As we return to classes this Friday at my college, I shared these thoughts with our faculty and staff:
Welcome! In the midst of the recent chills and quarantines, the opportunity to reconnect with you is lifting my spirits today.
As we approach the 2 year anniversary of the pandemic (and I write from New Rochelle, where some of the earliest cases were identified), we are likely to be grieving. We are likely to be deeply fatigued and struggling with health issues, our own and our loved ones’. We are likely to be struggling with changes in our resources, with child and elder care, with balancing work and personal lives in the midst of stronger demands from both on our time and energy.
The past month has been particularly fraught with uncertainties and sudden shifts: many of us and our loved ones have been infected with the Omicron variant; the potential to enact changes in voting rights has been disrupted; an increasing lack of supplies and rise in inflation are forcing changes in the lives we had planned to develop towards growth and stability. Partnered with these uncertainties are shifts in how much of our teaching will be done in-person or remotely or hybrid and how many of our classes and students will be confirmed and engaged.
Let’s encourage ourselves, then, to counter these unknowns with what we do know, which is what and why we teach and the many, many reasons our students inspire us to return. Here are a few thoughts on what we can do this week and the next to start our courses practically and empathetically.
In preparing to teach, rather than using a pre-pandemic schedule of readings and assignments, pause during the first week and take time to orient our students and find common understandings of expectations for performance and productivity as well as interactions. Many instructors find this approach saves time later in a course as fewer corrections and explanations need to be made and as our students need less facilitation and fewer interventions.
Please keep in mind that teaching effectively and equitably are reciprocal approaches that lead towards student success and instructor’s experiences of fulfilling teaching. A growing body of research demonstrates that students perform more consistently and achieve higher marks
- when they feel included in the language used for instructions and discussion
- when they see in the assigned course content work from researchers, authors, performers, and other role models who represent their identities
- when they are graded on what they have accomplished by the end of a course rather than having their marks averaged over a term.
Most importantly, when students are invited to identify places of effectiveness and equity in their course experiences, they feel empowered in their own learning, which tends to catalyze improvements in study habits and performance on assignments and exams.
Yes, this week is an essential time for us to restore and renew our commitment to teaching and our appreciation for each other. We are a community, sharing purpose and practice and perspectives, as diverse as these are. We share the certainty that learning matters, that educations lead to greater opportunities for fulfilling lives, that justice is worth our advocacy. In this spirit, the TLC offers two events and a variety of resources to help prepare for the term ahead and to bring us together to renew and strengthen our community. Please see below for information and links.
Sending gratitude, hope, and strength.
Gina Rae Foster, PhD
Director, John Jay Teaching and Learning Center
Courage, Confidence, & Commitment webinar with TLC Faculty Fellow Stephanie Simpson
Tuesday, January 24, 1-3pm ET
Practical Approaches to Pandemic Teaching and Learning
Spring 2022 Faculty Development Day
Thursday, January 27, 9am-3pm ET