Teaching Today

Beyond COVID-Style Teaching

Teaching face-to-face classes wasn't the most difficult part of this past semester, writes Christine I. McClure, but rather balancing that with everything else.

December 9, 2020
 
 
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Thanksgiving has passed, and finals, which are fully online since students went home for the break, are about to begin. I am pleasantly surprised that my institution, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, made it through the semester without having to go fully online until now. I credit my university for putting logical policies in place and our students for following those policies.

Despite the precautions, the semester has been extremely difficult -- just plain hard, and I am tired. I know many of you are tired, as well.

In fact, I posted a very short question on the Pandemic Pedagogy Facebook group: “Anyone else drowning in student work and module development? Asking for a friend.” Of course, the friend was me, but I needed to know if I was as alone as I felt. I wasn’t. And I’m not. So far, 1,048 people have liked or otherwise posted emojis on my post, and 250 have posted comments echoing my feelings.

This past semester, I have taught five classes total -- three fully online asynchronous and two hybrid, with one face-to-face class meeting each week. I was not as fearful as I was during the summer session since I had learned so much during that teaching experience, but fall brought new challenges, including more students on the campus and in my face-to-face class meetings. I went from fewer than 15 students in each class to 24, which made me nervous.

As with summer, I wore my mask and my face shield, got to class early to get the paper towels and sanitizer spray ready, and passed out doused paper towels to each student as they arrived to wipe down their work area. Each available seating area was marked with green tape, so students knew where they could sit, and they wore their masks at all times. They were more nervous than I was, as it was their first time back in class since we left on spring break back in March, but they were happy to be back in the classroom.

On the first day of class, I used Poll Everywhere to ask them questions about how they were feeling and so we could discuss the rules and policies that the university had outlined. My face-to-face sessions were spent elaborating on content that I developed for fully online implementation since I needed all of it to be accessible for quarantined or remote students, and the face-to-face sessions passed without incident.

Interestingly, the actual face-to-face classes were not the most difficult part of the semester.

In fact, I have found that balance has been my biggest issue. How do I balance COVID fatigue, students’ needs, course and university goals and expectations, kids, doctoral commitments, and my own mental and physical health? In the last year, I have taught 12 communication courses with 266 students, written and designed 28 new fully online modules, recorded more than 30 videos, developed hundreds of quiz questions, passed three competency exams for my doctoral program, written and defended my prospectus for my dissertation, kept my four children alive, and not gotten COVID.

I am winning, but I’m struggling. I feel as if I am constantly treading water and am about to go under. Why? I feel the need to give 100 percent equally to my own children, my students and my studies. I’m no math major, but doesn’t that equal 300 percent? Isn’t that impossible? That also doesn’t leave anything left for me. Me. I have always been hyperfocused and organized, but somehow this year has turned me into some kind of automaton that works, works, works, with no thought of me.

Last week, my oldest daughter wanted help putting up wall hangings in her room, and I got out the ladder, drill, hammer and so forth, and I helped her. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that I had work to do. More work to do. I felt guilty for helping my daughter when I felt like I should have been grading. What? I felt like I couldn’t stand there putting things on the wall when I need to give my students feedback on assignments.

When did this happen? When did this shift in my priorities happen? Is this because of COVID? I don’t know. I am mostly isolated in my house, leaving only to teach on the campus and go to the grocery store, which leaves me on my computer for hours on end: grading, emailing, Zooming.

I feel like I’m complaining. I don’t mean to do that. This is a reality, and I am sure one that the majority of you are facing. How do we cope? How do we find balance to make sure we don’t drown in student work and module development? How do we push our students out of our minds to spend time with our families without feeling guilty? How do we keep safe in our bubbles with the insanity of our current COVID situation spiraling out of control?

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution in my life, but I think I will make several this year for the spring semester. I resolve to:

  • Stop answering student emails after 5 p.m. every day. I was going to say not answer emails on weekends, but let’s be real. I’ll never stop that.
  • Get off my laptop completely after 5 p.m. and not grade in the evenings. I have this separate from No. 1 because I often answer emails on my phone even late at night, but I grade on my laptop.
  • Stop feeling guilty for spending time with my kids. They need me more than my students do. Why do I so easily forget this?
  • Send video announcements to my students along with due date reminders but not take responsibility for their inaction when they don’t submit their work.
  • Be as flexible and kind to myself as I am with my struggling students.
  • Remember that just because I have access to students via technology -- and they have access to me -- it is OK to say no. (No, I don’t Zoom on the weekend, but I would be happy to schedule a meeting with you for Monday morning. No, I can’t answer all of your emailed questions right now because I need to make dinner. No.)
  • Give myself more days to grade and send feedback. This past semester, I have embedded comments directly into all of their work within Canvas, posted grades and sent comments within four days of submission. What kind of insanity is that? It’s OK not to grade everything immediately, and sometimes I wonder if they even read my feedback anyway.
  • Be clearer in realistic communication and grading policies in my syllabus and follow those policies myself. I have a problem doing that -- always to the benefit of my students but never to myself.

As with my summer teaching experience, I’ve learned a lot about the practice of teaching COVID-style this fall, but it all goes beyond the actual in-class teaching and on-campus safety. The main problem, I now realize, is me and how I cope with teaching during COVID. As I said in a previous Inside Higher Ed article, teaching is who I am, but I can’t let that be all I am or all I do. I am more than teaching. And so are you.

Bio

Christine I. McClure is an instructor in the humanities and communication department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a doctoral candidate in texts and technology with an area of specialization in scientific and technical communication at the University of Central Florida.

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