If you could tell your students anything about this semester, what would it be? A response from professors

A drawing of a professor trying to teach over Zoom.
(Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

Last week, TSL asked students what they would want to share with their professors about how they were doing seven weeks into the remote semester. The goal of this work was to foster honesty between students and professors about student well-being. 

This week, we asked professors via Google Forms what they would want to share with their students about how they are doing now, eight weeks into the remote semester. The remote semester has been extremely difficult for students, but it has also simultaneously required enormous sacrifice and adaptability from professors. 

Professors were asked, “If you had a chance to talk candidly with your students about how the remote semester is going for you and your colleagues, what would you say?” 

Even with daycares closed, class formats upended and seemingly endless hours spent on Zoom, professors spoke about their commitment to continue supporting students during the remote semester. 

“I am doing my best”

“I am doing my best to give you a great course this semester. I care deeply about your experiences both in and out of class. I am also overwhelmed since schools and daycares are closed. My children need a lot of support and attention, and I know you, my students, do too. I am worried about you, and I want to support you. I have been careful not to assign any more work than I usually do, and in fact have removed one assignment that is typically part of our course. I want you to succeed!” — professor, Claremont McKenna College 

“We shall have better days!”

“The current remote semester is going significantly better than last semester’s sudden shift to online instruction. It’s also going better than I expected. I worried that, as a class, we wouldn’t be able to make meaningful connections and become a collective, which are features that I not only value but also see as essential to Africana Studies. While it’s not the same as being in-person, we have forged bonds and students are citing each other in class. What I would tell students is that I miss them. We shall have better days! We all experience Zoom fatigue. I am fortunate enough to have a buffer between sessions in which I use a cooling eye mask. Find ways — big and small — to nourish yourself.” — assistant professor of Africana studies Maryan Soliman, Scripps College

“It’s really hard for me to see past my screen on my own”

“The worst part of the semester for me is only seeing students twice a week, especially since different students have different struggles and I only get a glimpse of what’s going on. I take extra effort every week to check in with students outside of class and follow up with them; the one thing I wish I could tell students is ‘I know this semester is super hard for reasons that are not your fault. Please come to me with any problem, big or small, in or out of office hours, because I want to support you and I want you to have a successful semester. I’m trying to see you and see your difficulties, but it’s really hard for me to see past my screen on my own — please try to make yourself visible to me too!’” — assistant professor of computer science Joseph C. Osborn, Pomona College 

“The burden on my time, attention, emotional labor and so on is tremendous”

“It takes more time and more work to connect with students and to make the class work for them remotely, and the emotional labor of keeping up with students who may be struggling is greater. Being remote often means there’s a greater expectation that we will be available to students and others at different times of day. The way we teach our classes in a liberal arts setting is time-intensive, with many assignments, detailed feedback, a lot of interaction and so forth, and I’m not sure if anyone has dialed this back (or feels that they can — students still expect this, as they should). It’s all still worth it so that we can give students the education they deserve. We are still spending extra time on letters of recommendation (’tis the season) and theses. But the combination of more work and less time to do it is hitting many of us pretty hard. Students may not realize that just as they are experiencing the pandemic very differently, their professors are as well. Some faculty have put in the time to change their assignments and class structure to be more creative and adapted to remote learning; some of us are barely keeping up and doing the best we can. Some of us have small children at home or elderly parents to care for, and the job is not set up for people with care obligations this was always a challenge, and people with children were expected to hire out the work or get a spouse to do it. Well, the hiring out option disappeared in the pandemic as schools and daycares are (mostly) shut. The burden on my time, attention, emotional labor and so on is tremendous. There’s also a gap between those who have family obligations and those who don’t and those with health concerns that make it impossible to hire anyone to help with care vs. those without.” — associate professor, Scripps College 

“They get all the points just for showing up”

“I think this is stressful for everyone. I would want my students to know how grateful I am to them each time they show up for class. How I appreciate how hard they are trying to adapt to this new thing. Sometimes I feel like all of us are trying not to think about the bigger picture, and maybe that’s OK to just focus on our class and its tiny themes for a moment. I specifically, specifically asked for feedback. But I wish they knew how much I genuinely want to hear from them. I worry about them so much! I want to know how they’re doing; I want to change things if it would help them. We are all doing something amazing just by getting through this semester. I hope they understand that they get all the points just for showing up.” — professor of linguistics Carmen Fought, Pitzer College 

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