It took me 15 tries to produce a 46-second video for an audience of sixth-graders.

This, after 14 months of remote teaching.

Educators have had to learn a whole new set of skills this year. Evidently, I have not yet perfected mine.

As a school librarian, I don’t teach classes on a daily basis, so at least I didn’t have to figure out how to simultaneously teach a classroom that is in front of me and individual students who are in their homes. My hat goes off to my colleagues. Just going into their Google Classrooms was an education for me.

As was creating video recordings and slideshows with voiceover.

I’ve been making slide presentations for years, but have had to up my game. With voiceover, someone else can show my lesson. This flexibility is needed because we’re dealing with a hybrid model, which doubles the number of classes. Each class is divided into two cohorts. For example, in February 2020 it took me four days to present a lesson to all of the middle school social studies classes. This year, it would take eight.

Usually, at this time of year, I visit the elementary schools in the district to meet with sixth-graders for a transition-to-middle-school presentation.

In elementary school, in normal times, students visit the library weekly with their classes. That’s not the case in the middle school, so I thought an overview of what to expect would be helpful.

I have a slideshow with music that I update annually. Because it wasn’t feasible to visit the elementary schools in person this year, I created an introductory video, and a new slideshow that the library technicians in each school could show to their classes.

The pandemic was another reason I felt I needed to develop a new slideshow. Although the middle/high school library is open to students, nowadays they just come in to get books or laptops and then leave. I didn’t have any recent photos of students studying together, browsing for books or working on jigsaw puzzles in a small group. None of that happened this year. I don’t know if it will happen in the next school year.

Photos of bookshelves would have to do.

I set to work. My first mistake was thinking I could ad-lib for 46 seconds on video. Turns out that while I can go on for an hour in person, I can only last about 15 seconds when I’m recording myself. I quickly break down and forget what I want to say, overuse “um” or look at myself to make sure I’m not squinting.

Ah, I needed to write down what I wanted to say. A script! Now, where to put it? Not on the side of my laptop because then I’d be looking at it sideways, instead of at the camera. How about above the laptop screen? That pointed my eyes in the right direction, but I couldn’t keep the paper from flopping over. I finally figured out I could prop the sheet on my screen.

Now I was able to get my message out reasonably well. After nine tries I did have my spiel pretty well-memorized. Unfortunately, I kept raising my whole head to look at the camera, instead of just my eyes. This was not a good look. And I seemed to have difficulty pronouncing the word “sixth.”

So I did a little face-making routine, like I’ve seen actors do in preparation for a performance, to loosen up the facial muscles.

I should mention here that I was in my office with the door closed, but there are tall glass windows that look out into the library. Luckily, my colleagues were facing away from me. Most of the time.

Chin down. Eyes up. Don’t rotate in the swivel chair. Sit up straight. No ums. Sixth!

Most of all: Smile.

Six more tries later, I had an acceptable recording. I had already created a slideshow in the Canva app. Now I recorded a voiceover for the slideshow. This went smoothly for two reasons: The slides guided me as I spoke and I was just a small face at the bottom of the screen, so I didn’t have to worry about slumping, smiling or swiveling.

Alas, the voiceover function in Canva — which is otherwise an amazing app — is in the beta stage, meaning imperfect. I could do the voiceover, but then had to download it to hear it. If I didn’t like it, I had to go back into the app and redo it. Luckily, it was only five minutes long and it only took me four takes.

Now it was time to go home. I had my product. It was good enough. I sighed. The last presentations I had done live were for the middle school community read. The next “canned” slideshow, which I’d start the next day, was for the next middle school community read.

As the French say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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