Yes, things are hard for everybody right now


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.

8 thoughts on “Yes, things are hard for everybody right now

  1. At least there are resources for students. Nothing for adjuncts.

    And don’t reply: “no students, no adjuncts,” because it’s really “no students, no full timers”.

    • Makes sense! Lots of talk of student wellbeing (which is understandable). I run a research lab full of students and it’s been tough. Thank goodness I (can) teach in person at my institution. But the uncertainty of it all, declining enrollments, and constant flex of teaching a PUI load of courses with this pandemic embedded into it – all we get is messages of empty gratitude from our high command with no real tangible resources or compensation… Lots of talk about students, much less concern for TT, adjunct and lecturer faculty.

  2. Here are two passages I gave my students the day after Trump was elected. I think they helped then and I hope they help now.

    from The Once and Future King
    “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
    – T.H. White

    The Peace of Wild Things
    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
    – Wendell Berry

    • Thanks for sharing these quotes. They resonate with me.

    • I spent over 2 years of Americorps work predominantly during the pandemic at ground 0 with little-to-no support system.

      When I got hired as a ranger I had to turn down the position I was hoping would be a segway to taking grad courses.

      Trying to utilize the education award and maintaining any sort of connection with someone in academia related to the thousands of hours of below poverty level compensation on work critical to the health and future of Florida’s ecosystems has felt incredibly painful and meaningless.

      I got ignored trying to inquire about volunteering with non-profits I was in the immediate vicinity of and now regret trying to network at all with social media giving intrusive levels of context on the activity of people and organizations I tried to reach out to and got ignored or informally dismissed at some point in the process.

      I’ve had Zoom calls scheduled with professors who did think I was a fit and at some point in the process I end up becoming left out of the loop and contact just vanishes even if it’s been a few months of consistent communication.

      I’m worried that mentorship isn’t in the cards anywhere. I couldn’t even get it through mentorship programs. I’ve tried to be one of those students and have felt like an inconvenience for even trying to get a word in with anyone in academia.

      I feel like trying to figure -something- out and working thanklessly and alone in scrubs and swamps in the pandemic as a 1st gen college student 3000+ miles away from any family should be a sign that I’m at least in a committed and focused headspace.

      All effort put towards goals feels like a mirage to me at this point and I’m deeply regretting working in the conservation field.

  3. It is all just too much, for all of us, in one way or another. This post was an acknowledgment of what we are all dealing with. So thanks. And thanks JP for the posted passages. They are helpful in reminding us that change will happen, and there are tools we can use to help us through this challenging time. We will get through this all, together. It is important for us to set boundaries and respect others when they setting boundaries for themselves. Many students are leaving campus. Many researchers and professors are struggling or going on mental health leave. It is important we acknowledge, respect and support each other. I wish you all the best in 2022 and I hope you all find a good network of support to move forward in 2022.

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