Please be particularly kind in the coming weeks


What’s on your syllabus for the first week of November? If you’re teaching in the US, I don’t know if you had the election schedule on your radar when you put together your schedule at the start of the semester, but if you didn’t, it would be kind to your students to take this into account.

Things are already really hard. And no matter what the outcome of the election is, it’s pretty clear that homegrown terrorist militia are planning to make things worse.

Maybe you’re dealing with the situation just fine, though I can’t say that I am. But I’m sure that some of our students are going to have a rough go of it.

Election week is not a good time for exams. It’s not a good time for major assignments to be due. This is not a good time to hold fast to a well-crafted plan that doesn’t suit our current reality. We need to be kind to our students because of the pandemic. We should be flexible and understanding of the challenges that they’re facing.

Regardless of events in the country, we should be kind to our students all the time, simply because mutual respect and kindness are the building blocks of effective teaching. I’ve noticed a lot of folks have used this time to experiment with their approach to teaching, and see how student learning can benefit from more breathing room in course policies. But I’ve also seen how some folks are so concerned about academic misconduct in online teaching that they’ve adopted a strict set of guidelines that turns students into adversaries, and this really harms the learning environment.

I’ve got some news for you: cheating has always been really common, and no matter what you try to do, it still will be common. And if you let yourself turn into an anti-cheating martinet, you’re making it hard for everybody to learn. Remember that you’re teaching to help students learn, not to catch people who are cheating. Yes, there are ways to create a disincentives for cheating, and to reduce the benefits of cheating, and we would be wise to adopt such measures, but not go so far as to send the message to our students that we don’t respect them and don’t trust them.

As the we are about to enter the final chapter of this dystopian novel entitled 2020, how about we breed the environment in our classrooms that we want to see in in the world?

(And, ahem, if you’re like more ideas about how to apply the Respect Principle in our teaching, I suggest my new book, The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching, which is shipping very soon, and could make a great gift for someone preparing to switch up teaching after the holidays.)

One thought on “Please be particularly kind in the coming weeks

  1. Oh dear! I’m glad I saw this. How could I have scheduled an exam for the day after election day? Darn. I must have been too focused on avoiding religious holidays, and oblivious about that most important date. I think I’d better change it now!

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