These ideas are half-baked, from the heart, and written from the perspective of a former teacher. My context is higher-education, mainly community colleges and regional publics, but there are some tips, I hope that apply to all educators.
Number One: Congratulations! You just earned a certificate, no let’s call it a masters degree, in Crisis Management. Your professional development for 2020? Done! And it’s only March. Look at you! You’re an expert in contingency planning, strategic communications, and emergency management. Put that on your CV under SKILLS. If you want a certificate, I’ll make one for you and send it to in the mail. Want an endorsement on LinkedIn? I’m your girl. Think that should be a badge somewhere? I’ll have to sew you one because I haven’t seen a space where digital badges mean anything to anyone other than tech people. But really, cheers to you! I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it’s from a bestie who has been on the front lines (and I hate war-speak) at the big R1 down the street from me. I’m so worried about you, girl, but I love this idea. Like we could go Oprah-style with this. You get certificate! And you get an endorsement! Everybody gets a masters degree!
Here’s the credential: Crisis Management, Expert, Higher Education in 2020.
Number Two: Life is coming at us quick. To use a cliché. You are probably the most exhausted that you’ve ever been. And all you can do is your best. It’s been a “roller coaster” is the phrase I hear over and over again. I’m with you. I can’t sleep. I’ve cried everyday for almost three weeks. I had some personal shit go down before All This, and I really struggle with things I can’t solve. Really struggle. I like to find the workaround. The answers. The easiest way. And these past few weeks, I’ve been faced with problems I can’t solve. All I can do is my best. All I can do is my best.
I’ve said this repeatedly to myself, so I’ll say it to you, dear one.
All you can do is your best.
Number Three: It’s okay to mourn the temporary loss of the modality you love. The students you no longer see. The classroom you no longer have. The best medium you might have with your students right now is email or phone, and I think the best you can do is tell those students why you love to teach your course.
Don’t worry about All The Other Things, just tell your students why love to teach them.
Encourage them to tell you what they liked learning.
If they complain, thank them for sharing. They are most likely going through a lot so you might face a rate your professor type rating in your inbox. Don’t take it personally. You’re doing the best you can. Tell them you care about them. Tell them that being a college student is hard. And it’s harder now.
Number Four: Everything that I did well as a teacher completely died when I switched from being a face-to-face teacher to an online teacher. Everything. I once did a webinar on My Decade of Mistakes, and I said in 2015, “Everything I did well was killed by the online environment.” (It’s on the YouTubes if you want to listen. It might be dated, but I remember loving that presentation).
Let me explain because I eventually fell in love with the digital space, but it wasn’t easy.
And it certainly would not have happened over spring break.
As a teacher, I love to tell jokes, facilitate a debate, and tell stories. Loved it. I could read a room full of students and switch my approach based on their furrowed eyebrows and body language. I scrapped more lesson plans than I could count to “meet students where they were” (as we say). I had my students do presentations to teach one another. Group work. All of that was hard to mimic–impossible at first–in an online class. It took me years to figure it out, and I still miss face-to-face teaching to this day, but I believe in different modalities and their potential for some students.
All you can do is your best.
What you are about to do does not have a playbook, a quick start guide, a one-pager, a pamphlet, or any clear directions on what to do. So let me repeat. We can curate all the best advice (and I’ve done that) but really, all you can do is your best.
I work with general education teachers, so I have some solutions for you if you are interested, but I want you to know that this switching of modalities–this pivot–this–we’re going to call it today–will be hard. But you’re smart. You have so much to offer. You know this is unprecedented, and hey, you just got a fancy new degree in Crisis Management, so you’re killing it. I might be able to make it easier on you. All my channels are open to you.
Number Five: Take care of yourself. It’s been deeply troubling to me that none of my peers in higher education have heard this from their leadership. I’m not blaming anyone here, these are hard times in higher education. Every executive person in my organization has said this to their teams. I’m so fortunate, so let me say this to you.
Take care of yourself.
If you have kids, be there for them just as much as you want to be there for your students. Tell your students that you are homeschooling three children while your spouse tries to figure out how to work remotely for the first time.
Here’s an announcement you can have (CC BY 4.0). Customize it for your life:
Dear students, I want you to know that I care about you, and we’re all going to get through this together. I’ll be working with my children from 8:00am-12:00pm today, and I’ll respond to your questions and emails from 1:00pm-5:00pm. Please help one another right now by responding to one another, and I appreciate your understanding and patience with me learning new technologies. You’re all doing amazing.
Did you note I scheduled you a break? Take it. Stare at the wall. Have a good cry. Talk to your dog. Color with your children, and make sure your spouse takes a break too. If you are alone, and I know there are many of you, respond to me. Find a network. Call somebody you love. Forgive yourself for not achieving typical levels of productivity.
“Productivity” is what we make it right now.
Okay, I need to go to work now. The jobby job awaits. And I’ll close with one more thing. A reminder, dear educator/staff/admin/hourly-employee/adjunct who cares about students:
All you can do is your best.