This was the worst semester ever. We all are worn too thin. I’ve had one conversation over and over this semester, with colleagues who are now in their fourth iteration of pandemic teaching:
“Is this the worst semester ever for teaching?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
While each phase of this pandemic was rough, the consensus seems to be that this semester might have been the roughest. A lot of us have already tapped out our reservoirs of resilience. We’re also seeing an amplification of a mental health crisis.
Those of us compelled to teach in person are downright worried about the safety of ourselves and our students, and conditions are preventing us from developing the kind of rapport with students that we’re used to. Those of us teaching online are getting used to it, but this is not necessarily a good thing and clearly this is not what we signed up for when we entered this profession. (Admittedly, many of us entering this profession weren’t even thinking much about teaching in any kind of way, for that matter.)
The problems and challenges for our students are far worse than for us as instructors. We have now gone through several cohorts who have not gotten the kind of interactions and support that they were expecting, and often needing, from college. More than 1 in 500 Americans have died of COVID, which means that some of our students have died from this pandemic, many more are grieving, and even more have legitimate concerns and worries about what the future holds.
From everybody I’ve listened to, students are struggling more than ever, and that includes people who have been in the classroom for many decades.
Many of the interventions that our institutions use to support students as they start college aren’t working out well in pandemic mode, and when students are experiencing academic and personal challenges, we aren’t well positioned to ameliorate these circumstances, and it’s far less likely that we even will know about these problems in the first place. And what’s even worse is that the students who have the most to gain from college are less likely to go now, and are less likely to to reenroll.
I think that a lot of our students are stretched thinner than ever because they are experiencing civilizational failures on an epic scale. They’re inheriting a world that is more dangerous and depauperate. The outcome of the US election one year ago has not resulted in the bold and necessary steps to address the carbon pollution that is driving climate change. On top of that, one of the two major political parties in the US is now an openly fascist and white supremacist movement, plotting to subvert democracy to seize power in a few years. It doesn’t look good.
That said, I believe there is ample hope for a bright future, and we will be taking strong action on climate. It’s just a matter of how much longer we dither. There is so much that we can save. But if I were a college student and a young person, I can imagine how hard it is to get up every day and spend time one narrowly focused academic work when so many things are on fire. This pandemic is amplifying all of the inequities and uncertainties. Things will get better. And if they don’t, then circumstances will change and at some point in the future, we’ll feel more equipped to handle what’s in front of us. I just wanted to let you know that from where I sit, it doesn’t seem to be just you and your students, or just your campus, or just your colleagues. It’s affecting all of us, and when we support one another, we can get through this.