Friday, March 13th, 2020. That was the last day of in-person classes this semester.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2020. That’s (for now) the first day of classes for the upcoming Fall semester.
Yes, that’s almost six months (!) without classes in the traditional sense. Now don’t get me wrong, every decision being made is for the greater good and I’m absolutely on board with doing my part to slow down the spread of this pandemic while we wait for more testing and medical advances. With that being said, this hurts. Every single person is affected by all of this in one way or another. It’s about all of us and I simply want to share my feelings to add an example of the myriad of ways that we are impacted and to hopefully shed light on what others might be experiencing.
Here’s the thing: Teaching saved my life. It gave me a purpose, a platform, a passion, and a voice that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. No matter what stages or levels of anxiety and depression I’ve experienced in the past decade, teaching has been something that I’ve always looked forward to. The classroom is my home. It’s where I feel most confident, empowered, valued, proud, and happy.
And now that place with those feelings and all of the incredible people has been taken away for the next 6-7 weeks. Yes, teaching will attempt to continue in a digital space (more on that shortly), but the teaching that I know is gone. It would be gone for four months during the summer anyway and my past experience knows that this is a problem. Even outside of a pandemic, my day-to-day life is one that isn’t too far off from a self-quarantine (feel free to insert the “finally all of your preparation pays off!” joke) and during the semester this is perfectly fine – occupied by teaching prep, take care of my apartment and body (questionable), and have the classroom to look forward to most days. It’s the between semester breaks where I sometimes find myself too isolated and where depression wants to challenge me to a battle. Some days I win, and some days it wins and I’m left with negative motivation to even leave the couch.
So naturally I’m worried that adding two more months to the already long summer break might have a negative impact on my mental health. Although the move to online classes for the remainder of the semester wasn’t made official until this week, as things progressed last week most of us knew that this was inevitable and there was an aspect of finality to classes. I have an incredibly special Calc 2 class this semester that feels like a family of sorts. The absolute last thing I was going to do in class last Friday was teach calculus. We spent the time and space with each other practicing Tik Tok dances (it’s what college kids do) and then I shared some thoughts similar to what you’re reading here. And naturally I cried. In a “I’m acknowledging the value that all of you incredible people have” sort of way. And to have that feeling reciprocated throughout the room meant everything and it’s exactly why I feel that value and confidence in that space.
Now what? It’s my responsibility to do the best job I can at delivering the remaining content online for my two classes over the rest of the semester. All of the different thoughts and resources shared by faculty all over the country this week have led me to what I believe is a reasonable approach which is to create (short) videos introducing content and explaining key concepts for students to watch on their own time and then use videoconferencing (live and recorded) to practice examples and be able to answer questions. For many of us, this is our first experience with online classes and a week of transition time certainly isn’t enough to figure everything out, but all teaching requires flexibility and ability to adapt in different ways.
I can’t stress how important that flexibility and ability to adapt is in this current situation. It puts academics in its place and to expect all of the same things from students that you normally would is simply inhumane. We’re people first and I shared my feelings as honestly a mild example of how we are impacted. When you build connections you realize there are so many students whose lives are completely different away from a campus community. Additional demands and pressures on their space and time, environments that may not be conducive to work or focus, taking away social groups and activities such as clubs and sports, limited access to resources, the list goes on.
So please, whether you are in academics or not, act with kindness. Act in equity. Act with empathy. Act in love. Certainly good habits to have in general, and if it takes a pandemic to remind us of them then so be it. #SpreadLoveAlways