Things are starting to get routine. My teaching day goes like this: I check my email for any messages from students and respond to individual questions and problems. If someone raises a question that I think others may be wondering about, I send out a general email to the whole class or to all my students. I try not to send more emails than necessary, because I know my students are already getting a lot of information from the administration, but sometimes important things need to be said or reiterated. I’ve been surprised by how many of my students have missed or misunderstood basic instructions about how to participate in online discussion for my classes, but I don’t hold it against them. We’re all struggling right now, and I have to be aware that just because I understand something doesn’t mean that my students do. My job is to give them the information they need, and if that means repeating the same information in different words four or five times, then I will.
Next I grade and comment on any assignments that have been submitted. Then I move on to the online discussions. Wherever there are new comments, I record who participated in the discussion so that I can give credit. To do this I have a sheet of paper, on the same model as the sheet I always use for taking attendance at the start of class, with rows for all my students’ names and columns for the different discussion topics. When a student makes a comment on a given topic, I make check mark in the corresponding box on my sheet. At the end of the semester I will put this sheet together with the attendance sheets from the first part of the spring and combine them to give participation grades.
Depending on the day, this process can take anything from an hour to the whole afternoon. When I have time to spare, I work on my current book project, which is getting close to being finished. This schedule is exhausting, but in an entirely different way than a day of in-class teaching is. After a good day in the classroom, I feel energized and alive. Even at the best, this online teaching just leaves me feeling drained.
I miss the spontaneity and verve of the classroom. I miss the way a good class takes on a life and spirit of its own. I miss the dumb jokes and pointless but entertaining tangents that help bind students and professor together. I miss the performance-art craft of leading a discussion so gently from my students’ own questions and ideas to the points I wanted to make that they feel like they got there on their own. I miss the wonder of seeing my students strike off in new directions and arrive at ideas I never expected them to come up with.
This is an emergency situation, and we all understand that this is how things have to be for now. My fear at the moment is that we will not be able to return to the classroom in the fall. I know that there are some professors who are amazing at online teaching, but I am not one of them. For all of us, the end of this spring semester has been a rickety tub held together with duct tape and twine. With a summer to prepare, I’m sure I could make my online teaching better in the fall if I have to, but I cannot be at my best for my students from the other side of a screen.
Image by Erik Jensen
How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.