Now, perhaps more than ever, college faculty need to be authentic

Whether we’re in the first, second or third week of this mandated transition to remote delivery of instruction, faculty across the country are dealing with challenges big and small.

Our learning management system might (or might not) be our friend, but many of us are now requiring it to do more than we did before. Our stress level might (or might not) be getting to us; if we have children or elderly parents at home, it almost certainly is. Our students might (or might not) the same Internet firepower they had on campus; if they live in a rural area, the answer to that almost certainly is they don’t.

It’s essential we, as adults, remain the safe harbor in the storm for our students. There are a few ways we can do that:

1. Acknowledge that we, too, are afraid that coronavirus will directly affect our family. (One of my students knows this all to well; his aunt passed away from coronavirus just a few days ago.)

2. Admit it when we don’t know how a particular technological feature works. If a student in your class does, empower him or her to show it off to everyone. If no one does and you must scale back that part of your teaching, no one will be worse for wear.

3. Listen to them when they call, text or email and say they’re not doing well. Your institution’s students are much like those at mine: struggling mentally with everything that has happened in recent weeks. Think of it this way: If they trust you enough to call you, then they have always trusted you. They need you. Don’t abandon them.

4. Remind our students that they continue to be our partners in learning.

5. Remain authentic. If humor was an ally in your face-to-face class, then use it online. If you’re one of those people who had an always-open-door policy, then let your students know you’ll be available for video chats at almost any time. If you accepted late work earlier in the term, oh yes, please continue to do that now.

I came across an essay written by Harriet Schwartz, from Carlow University, which is located in Pittsburgh. She reminds her readers that

Each of us, as we teach remotely throughout this pandemic, has the opportunity to give our students much more than they expected at the start of the semester. Whether you are a seasoned online teacher or a novice, and whether the courses you are currently teaching were online from the start or abruptly transitioned, we are all positioned to create important moments and spaces for students who, like us, now live in a time of uncertainty and increased stress.

I remain adamant that spring 2020 will not be a lost term. Yes, it is different from anything we’ve ever experienced; but if we can remain a beacon of light for our students, then their semester has a much better chance of being a success.

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