Regrets, I have a few…

Tiles that spell out "Regret"I read Facebook and Twitter and hear the exhaustion, sorrow, and sadness of so many of my friends whose lives have changed so drastically, due to the coronavirus. Some were experts at online pedagogy and are thriving—at least in their teaching—at this time. Others are struggling with transitioning laboratory classes to an online environment. Many are juggling life as an online teacher with being parent-teacher—online and in person—to their own children as well. As a non-parent, I read those posts and admire each of them for multitasking so diligently. I realize that how one did yesterday does not mean how today is going.

I’ve had lots of regrets. Did I retire “too soon,” given this pandemic? Could I be useful now, teaching a large online class of students in these tense times? Could my senior capstone course help advisees and majors about to graduate think smartly about how to find jobs in this weak job market? Should I have gone into public health instead of sociology (has long been an interest of mine; about 5 years into my teaching career, I had an opportunity to enroll in a MPH program and really had to think hard about it)? [I’m thinking of seeing if my local public health department needs contact tracing volunteers.]

"I wish life had a rewind button"My guess is many of us have similar thoughts—should I have done . . . ? But rethinking choices can be difficult in times like these. Be kind to yourself. Realize that during times of stress it’s easy to wish for a different present, just in case it might help create a different future. But we’re living, teaching, and surviving in this pandemic.

Up here on the mountain, self-quarantining is our way of life anyway. Even before the virus, we tended to go to the store once a week (or less) and run all our errands during that one trip. I’ve been going into the stores because my husband is older than I am and well, I’ve seen the data about the mortality of this virus and males. So I am doing most of our trips out or Frank’s coming with me, but staying in the car. Though North Carolina doesn’t require it, we’ve started using masks when we go out (we found several which our contractors and carpenters left in the garage!).

My husband and I are blessed and we know it. Of course, that could change, but for now, financially we are so much better than most, so we are doing what we can to help out our local food bank and local companies.

All we can do is to live—and teach— in the moment—be it one of calm, stress, anxiety, fear, or just exhaustion. We need to help our students to be in this same moment and to look, not long term, but to near-term horizons. Help them to get through this week’s classes and to plan for next week’s. Help them to assess accurately their health status (physical and emotional) and access resources they need. For those who will be graduating soon into a labor market that has crashed, give them hope that their degree will provide skills they can use in a variety of jobs let alone careers. This is the time to really be sure their resumes list skills they have (e.g., data analysis, qualitative and quantitative research methods [many jobs will need staff who can, with a bit of training, provide contact tracing, for instance], cultural competencies and how to handle customers from a variety of social locations, etc.).

Stay honest with yourself, about yourself and your pedagogy. Stay honest with your students by modeling truthfulness. Be gentle with yourself and with them. The goal of “finishing the term” needs to be flexible and reflect the pandemic realities of the last few months.

Know that there are many people, like myself, who are here to support you all as you live and teach in these historic, scary times. Stay inside, stay healthy, and be strong. You are doing hard things very well. But remember, you are entitled to “down time” – even if you are online, you don’t have to be “working.”

Meme that talks about it is okay to have a variety of emotionsIt’s okay to cry, scream, to need a break, to take time to meditate or exercise, to chill out with your favorite comedy or Hallmark Christmas movie or whatever it is. Be kind to yourself. There will be time for whatever comes next—make this moment, now, count. Know lots of us are here to support you.








Teachers and professors too are on the front lines of this pandemic. Many have been forced to transition pedagogical strategies in just days—a week at the most. Students need you now, not just as their educators, but as lifelines, creating routines and a sense of steadiness in the midst of chaos and upheaval.

Unlike retired medical professionals, there isn’t a call for retired professors to rally to help—though I know many of us would like to do so. Instead, many of us are trying to support our friends still teaching, albeit differently, and the staff who have become academic coaches and advisors, online helpers, etc., regardless of their official job descriptions.

These abrupt transitions must be difficult enough, but additionally, many faculty and staff are now becoming teachers in a different way—for their own children, who are at home with them full-time. Parents are always teachers, but transitioning to stay-at-home teaching and oversight of their little ones who are suddenly learning online, simply adds more stressors.

So what I want to offer today is a set of values and behaviors for those of you doing the hard work of pandemic educating:

Believe Breathe. Be still for a moment. Every day, take a moment to quiet, to center yourself, to ground yourself in whatever ways fill you up. That might be prayer, meditation, communing with nature, whatever works for you.

Expect the UnexpectedExpect the unexpected. Whether it be a storm that knocks out the Internet, or a student whose online post causes pain to another, or finding out a friend or loved one has tested CV-19 positive—something likely will happen today that will overturn your plans. And it’s okay. Plans don’t have to be completed in the chaos of the now—do something to advance the goals today.

Like yourself in the now. No one should be judging others or oneself in these times. Each of us should be extending a hand and an open heart. But it’s not the time to say “wow, her classes are going better than mine” or “he seems to be managing teaching/parenting better than I am.” Do what you can. That is enough.

Graphic: magnifying glass enlarging block of text that repeats FACTS over and overInvestigate—be a knowledge seeker. Listen to what you hear on the news, in social media, or from family and friends, but be sure to check out the source of information. Official websites are much more likely to be sharing the best data we have about the virus, the economic distress spreading across the globe, and potential treatments. Help students to sort through sources to find ones which are more trustworthy.

Experience what is happening. Whatever it is, live in the now. Be that sadness, fear, or the joy of a happy pedagogical moment online—feel it. Know that you are not alone. Luckily, children can help to show those of us who are adults how to do this. So watch a child for a moment—the laughter, tears, seriousness, and back again—can be great life lessons during these stressful times.

Value what is most important to you. Family, health, social connections, faith as one understands it, life-long learning. Share yourself with your students—we all need to see each other’s humanity during the pandemic (and afterward too), and the more students see you as a person who is trying to live out personal and professional values and ethics, the more comfortable they will be in creating their own set. As our society—and the world—begins to rebuild itself, we will need to act in ways that reflect our better values—sharing with each other for the common good, be it supplies like food and paper products, wealth, access to education, health care, or internet access. There will be time for political conversations, to be sure, but conversations about equal access to resources shouldn’t be about politics, but about our shared humanity and weaving the social network tighter, to catch those who are in danger of falling through it.

ExhaleExhale. Let it go—whatever the ‘it’ might be. Tears of frustration, fear, the screaming at the frozen screen in front of you, the child who seems to step on your last nerve—try to step away for the moment to rebalance. It’s far easier to say than to do, so don’t worry if you don’t always succeed at letting things go. Do the best that you can and be kind to yourself, your loved ones with whom you are “staying at home,” your students who are worried about their learning, their health and economic future, their loved ones, and your colleagues who are simply doing the best that they can too.

We always are constructing our individual lives but now, in this pandemic moment, we are caught up together in constructing the history of our nation, it’s young, and our world. Do today what you can. It is more than enough.

Just believe.