November 15-19 to do the same thing once more for a new group of students.