On not teaching in a pandemic…

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A new essay last went up on our site April 1, 2021.

It does not escape us that the post went up on April Fools Day. 

Not that it means anything. 

I encourage you to read the post, one of the most popular of the year. Kristin Lacey covers how we might adapt community building practices developed for online teaching and use them in person. You can feel optimism in the essay. Think of the time it appeared. Vaccines were rolling out. Vaccine access was slowly expanding. A real normal felt possible.

Then Delta came along.  

Many of you resumed teaching in-person for Fall 2020. Others are teaching in-person this year. A tension exists between the two groups. I see the fights and callouts on Twitter. I wish that wasn’t the case. Our institutions failed people last year. The institutions failed heading into this semester as they acted under threat– financial or from their state governments. Many of us, judging by social media posts, are already struggling with the start of a new semester. Again: We can’t ignore the feeling that many of our institutions failed us. 

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I am not starting a new semester. I last entered the physical classroom in March 2020, maybe late February. It was prior to spring break. After that, like many of you, I taught remotely. I actually co-taught. The classes didn’t spring from my brain. I served as an embedded writing instructor. The last time I walked out of a classroom of my own occurred in the spring of 2019. I discussed that moment in a post I wrote last October. A post about learning to read again.

In case you were wondering: yes, I managed reading a lot since then. Various topics. Shocking and surprising. Beautiful and illuminating. Regardless, I managed to read. And enjoy it.

2020 marked one of our most prolific years in terms of site visits and readership. It was the most prolific year in other ways, too. In 2020 we actually produced more content than usual, largely due to several posts in the month of March. That summer also saw an influx of several guest contributors. They provided some of our most popular content of the year.

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Myself? I wrote several pieces over the past 18 months. I covered various topics. My last essay appeared in March 2021. Many of my essays the past year didn’t connect directly to teaching. Do I have thoughts about teaching? Sure, but they feel distant. Like a mirage. I helped someone with some of their school work over the summer. It reminded me that I enjoyed teaching. That I was good at it. That I was trained to do it… And to do it well. Late in the summer I applied for a few positions. Cobbling together previously existing applications. I’d love returning to the classroom. I didn’t have the wherewithal to create outstanding applications. Many of us don’t have the energy or the brain power for creating anything remotely outstanding.

The totality of the previous 18 months ground us down. For many reasons. It still grinds. There’s no telling how we will carry the experiences going forward. How this time might manifest in the future. But I can’t escape the feeling that the effects will be profound. Personally. Professionally. The way we think about our institutions. 

Today, I write for the sake of writing. A chance to say something. A conglomeration of thoughts and ideas. 

We produced a lot of content over the past year, much of it in the context of teaching during the pandemic. Living during the pandemic.

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What we published didn’t provide insight on the experience of not teaching. My hosts of posts capture what you write about when not teaching. Caitlin Kelly’s essay captures how some forms of academic work take us in directions away from teaching. Perhaps what I write here might provide a sense of what it is like. Standing outside of everyone’s experiences.

At some point I can only empathize. I have ideas and solutions for the problems many of you face in the classroom, but they aren’t tested. Not tested like the ideas many of you developed over the past year.  My experience of pandemic teaching exists as a snapshot, the emergency response to a crisis in the spring of 2020. It doesn’t compare to one academic year since then. 

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The world feels like a mess. For many reasons. Large and small. Many of us strain within our most immediate networks. Forced to go on like everything we experience is normal. Yet, we know nothing is normal right now. Every post on social media seems to bear that up.

I leave you with a few ideas I’d implement if I were teaching this semester:

  1. Scrap your attendance policy. Some of you can’t do that, but you can find ways of limiting draconian institutional policies. Get creative.
  2. Forget about late work. Find a system that works for both you and your students.
  3. Be kind. That one isn’t hard. 
  4. Trust your students. That aren’t your enemy.  
  5. Give yourself and your students space to be human and real. 
  6. Grade kindly. Try implementing elements of ungrading in your assignments.

I’m sure I can come up with other ideas. Just ask.

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