Picking a worst moment of 2020 would be like the “The Waltons” trying to pick a favorite kid: There are too many to count and they all seem equal in their most annoying traits.
Educators have spent the past nine or ten months trying to re-engineer classes, move courses online and keep their sanity, all to varying levels of degree. The best laid plans went to hell in a speed boat and most of us were essentially just trying to survive.
I’ve never been a “glass is half-full” kind of guy. (I’m actually more of a “What the heck is in that glass and why do you want me to drink it?” kind of guy.) However, I wanted to see if there was a way to end the year on the blog in a positive way.
Thus, I asked people in education if they had ANY moment this year that exceeded their expectations, showed them something they are glad they saw, taught them something of value or shined in a way that no reasonable educator working from myriad locations during a pandemic should expect.
What I got was a nice collection of really positive responses that I thought would make for a good opportunity to reflect on the year.
For some, it was an opportunity to streamline or use technology in ways that made their interactions and processes better:
The rotating face-to-face plan required me to streamline my News-writing course. I learned to focus on what was most important. Filtering out the extras allowed the students to focus on the core learning outcomes, and their writing shows it worked.
OK quick funny story from my high school classes I teach – I’m giving a test and one of the girls I teach opens her mic and says “Mr. Garner, my mom can’t find the answer to this question.” Probably the most honest moment of the semester. But on the more positive side, I have seen a few candles that are actually burning brighter online. And in all my classes, both high school and college, we are taking the time to be reflective and dive into their work instead of feeling like we just needed to feed the machine.
I am a lecturer at one of the largest state universities in the US. because of COVID I have made it easier for students to connect with me by using weekly chats and automatic meeting set up using Calendly. I meet with more students now because we do not have to go back and forth for days to set something up.
A few weeks into the semester, I started playing music as the students filtered in from the waiting room and posting a silly poll question. It was amazing! Students started to send me music and poll suggestions. Several of my students have emailed me to say that doing that started the class off in such a fun way that it encouraged them to attend.
I’m a associate professor in education at public university in south la. My students really learned how to assess their students virtually during remote instruction. For me, one of my bright spots was communication. we were able to make connections even while never meeting.
A couple teachers saw the use of technology as an opportunity to broaden student access to important professionals:
The best part about remote teaching for me is that I can attract guest faculty who I would never be able to lure to a live session, especially on short notice.
We hosted guest speaker events with journalists in Seattle, Charlotte, Florida and New York via Zoom, and our journalism students and alumni could join from anywhere. Our community college is in Santa Monica, west of LA. Pre-Covid, many of us commuted an hour or more to campus.
Some professors said the connections they made with students and that students made with each other were so much more powerful than they had expected:
I teach Freshman Comp at a small college. In his final reflection, a class clown-type student said that I was the first teacher he’s ever had to tell him good job on an assignment.
I teach at a large public university. I educated myself through online training and consulting with our university teaching and learning center. I learned how to deliver an interesting and effective asynchronous online class to 100 students. I have been pleasantly surprised and gratified by the messages I have received from students saying how much they learned from and enjoyed the class.
I work in student conduct at a small community college with students who often come from very rough backgrounds and they are very guarded in talking. This year when I met with students online, after discussing the conduct issue, I’d ask how the semester was going and see if they needed anything. Students opened up so much more this year because they were lacking in other interactions. I had the opportunity to really help more students than ever this year.
I teach at a CC. On Monday, I’m having a procedure done on my spine under anesthesia. I let my classes know what was going on and that it may take an extra day or so to respond to emails. I sent the email out on Friday afternoon. As of this morning, I’ve gotten two dozen emails from students wishing me well, saying they will be thinking/praying for me, etc. These are all online students, of course, since that’s what we are doing this semester. So they don’t “know” me like F2F students would. Yet they still take the time to send a kind email.
I still consider myself a newbie instructor. This quarter was my first reaching Intro to cinema. I work at a TCU Tribal College/University. From the beginning I let the students build the syllabus. They chose the films and I related the content/theory to what they wanted to watch. It’s a 3 hour course so we had check-ins at the beginning. And discussion at the end. You’d be surprised how close our class got. It was supportive of one another and everyone could speak their mind. It turned out so great. At one point one of the students said “I love you guys” then everyone said I love you before we signed out. It just really made everyone felt like we all matter to one another.
I had a student interview me this year on my thoughts about teaching during Covid because she thought I was the most understanding teacher she had about it and “treated her like a person.” That was nice.
Others mentioned how students found strength in themselves that they didn’t know they had:
I had a student send me a message that her father was going to need a new round of chemo, and she just couldn’t finish her feature story because her interviews didn’t come through, so she was going to take a zero. She still had some time, and I had a feeling she was being honest about the interviews. So, I wrote her with a suggestion for a new topic and said if she did the outreach, she could Zoom me and I would help her with the story. I just encouraged her not to give up. A few days later she had the interviews in the bag and we Zoomed. Her story was already in decent shape, so I showed her some edits and helped her improve her transitions. At the end of our meeting I thanked her for persevering in the face of hardship, and told her how I had a similar circumstance and I was proud of her for being committed like that. We both shed a few tears and went on with our day. The best part of the story is, her work since then has shown much growth. It was a little ray of light in what has been a lonely semester of offering virtual help and not getting too many requests.
I had a student who had literally been pulling at his hair in Zoom expressing frustration with the difficulty of all online classes call me at 5:07 to excitedly say he figured out the video editing software himself. He was so happy he finished his presentation on time.
This semester I had one of my best dev ed math students reach out to interview me for his education class. Through this online Zoom meeting I found out that he has decided he wants to be a math teacher & I was part of his inspiration! Since that interview he has kept in touch & asked for more advice. He had to give a teaching demo, so I gave him some pointers. He was told by one school he applied to that he shouldn’t pursue math but he had a great attitude & confidently knows he can do it & he wants to do it. He is only the 2nd student in my 22 year career to come from one of my dev ed math classes & tell me he’s pursuing math. YES! Most of my students struggle to pass & hate math. I so needed this this semester!
Some professors found a strength that they didn’t know they had themselves:
I’m in my 6th year as an assistant professor in a geology department in the midwest. I’m also a professor with a learning disability. While the need to move to online learning and teaching was shocking and exhausting, there was also something familiar about it. I had to adapt: I had to consider what made sense to me given my approach to my classes as well as my understanding of my resources, my technological skills, and, of course, my students. My whole educational life has been about making adaptations. I suppose this year has taught me something that has always been true: my disability does make it hard for me to function in my job. It has also helped me learn how to develop adaptations. And finding a new way to consider a life-long struggle with learning and processing information is a strange and valuable personal gift of this most difficult year.
My colleagues have been amazing! I mean, I already thought they were pretty great, but over and over and over again, exhausted lecturers who are homeschooling while they teach are creating beautiful videos and PowerPoints and activities that they generously share. Staff who are quick to catch on to the newest tech, or just one particular program or app, help all the others get up to speed. Lots of thank you emails shooting around, showing gratitude for the above. When you’ve worked pretty much straight through since last January, even when you were nominally on vacation (and unpaid) and people gush about the output, it’s easier to keep on doing and giving.
I have been teaching history at a SLAC in New England for almost twenty years. Since I felt so at sea teaching remotely and asynchronously in the spring, I took a lot of workshops in online teaching over the summer and it paid off. I feel really proud of the way I was able to create a mostly asynchronous course environment on Canvas that felt personal and quirky (like me) and was also rich in historical exploration and ideas. Students responded to it and as the semester is ending, I’m hearing from a lot of them that I had made otherwise frustrating remote learning feel more like an enjoyable F2F class, and was something that they looked forward to. Not everything I learned will transfer back to F2F (next year, I hope!), but many things will and my teaching will be better for it.
If I had to pick a best moment for this academic year, it would have to be a blogging class that was doomed to fail before we even started. The course was designed to be an in-person, close-knit, newsroom-style lab class with a ton of interaction, peer editing and generally interactive elements.
Between social distancing, split lab space and students opting for online-only education, it had none of those things. That said, I found that students still managed to find their niches and enjoyed doing work that reached an audience of interest to them.
Students blogged about how to go vegetarian as a broke college student, politics in a city with almost no actual news coverage, the ins and outs of media design and high school sports during the pandemic.
The one blog that amazed me the most, however, was this one that a student created about learning how to play disc golf.
The student had a passion for the subject and found that an audience that was under-served by media and yet really wanting more content. She did everything from course reviews to interviews with star athletes.
Her work on #RespectHerGame, a movement to get rid of sexism in the world of disc golf, landed her on the radar of the movement’s founders. She also got freelance offers from people involved in disc companies and organizations.
It wasn’t so much that she was drawing attention that made me happy for her, but rather it was that I could tell she was enjoying it. She wrote more posts than required, looked for people to interview beyond the class expectations and really found herself as a trusted source for interested golfers.
In short, it’s everything a blogger wants out of the experience but doesn’t always get. It’s also everything a teacher wants a student to experience at least once in their educational career.
Thanks for hanging out with me for yet another term and we’ll see you in 2021.
(a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)