The spring 2020 semester is unlike any other experienced in modern higher education. Consider that one of the more intriguing questions U.S.-based faculty were asking in January — less than 90 days ago, mind you — was whether the rhetoric from Washington would damage America’s ability to recruit international students to our colleges and universities.
Now, with March just about to turn to April, we have almost no students on our campuses. We are delivering “remote instruction” (or perhaps you prefer to say we are engaged in an “alternative delivery method of instruction”), and some of us are doing so for the first time. We watch the ever-rising number of coronavirus cases in the U.S., fearing that we — and especially our family and friends with underlying health issues — soon will be on that list.
Put it all together and we couldn’t be blamed for throwing our hands in the air and screaming, “This semester is doomed, and I’m out!”
Don’t do that.
This semester is not lost. You are not lost. And most importantly our students are not lost.
Whether you call it grit, stick-to-itiveness, determination or something close to one of those terms, we instill it in our students each day. We spend those extra few minutes nurturing that student who is thisclose to making that breakthrough in learning. We are pied-pipers as we leave our classrooms; eager young minds following us to the cafeteria or our offices. We send that additional resource to students, not telling them we had spent the past hour looking for it and just for them.
Over the remaining weeks of the spring term (and likely through the summer semester as well), we will continue to nurture, continue to be a pied-piper, and continue to track down something important for our students. So what if that nurturing, pied-pipering and information sharing is done online?
Yes, I understand those face-to-face interactions won’t happen; like you, my heart skips a beat when a student looks at me and says, “I got it!” But that emotion will definitely still feel good even if it’s delivered on a video chat or through an email.
We’re also going to show our own grit by developing our online teaching skills. We’ll take advice from our colleagues more comfortable than us in this teaching environment; we’ll ramp up from simple to more complex online options; and we’ll recognize that our students are likely to need us more than ever before. If you’ve got a great provost, as I do, then you’ll know that he or she is in the (metaphorical) ring with you.
We are going to succeed.
Few professions are as valuable to society as ours. (It’d be nice if it were more lucrative, but let’s be honest: If we were chasing dollars, we’d be doing something else.) Right now, there’s anxiety and fear; we worry about letting down ourselves or our students.
If we commit every single day to doing our best, then whenever normal returns to our campuses we can confidently walk into our classrooms knowing that we stared a real challenge in the face, and we beat it.