Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The New Normal

Three months ago, this is what a normal workday for me looked like: I drove to the college where I teach, walked past coeds throwing Frisbees or hanging out on the quad, and I smiled and waved at undergrads who called out, "Hi, Professor!" I taught my students how to write, do research, and analyze difficult texts, and I said things like, "You're not supposed to be on Snapchat right now. Put your phone away...No, I know you're not looking up something for class because I can literally see the animal filters on your phone."

Then, I either ate lunch in one of the dining halls or ate the lunch I brought in the office I shared with other untenured faculty (only tenured professors get their own offices), where we chatted about the classes we were teaching. After that, I held office hours with students to discuss their papers.

And then all of a sudden, everything changed. One day, I was teaching my students in the classroom. The next day, they were all forced to move out of their dorms and move back home. The faculty, most of whom had never taught online before, were given a one-hour workshop on how to use Zoom. We were told to be "creative" and "try to make the most of it" in our online classes.

Instead of driving to campus, I went to my living room, where I set up my desk, chair, computer, and filing cabinet in front of the window and prepared to do my work each day. I liked watching people walk their dogs, who were obviously happy at getting more time with their humans, and other people teach their kids how to ride their bikes. The Amazon Prime van and the FedEx truck showed up on a daily basis.

I set up online discussion forums with writing prompts. I posted notes online. I held office hours on Zoom. Many of my students did not read the notes I posted. They kept emailing to ask questions that they would already know the answer to if they had read the notes. (I responded, "The answer to that question is in the notes.") I tried to be understanding about missed assignments because I knew a lot of people had issues with WiFi, but it became frustrating when days or weeks passed by where they ignored my emails and the incomplete assignments started piling up. I finally had to impose penalties on the ones who weren't doing their work, even though I felt bad about doing so. I ended up with severe carpal tunnel syndrome from spending so much time in front of my computer.

I attended faculty meetings on Zoom. I received several emails from my department head, who said that most of the faculty in the English Department will have to continue teaching online in the fall. She said that we can opt out of that and teach on campus, but then our fall schedule will change so that we will get classes scheduled in the early morning, the evening, or on Saturdays (basically, the classes that no one wants to teach). So in other words, it's not really a "choice".

When the shelter in place order was first imposed, I received several worried emails from my students, who were upset about the loss of half of their spring semester. When I talked to them on Zoom, I felt sad too; I felt angry that they were cheated out of a significant part of the college experience. For them, going to college isn't just about going to class. It's about living in a dorm away from their parents, where they can experience independence for the first time in their lives. It's about staying up with their roommates or friends until 2 A.M. It's about going to college parties, meeting new people, and trying all these new things. And they were denied all of that.

Not to mention, they are paying thousands of dollars in tuition for resources that they can't use, such as the science labs or the library (they can use the library's online resources, but they can't check out print copies of the books). One of my students is a theater major who had gotten a leading role in a school play, which was cancelled due to the lockdown. I thought of other students who were suffering from depression or other mental health problems and couldn't take advantage of the school's counseling services. And it just made me feel even angrier.

I understand why the shelter in place order was imposed. But it also made me feel sad for the college seniors, who were cheated of the graduation they had spent four years working for and the opportunity to walk across the stage and be honored for their accomplishments. It made me feel sorry for the high school seniors, who didn't get to go to their senior prom, their senior trip, or their graduations. They'll never get that back.

It also makes me angry when I see people ignoring rules about social distancing, like the college kids on spring break and the one who said, "If I get corona, I get corona," and of course, several of them did get infected with the virus. This is the same generation who says, "OK Boomer," which basically means that they dismiss everyone whose opinion differs from theirs and act like because we're older than them, that means that we're ignorant/politically incorrect/dumb, but then turned around and claimed that it wasn't their fault because the adults didn't tell them about how serious the virus was. My response to that is, "What-EVER, Gen Z."


The only place I went to on a regular basis was the grocery store because that was one of the only places that was open. I went to the grocery store sometimes just so I could talk to people since I live alone and didn't have anyone else to talk to, except my students. Everyone was wearing masks, which was helpful on days like when one of the grocery store employees screamed at me because I reached for a cart that had not been sanitized yet, and she couldn't see me mouthing the words, "Not today, Satan," through my mask.

It did, however, make me appreciate the things that I could do. I felt grateful that I did not get sick from the virus. I felt grateful that at least I still had my jobs (I also have a second job for a website, which I was already doing remotely), unlike many other people who lost theirs. My former dance teacher in Chicago, who performs in many plays in the city and also teaches dance classes at gyms, like the one that I was a member of, started posting videos of his workouts online. He also posted his Venmo screenname in case anyone wanted to send donations in exchange for his online workouts. I felt bad for him because unlike me, he could not do his job from home. I sent him several donations, which added up to about a hundred dollars (I used some of the money that I got from my stimulus check.) We weren't really friends when I lived in Chicago, but we lived in the same neighborhood and he was always kind to me when I ran into him or when I took his classes. I wanted to help him.

I felt grateful that I could still do things like write, read, and listen to music. When College Town's public library finally reopened (curbside pickup only), I immediately requested a stack of books and felt happier than the time I drove past the Starbucks that had recently reopened for drive-thru (when I saw it, I yelled out my car window as I drove past, "I've missed you! Never leave me again!" because I may or may not have a minor addiction to caffeine.)

This whole situation has made me value the things I took for granted before, like teaching in a classroom, walking around without a mask, writing in a coffee shop, etc. It makes me hope that things will get better, and that the people who got sick will make a full recovery.

What about you? How did the pandemic affect you or your life?


  1. Teachers during this time have been amazing. And I feel so much for the students suffering.

    1. Hi Chrys,
      I wish that the college students could have gotten a stimulus check, especially the ones who had on-campus jobs that they were forced to quit when they went home. The whole situation is so unfair.

  2. It's still affecting me. Another, at least, month on furlough, and a very different way of working in my gym after that - our members don't know the lengths we'll have to go to! Our drive-thrus are slowly re-opening, but most other places aren't. Non-essential hops will start to open from 15 June. My hairdresser messaged me last night to say they're re-opening 4 July - if I could, I'd hug her!

    Thinking of September and beyond, I don't think any of us truly realise how long-lasting this could be.

    1. Hi Annalisa,
      I'm sorry that it's been so difficult. I hope that it gets better soon. It's difficult for the furloughed workers to not be able to work even though they want to.
      I'm getting my hair cut soon for the first time in four months. I've started feeling like Rapunzel because of the long hair and the fact that I can't leave my home (not most of the time, anyway).

  3. You're so right about all the things we took for granted before. It's so lovely with businesses starting to reopen around here and friends feeling more comfortable with small socially distanced get-togethers. I'm highly introverted and could probably go a good long while being completely socially distanced, but I feel bad for extroverts - like my husband. The reopening of golf courses is pretty much saving my marriage right now. That sucks about your fall semester already being determined. But it makes sense that it'll take time to plan and you'll need to know what to plan for. I feel bad for the students, too. I would've been DEVASTATED at being sent home from campus and missing out on half a semester of happy hours and afterbars...I mean school.

    1. P.S. I'm happy to see you're back to blogging!

    2. Hi Nicki,
      It's true what you said about planning; the problem with what happened this past semester was that there was not enough time to plan because the shelter in place order was imposed so suddenly. Like you, I'm pretty introverted; I prefer to be on my own most of the time. Many of the businesses around here are still closed, but the ones that are reopening are filled with people who are apparently happy to be somewhere other than their homes or the grocery store for once.
      And I know what you mean about the students. I'm glad that this didn't happen while I was in college, especially because the Internet wasn't half as advanced back then as it was now, so it would have been a lot more difficult to get through quarantine. And thank you for what you said about my blog!

  4. The last part of your post made me think. I won't be taking for granted again any of those things we never thought would get taken away. I feel bad for those with graduations, weddings, life events that are cancelled or indefinitely postponed. This just in for the UK, from the weekend single people or single parents can go inside another household and even stay over, which is good for mental health, but then you worry things are happening too fast... It's tough, for sure.

    1. Hi Nick,
      I do worry about things reopening too soon, especially because I've read articles about the virus rates going up again. I'm afraid that if there is another lockdown, that will cause the economy to spiral even further. It's hard not knowing what's going to happen next.
      The effect that this virus has had on virtually every aspect of people's lives has been overwhelming. I keep hoping that it will get better, but I worry that things will never be the way they were ever again.

  5. Yay for the library reopening! There's my erudite comment :p

    1. Hi Deniz,
      I was so excited when the library reopened. I still can't write in a coffee shop, which is one of my favorite things to do, but at least I can read library books. :)