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.]
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.”
It’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.