Teaching in a Pandemic 6: We Have Done the Best We Reasonably Could Have Expected

(Previous entries: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

And that’s the semester. The deadlines have passed, the grades are turned in, all that’s left to look forward to is celebrating our graduating seniors at a safe distance. This is not the way any of us wanted this semester to end, but I think all of us—my fellow faculty, my students, and the university administration—have done the best we reasonably could have expected.

I was prepared to be lenient in my grading this semester, but I found that (after making some basic structural adjustments to my syllabi, such as dropping some assignments and adjusting the weight of others), I did not need to. My students have continued to turn in work of exceptional quality, despite the challenges of the times. Their papers are just as strong as I could have hoped for in a normal semester, their self-reflections just as thoughtful, their questions just as insightful. I credit this result to the quality of my students and not my skills at teaching online, which are dubious at best.

Not all my students made the transition to online learning gracefully. Across all my classes, only about two thirds of students ever engaged with the discussion questions I posted online. Still, I am treating those discussions as the equivalent of our classroom conversations, and getting two thirds of a class to speak up is not bad even in person. Some of those who didn’t engage in the online discussions still showed through their written work that they had done the reading thoroughly and thoughtfully. There were a few students who just disappeared, but on the whole they were the same students who had mostly disappeared from in-person classes before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The spread of final grades came out about the same as usual: a lot of Bs, a good handful of As, a scattering of Cs and Ds, and a few Fs for those who just never turned in the required work. I know from email exchanges with a few students that some of them have been under enough stress this spring that it was all they could do to manage a passing grade, and I’ve done my best to guide them to what they need to do to get it. For the most part, though, my students have done as well as I would normally have expected of them.

This will be my last update for this spring. We’ll see what the fall holds. I hope there has been something interesting in this view into the mild chaos of teaching in a pandemic. Stay safe and well, everyone.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

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