When it comes to the transition to online teaching and online learning, I’m one of the lucky ones. I was already teaching online this semester, so I didn’t have to scramble to make the transition tens of thousands of college professors and hundreds of thousands of K-12 teachers have had to make over the past month. I recognize how fortunate I am.
That said, I want to plead with everyone making this transition to lighten up on your students and to lighten up on yourselves. I am hearing report after report of teachers stressed out beyond belief about how to manage the shift into an online mode that they have little to no familiarity with. One stress management tool they can apply right away is to drop one-third of the content, assessments, and planned activities like group discussions or whatever out of their courses. This is one semester. If students don’t learn all they would have learned in a normal semester, so what? We’ll get them where they need to be. But we don’t need to get them there right now, this minute. Give yourself a break and do less.
More importantly, though, we all have an obligation to care for our students, because they too are stressed out beyond belief. Do not keep giving them timed tests or quizzes that just amp up their stress levels. Do not assign the same amount of work you normally do — they, like you, just can’t do the same amount. Don’t try to force them to interact with one another in the same ways they would if they were in a classroom together. Online interactions just take longer to set up, to manage, and to process. Those interactions can wait.
One of my students told me the other day that he just can’t keep up in class right now. Why? Because he lost his job, he’s in a state with tight lock down rules, and the local unemployment office is putting people on hold for 2-3 hours. He’s worried about making rent and having money to buy food. Class? Not even in the top 10 of his issues right now.
A colleague told me that one of their students isn’t getting the work done in class because since the crisis began the student has had to move two times. That’s two times in a month.
A student of mine who teaches at an elite university wrote me yesterday to say that as many as one-third of his students have just vaporized. They aren’t responding to emails, they haven’t checked in online. They’re just gone.
A neighbor told me that her niece had to drop out of college because she lives in a rural area of Virginia where there is no access to the Internet except at college, the local public library, and McDonalds, all of which are now off limits to her. When she asked her professors if there was a way she could do the work for their courses without the Internet, they all told her no.
And guess what? That loan she took out for this semester is still going to be due. Do you think the stress of knowing that she’s out all that money and she is a semester behind and she’s not sure if her friends and family are going to die because they live in a rural area where the nearest hospital is more than 40 miles away is something she’s managing well right now?
Another colleague told me that one of her students called her the other day to say that she just can’t write the essay due in class because she’s lost her child care and is also now caring for her grandmother who had to move in with them.
Our students have lives that are so much more complicated than we’ve understood because we’ve had the luxury of not knowing. We don’t have that luxury anymore. We have to understand that they are feeling the stresses of this moment in exactly the same ways that we are and that more and more of them are falling apart under the workloads we’re assigning.
If there was ever a time to lighten up on our students (and ourselves), I’d say that April 2020 was that time.
Seriously. Lighten up.