Teaching During a Pandemic

Well, my husband and I both lost the bet of when we thought they’d finally move my face to face teaching online. When did they finally call it, you ask? Never. I finished my last day this week. If you missed my initial thoughts from the beginning of school, you can check out that post here.

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I honestly thought that by the time school actually started, the powers that be would’ve decided that not going completely virtual was a terrible idea. My school even had a first-page feature in The Chronicle of Education criticizing the decisions to continue with the face to face plans, knowing the community was incredibly at-risk and did/does not have COVID under control. But money rules all.

So on Wednesday, August 5, I packed my bags and my mask and headed to school where I stepped in a classroom for the first time since the end of February/beginning of March (at this point, I don’t even remember). I almost hyperventilated as I walked into the building. I rarely left my house before this and was completely unprepared to walk into a classroom even halfway full of people. 

Face Shield | Beauty and the Beast Face Mask | Ruffle Dress

I know a lot of schools had different approaches to reopening, so here’s an explanation for how our school worked. People (still unsure on who these people actually were) went into the classrooms to measure for social distancing and took out desks and set caps on the number of students that would fit in each room (although I have pictures that show desks were not 6 feet apart). All of my courses were over the caps, so I had to do a hybrid option – the class was divided into two groups, A and B. On Mondays (or Tuesdays, depending on the schedule), group A attended in-person while B attended via WebEx. Wednesday (or Thursday), Group B attended in-person while A attended via WebEx. On Fridays both groups met on WebEx.

Sounds easy enough, right? Especially when you’ve received clear, step-by-step instructions and have a list with last names showing who attends when that you can access whenever you need clarification. Wrong.

It felt like I spent 20 hours of each day in the first month responding to emails from people who could not grasp the hybrid concept. I get that it’s different, but it’s not hard. However, it would’ve been incredibly helpful if our administration had devised a university-wide hybrid plan so that we were all on the same page. So that was a mess.

And I’m sure you can guess that by the time the semester was winding down, most people were actually just using the WebEx “option” (it was not technically an option to only show up virtually, but honestly I was like, the fewer students in my room, the less likely I am to get COVID). But it’s also incredibly annoying because most people aren’t paying attention when they’re WebExing in. I always got a good laugh when class was over and people were still logged on and clearly not actually “there.”

I didn’t require cameras or microphones to be on since that can lead to equity issues. Some people are embarrassed of their setting, so I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But it’s really lonely and soul-crushing when no one is engaging or responding to questions and discussion.

And now masks. Students were required to wear masks and it was written into their Student Code of Conduct – they couldn’t come in without masks and if they refused to wear one (and wear it properly), I had the right to walk out. Luckily no one fought me on the masks, but I did have to remind a lot of people to put it on or pull it over their nose.

Ruffle Dress | Beauty and the Beast Face Mask | Leopard Backpack | Beaded Bracelet | Necklace

I did hear from some other female colleagues that they had some pushback from rude students; one even said she was called a “b*tch” for asking a student to follow the rules. I saw students in the hallways sitting without masks on, and of course lots of groups walk outside together maskless. It’s truly been exhausting.

Except for last semester, I’ve never been happier for the end of a semester. We didn’t get fall break, and we won’t be getting a spring break next semester because administration doesn’t want students bringing COVID back to campus, which I understand, but also am worried about because mental health breaks are so important for students AND professors.

Once grades are in, I’m not checking my email or even thinking about next semester for a good while. I do know, however, that I’m not using WebEx next semester and will just teach the same thing twice a week with a bigger focus on a flipped classroom, even if it means I have to spend more time creating recorded lectures. A lot of people are organized and motivated enough to keep up with a virtual class, but many of our students aren’t and, unfortunately, don’t have the access to technology that this requires.

Are you a teacher, or do you have a teacher in your life? How has teaching been going for you or for your loved one? Let me know in the comments section, and good luck to everyone who is trying to finish up their semester! You can do it!

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